Another social media snafu

January 14, 2008 at 9:09 pm Leave a comment

Helena Bouchez

Oops, they did it again. This time it was a non-profit executive for research organization GiveWell. Executive director and GiveWell co-founder Holden Karnofsky masked his identity on an industry Web site while soliciting suggestions from visitors on the best source for comparing charities. Then, he answered his own question – recommending GiveWell, of course. Then he was found out. To GiveWell’s credit, its board of directors took swift and appropriate action. But the damage has been done.

What rock was the guy living under? Plenty has been written about the frequency and speed with which those trying to fake out the system have been caught. Whole Foods’ blogging CEO praising himself using a fake online identity. The Walmart RV Traveler’s flog. Sony’s YouTube-based viral marketing scheme for the Sony PSP.

Social media (forums, online communities, blogs, etc.) are powerful tools that, used properly, can rapidly raise an organization’s profile with its target audience and advance its business objectives. But as some organizations have learned (the hard way), it’s a double-edged sword that participants use swiftly and mercilessly when it comes to anything – or anyone – they perceive to be inauthentic or deceitful.

In fact, the success of any social media program hinges on complete transparency. The more authentic and truthful businesses appear in these venues, the more trust and goodwill they will engender. In today’s competitive environment, where a dozen companies are making essentially the same widget, the way people feel about the widget – and the widget maker – is an increasingly important key differentiator.

Companies that welcome the scrutiny of customers can profit handsomely from the exposure and viral nature of social media. Those who think fakery is a sound marketing tactic may be better suited to a different line of work. I suggest fiction writer.


Entry filed under: Missteps.

When being trendy is not your style Do blog issues keep communicators awake at night?

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