Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Astroturfing to become illegal in Europe

There's a sleazy side to all business movements, and PR 2.0 is no exception. In the new world of social marketing one such practice is "astroturfing", the process of faking grassroots support through impersonating a consumer.

Now the Europeans have made this practice illegal, starting the end of this year. And it's my hope that America will soon follow.

How strict are the regulations? Well, even an author that reviews his own book on Amazon under a pseudonym would fall afoul of them, and could be taken to court.

I'm more than a little familiar with astroturfing: in the last election I exposed a House Representative's staffer's attempt to astroturf my personal political blog, which did not work out so well for anybody.

The truth is though that it's always tempting to fudge the line: I sympathize with the Congressonal staffer, who thought he was using every means at his disposal, and had lost track of what this new media world is about.

So it's worth remembering the core of PR 2.0:

1) Talk in your own voice
2) Engage with the world
3) Embrace the fishbowl
4) Create compelling content, not compelling cases

The important point re: astroturfing is right there at the top. Talk in your own voice. Always. Primarily, that means to not hide behind the the "voice of the institution": realize that trust in this new world is personal, and that you as Mike Caulfield are far more trustworthy than your institution. Trust sticks to people, not buildings.

If you are Mike Caulfield, then be Mike Caulfield. It's really that simple.

The flip side of that first point is of course to not trade the voice of the anonymous institution for anonymity, or worse, for a charade.

I always think back on that Policy Director coming on my site back before the election and pretending to be a Democratic Activist with "doubts" about whether this guy was beatable. The real problem was it was too clever by half.

Had he come on and said, I'm Charlie Bass' Policy Advisor, and I think you maybe don't understand the compromises we have to make to get things done here...or if he had written a brief argument against minimum wage, as Tad Furtado, Charlie Bass' Policy Director, it would have been striking, and much more effective. Here would have been the Policy Director of my Congressman coming Down-From-The-Mount to discuss this issue with our little blog community. Instead of scandal there would have been engagement. And who knows, maybe they might have won the election.

As we promote our colleges and universities, it is useful to remember the power of the personal and the real over the fabricated.

Talk in your own voice. Always.

It's not just a good idea. It may soon be the law.

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