Recently the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago ran a front page story exposing “the tactics” of one local candidate who used interns to post positive comments online. I’m surprised that anyone is surprised.
While I think it is wrong for volunteers to post multiple comments as if they came from more than one person, or to lie in their comments, I don’t have any problem with supporters going online in droves to support their candidate. The forums exist because the online sites created them. So why complain when they’re used legitimately? Plus, I’d rather have them posting things than filling my mailbox.
I also think there are plenty of other things wrong with campaigning that makes complaining about this “tactic” seem silly. Recorded calls come to mind first, but that’s only because if I take the time to get the phone, there better be someone real on the other end. I don’t even like getting recorded notices that my photos are ready. Send me an email! Campaign advertising in general is extremely suspect, simply because they cannot cover all the issues. Rather than try to clear the murky waters by telling us why the candidate is good, they instead use fear to try to convince us that the other candidate is bad. They say it works, but I think that’s because no candidate has the guts to stick to a 100% positive campaign (if you’re out there, give us a call because we’d love to represent you!)
Basically, I’m always looking for a good, honest person who will stand by his/her convictions, especially in the face of some hard attacks. But in today’s world fear seems to be the only clear catalyst for voters.
These online comments mean nothing to me, regardless of their quality or quantity. Both sides have their supporters, and both sides can put their messages everywhere. I’m not buying any of it. After all, how do we know those supporters know anything about any of the issues? Indeed, nearly all of them demonstrate that they’re not like me (hopelessly adrift in the gray middle ground) simply by being such an ardent supporter of one side. Their passion is a bit disturbing.
But when it comes to promoting businesses, online comments are very powerful. Readers of those comments are not so jaded, likely because other than a few companies who’ve been caught paying people to promote them online, the comment section is somewhat innocent and often helpful. Sure, some people are overly supportive while others are overly negative. As reported in another post, those on the extremes tend to wipe themselves out, lending more credibility to the less passionate reviewers who tend to be specific in their reviews about what they liked or didn’t like. In fact, if a comment seems helpful (whether positive or negative), the reader might soak it in, accept it, and maybe even spread it. Plus, business reviews aren’t so complex. You either like it or you don’t. The less selling readers see, the more likely they are to accept it. Maybe our trust of these straight-forward reviewers is based on the idea that they are like us — they were unsure of the product or service as well, took a chance and tried it, and are now telling us about their experience.
So go ahead and ask those satisfied customers to post their opinions online and tell them to be totally honest. You can even recommend the sites that could help you the most. I wouldn’t publish a list for all to see (no sense giving disgruntled customers a forum), but I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help from those who like me. Heck, I often ask clients to talk with potential clients about my work. Why not ask them to do it online? After all, it’s 2010. Technology and information rule.
More important than having online reviews, however, is adding links back to your site in posts related to what you do. If there’s a story about prostate cancer screening, why shouldn’t a hospital post a comment promoting their screening facility? It’s helpful information, right there at the readers’ fingertips. Don’t forget to track the link and send people to the right page, preferably one with an appointment scheduler. If you’re writing these comments, be yourself. There’s no need to be anonymous, nor is there any need to paint yourself as a happy patient — even if you are. Instead, tell them you work there (it’s the ethical thing to do) and would like to invite them to your facility. Simple as that.
I can assure you that this works — and it costs nothing compared to buying an ad on the same site or in the print version. We do this all the time, with much success. I think the value here is that our posts are directly associated with an unbiased report. It’s a lot like having an ad for a mosquito repellent on the same page as a story about the upcoming attack of the little blood suckers — except you didn’t pay for the space. What’s more, although you’re promoting your product or service, you also look helpful to the reader, so long as you’re honest about your intentions and don’t oversell.
So don’t hesitate to comment online to promote your business. It’s not the bad thing political campaigns are making it out to be, and it is extremely cost effective.