Thursday, September 1, 2011

America's new copy writing sweatshops

If you're a writer and you're knocking together 5-Star online endorsements for products and services for $5 a pop, then you're totally out of your mind. And if you're hiring writers to do this sort of stuff, then your brand is seriously in need of a makeover, or soon will be.

What got me started on this rant was an article I read today reporting that some companies in the US were hiring writers to write favourable 'reviews' for five bucks each. After reading this blog, some may not identify me as a writer, but nonetheless I stick doggedly to the proposition that it is a professional category with which I have some affinity.

Even back in the good old days of freelance journalism circa 1980s, a decent journo could pull something like $150 a thousand words from even the stingiest magazine publisher, so $5 for an endorsement wreaks of serious under-payment, even if house prices in the US have collapsed and the Tea Party refuses to spend any more. Come to think of it, perhaps the brand needing the cheap endorsements is the Tea Party - if not endorsements, then perhaps endorphins, but I digress.

You see, the thing with these $5 mercenaries is that they're providing three things - words (presumably coherently crafted), a personal endorsement and, as a by-product, great risk of trashing their personal brand in the process. Willing to put all that skill and reputation on the line for $5? I'm certainly not!

For their clients, there is the small matter of brand authenticity, widely regarded as the currency of social media. What happens when they're found out, as they surely will be? Already, companies like Amazon are commissioning sharp software dudes to develop algorithms to identify and weed out fake endorsements. It will be interesting to see if, in the process, they publish the names of the businesses who have chipped in their $100 for 20 or so "recommendations".

Their only hope is that unsuspecting customers driven to these businesses by the rave reviews have an extremely positive brand experience when they make contact. Because if customers are savvy enough to source third party recommendations online, they're certainly smart enough to go back online and express their contrary view if the experience does not live up to the promise.

There are plenty of websites dedicated to publishing consumer reviews. Perhaps we're about to see a flourishing business based on reviewing the reviewers! Oh dear ... who are we to believe? My head's starting to hurt.

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