Word-of-mouth is highly valued because it is from someone we know and trust, it is spontaneous, and it is real. When a message is carefully crafted, and its dissemination planned, targeted and orchestrated, it becomes advertising.

WOMMA the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (US) seems like anathema to the idea of authenticity. They conduct large scale, planned, and orchestrated “word-of-mouth” campaigns through real and virtual social networks. Ordinary people are paid to pretend to be “authentic” enthusiasts and spokespersons for products and brands – but with out any disclosure to the target audience. (From Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc.

This is a definite threat to authenticity. Do we now need to differentiate between authentic authenticity and paid authenticity?

I have always thought of social marketing as – people are going to talk about your product anyway, so give them the venue ad platform to do so, support the venues and platforms where they are already talking, and be genuinely present on those platforms.

But when companies pay people to evangelise their products to their friends without any disclosure, it becomes an inauthentic, cynical and unethical marketing exercise.
It smacks of manipulation and insincerity. And it stands to erode trust within our social networks. The next time a friend or family member enthuses about a product to you, how do you know if they are being genuine or if they are just another form of paid advertisement?

This could potentially replace telemarketing as the next nuisance marketing technique. (Wait, what am I saying? Telemarketing, like email spam, like influenza, will be around for a while yet. The pox be on them all.)