Maintaining Trust from Online Testimonials

12:16 PM, 22 July 2015

Earning brand trust can be a long process of consumer experience, with a brand having to demonstrate ongoing consistency, quality, and reliability. While word of mouth recommendations from friends and family are considered to be the most influential, consumers are also putting increased and significant trust in online opinions.

Brands have long paid ambassadors, often sports stars or celebrities, to help create awareness and build trust, and this practice has been extended to bloggers, reviewers, and others with a social media network. However, for this activity to have a positive influence, people expect the relationship between the brand and the reviewer (for example) to be adequately disclosed.

The increased public trust placed in online reviews comes with an expectation that the brand will be transparent with reviews and endorsements. For example, in late last year, Australia Post made negative headlines using influencers in social media when initially it was not clear that it was paying Instagrammers for endorsements.

Although it is not illegal to pay someone to make an endorsement, the key is to disclose the existence of any commercial relationships. It would likely be misleading to engage someone to write a review purporting to be an independent customer. Where incentives are offered to customers to encourage reviews they need to be offered equally for positive or negative reviews. The guiding principle is to be transparent about commercial relationships and disclose any incentives or commissions.

The same principle applies to the use of native advertising. Inserting high-quality advertising content into the stream of editorial content is proving to be successful. Research has shown that native ads may be viewed for the same amount of time as editorial content. With such readership potential there is an increased onus to make it clear that the content is a paid placement. While final responsibility rests with the publisher, it is in all stakeholders' interests that the nature of the relationship is adequately disclosed. If a reader is confused as to whether a piece of editorial has been generated by the publisher or a third party, the advertiser has a problem as does the publisher. So transparency is absolutely paramount for both parties.

The ASA Code of Ethics sets the standard for marketing communications to be legal, decent, honest, and truthful, whatever the media and whatever the method. ANZA advises members to be transparent about commercial relationships and where native advertising is used, to make adequate disclosure where advertising has been paid for, in a way that is clearly visible to consumers. Maintaining trust and transparency is key to maintaining the industry's foundations for responsible advertising.

As always, ANZA welcomes any feedback on Industry issues to lindsay@anza.co.nz
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