User-Generated Public Relations

While outsourcing the halting problem might not get you very far, outsourcing PR may be the next new thing for retailers. Saul Hansell at the New York Times reports that Amazon is now promoting “user-generated public relations“:

The company has announced what it calls its “Holiday Customer Review Team.” These are six Amazon customers who are particularly active in writing product reviews that it has offered to reporters to discuss gift picks. (They also contribute their recommendations on a page on Amazon’s site.)

Amazon says that members of the team are “real people giving unbiased advice to fellow consumers. They are not employed by, Inc. or its affiliates.”

As Hansell continues, though:

That’s not quite the whole story.

Some team members have been flown to Seattle to conduct broadcast interviews on behalf of the company. Moreover, they have been given free products to review and keep.

Cynical as I am about advertising, I’m actually in favor of people learning about products through sincere reviews, and I can even see a way that companies might favor their biggest fans, a la Steve Jobs. But, to coin a phrase, information wants to be transparent. I expect Amazon to see a backlash if these “unbiased” reviewers turn out to be shills.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.