Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Shady Side of Writing

As I branch out and learn more and more about the weird world on online writing (SEO optimization? keyword frequency? whosit whatnow?) some of the things I'm finding out are causing me to question a lot of assumptions. I've always had a healthy streak of cynicism, I've been scammed my fair share, and working in a pharmacy has certainly caused me to never take anything at face value.  But recently, I've learned a lot of truths about things you might read on the web.

Here is the truth that I have learned:  Everything is BS.  Okay, maybe not everything.  But you are going to have a hell of a time separating out the crap from the gold.

Guess what?  There are companies who pay writers (not even well, I might add) to write blogs that will be posted under another person's name, who will ask writers to essentially plagiarize an article so they have fodder for their website, to write product reviews for items that they have never tried, to provide controversial commentary on an article.

On one of the sites I have been writing for (not going to name and shame here, sorry!) a writer on the forum was asking for opinions from the other writers about a job that he had recently picked up and was being paid for.  A company wanted him to write a number of "articles" about their product, and was calling it marketing and promotion.  But what they actually wanted him to do was write glowing first-person reviews that were going to be distributed around the web on various review sites.  He was feeling this was a bit sketchy, but decided to do it for the paycheck.  Several people chimed in, verifying that they too had done this sort of job. And not just the glowing reviews!  Some had even been hired to write BAD reviews about competing products!

The upshot?  Don't bother researching product reviews on the web.  You have no way of knowing if they are authentic or if they are bought "opinions."  The ones who defend this practice claim that it's no different than a TV commercial where a paid actor gives his "testimonial."  But this isn't exactly true, is it?  A TV commercial will have a disclaimer somewhere on it that says "Paid Actor."  Also, there is a certain level of expectation involved.  I know perfectly well when I see a TV commercial that it is being paid for by the company that makes the product being advertised.  I take whatever is being said with a grain of salt.  However, when I read a review on Amazon, or Yelp, or wherever, my expectation is that an actual customer is posting based on their actual experience with the product.  Well, it just ain't so.

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Would you be willing to write a review for money for a product you haven't even tried?

**** Disclaimer-- All posts on this blog are conceived in the brain of Amelia Ramstead.  Which probably explains a lot, actually.

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