Transparency online not optional

By now, one would think that the PR industry had learned its lesson about being transparent in all communications, especially those online.

By now, one would think that the PR industry had learned its lesson about being transparent in all communications, especially those online. Yet, questionable behavior still persists. In the latest example, a communications manager for manufacturer De'Longhi posted positive reviews on Amazon.com of two of the company's high-end espresso machines.

Appropriately, a blogger, Russ Taylor, looking for a new espresso maker, outed the communications manager's postings. He noticed the “T. Carpenter,” had posted positive reviews for two machines, which seemed a lot for anyone to own, even a caffeine addict. In following the trail he discovered a Tara Carpenter working in the PR department of De'Longhi. Both Consumerist and The Wall Street Journal's The Wallet blog picked up on the incident this week bringing negative attention to both the company and Amazon.

At a time when the PR industry is trying to bolster its reputation, not only in terms of the value of its services, but also as an ethical business practice, these types of examples should worry anyone working in the field. WSJ noted that Belkin “experienced a similar snafu for faking positive reviews” earlier this year, and just last year, PRWeek reported on an agency caught up in a similar situation on behalf of client. Clearly, the De'Longhi situation is not an isolated incident. But it can no longer be tolerated or dismissed as the actions of a select few. The industry needs to take a stronger stand against such behavior.

As we move into an increasingly online world where data is easily tracked, PR pros should know their actions leave not only a trail, but threaten both those they are trying to support through their efforts, and their own industry.

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