By: Rebecca Image credit:Michael Dorausch I moved to a small, Southern city a little over a year ago, and since that time, I have relied heavily on Internet review sites to find recommendations on everything from restaurants to dentists. Yelp, Urbanspoon, Google and other sources tell me when it's worth hiring a babysitter on a Saturday night to try the crawfish beignets at the new bistro downtown, and who I can trust when I need a cavity filled. Positive online reviews can make or break a business, in large part because prospects perceive these snippets of advice to be unbiased, third-party content – and therefore reliable. Last week, The New York Times reported that the gaming of this content marketing system – in which business owners pay “freelancer writers” to post positive reviews or just whip up reviews themselves – isn't just sleazy; it's illegal. Nineteen companies will pay several hundred thousand dollars in fines for deceiving potential customers about the quality of their charter bus line, laser hair removal service, adult entertainment club and other businesses. And every other company that has built content into its marketing and PR program should take heed. When content is bad for your customers, it will eventually be bad for your business, too. As the lines blur between PR, content marketing and advertising, businesses cannot yell “caveat emptor” and absolve themselves of ethical responsibility for the content they generate, even as they tune in to the demand for reviews and other third-party endorsements. As the Times' David Streitfeld wrote, “If you provide a service or sell a product and you are not reviewed, you might as well not exist.” But if you get busted for deceptive marketing, you'll have an even more dire existential problem, so you're better off using PR and marketing best practices to get found online. This is as true in the B2B world as it is in the B2C one. Customer PR can deliver huge value, but that doesn't mean you should literally purchase testimonials. Quality content informs prospects and educates customers – and it keeps companies top of mind without the top-dollar fines. Want to learn how quality content can make you a hero to your prospects? Check this out.
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