In the abstract, most people understand today that they cannot trust everything they read online. But in practice, some Internet content gives a veneer of objectivity that can lull readers into complacency. This is particularly true of sponsored content, in which companies pay for websites to give glowing reviews of who they are or what they do.
If you research independent sales organizations, you will find dozens of sites that steer you in any number of directions, depending on who sponsors the site. Learning to recognize this kind of marketing is key to helping you look for accurate information.
How Review Sites Work
There are two primary kinds of review sites for businesses. The first is an independent review site. Companies like Yelp and Angie's List collect reviews from users and do not allow companies listed to pay for placement or reviews. These provide anecdotal information that can vary depending on a person's experience, mood, or a number of other factors. But they do have value in providing information from people who used a product or service from the companies listed.
The other category of site is one that a company has developed for them, typically through a marketing company or web developer. These often look like independent reviews, but invariably rank the sponsor first or second, with a description of a beautiful experience. For independent sales organizations, this might include employee or client descriptions of how easy a company is to work with, or the brilliance and forward-thinking ways of its leadership. The site will look good and offer opinions on other great options that, for one reason or another, are not quite as good as the sponsoring organization
Hallmarks of Sponsored Content
Sponsored content tends not to be obvious. Studies have shown that students fail to recognize the difference between sponsored content and news as much as 82% of the time. With more and more traditional publishing companies relying on sponsored content to generate revenue, this represents a real problem for those looking for reliable information.
The FTC requires companies that offer sponsored content to clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationship to the sites they offer. The disclosure should tell readers both that the content is an advertisement and which company is paying for the content. This can include a logo or a statement but should let readers know that a website is not an independent product. This does not necessarily mean the site contains false information, but it does reveal that there is an agenda leading the site.
What to Look For in Reviews
For independent sales organizations, recognition is critical to attracting the best sales professionals. They attract top people by standing out as providing great opportunities for sales agents, as offering great products for customers, and as nurturing valuable relationships with clients. Given those motivations, the opportunity that sponsored reviews creates leads to a plethora of review sites that advocate for the independent sales organizations that pay for the sites.
To avoid falling for false information, readers should first look to the information the site provides. If an independent sales organization pays for the site, a sales professional should take the reviews of that company with a grain of salt. Further, denigration of other companies may tie back to the same agenda; taken together, the reviews will attempt to lift one organization while pushing another down.
But what if the disclosure is not obvious, or does not even appear? The FTC cannot hope to keep up with monitoring every sponsored content website, and an independent sales organization may try to get around the rules. If a review sounds too good to be true, readers should investigate beyond what they read on a single site or even a series of review sites. Researching what a company offers through its own website and looking for information from past and present sales agents can help verify or undermine what the sponsored review sites provide. Gathering more information to get a complete picture should always be part of the assessment process.
Independent sales organizations ultimately thrive or fail based on how they treat their clients, their customers, and the professionals with whom they work. Before independent sales agents leap into this kind of career relationship, they should take the time to gather the most accurate information they can.