Writing Ethics 1: Fake Testimonials

Yvonne Russell at Grow Your Writing Business has an interesting discussion going on about fake testimonials and the ethics of writing .

Her original post quoted an ad she saw on a freelance site asking to have 25 testimonials written to sound like they are from “allegedly satisfied readers” of the book – for the princely pay of $20 for the lot!

The commenters agree on two things:

  1. Using fake testimonials is unethical for the company, and writing them is unethical for the writer.
  2. Professional writers should not work such low pay ($20 for about 2500+ words)

I’ve heard several marketing gurus recommend that companies contact satisfied customers and ask them for testimonials. The company will write the testimonial, and all the person giving the testimonial needs to do is put it on their letterhead and sign it. Of course, they can change it if they like, but the company is not asking them to spend much of their time to give the testimonial (a plus for the customer). Doing it this way ensures the company gets the things they want said included in the testimonial. I was attending seminars and using consulting when I was in business in the “real” world, in the ancient days before the Internet. 🙂 In today’s virtual world, companies would load the testimonials up with keywords for search engine optimization.

I was never comfortable doing that. In my interior landscape business, we used to send out customer satisfaction surveys. If someone wrote a nice compliment, we would ask their permission to quote it. The testimonials on this blog are either quoted from acknowledgments in published documents or are something a client provided when I asked if I could quote something they said to me in conversation or in e-mail. I’ve never used a testimonial that didn’t originate with the client.

One time I terminated a contract with a marketing consultant hired to improve my company’s sales after he told me, “You’ll never succeed in business. You’re too ethical.”

But it appears some companies don’t share my “problem” of being too ethical. They are using completely fake testimonials. And some writers are willing to write them! I’ve turned down several projects because the subject matter didn’t fit my values. I can’t imagine professional writers writing what they know to be outright lies!

A couple of things were raised in the comments, though, that made me think. In my next three posts, I’ll talk about writers asking for votes in readers’ choice contests, paid and other solicitation of favorable reviews, and methods to increase Amazon rank.

[tags]writing ethics, fake testimonials[/tags]

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