Why do we link in the Web 2.0 world? Not because a link is a footnote, and not because a link leads to more information. Not to give link love and not to build the community. The purpose of a link is transparency: This is the truth and here is proof.
[Kicking this back to the top from May of 2008. This is foundational, a thoroughgoing elucidation of intellectual integrity in a post that is ostensibly “just” about marketing. This makes for interesting reading right now, taking account of the ideas discussed in Man Alive! — but so does everything else I have written over the years, here and elsewhere. –GSS]
This is a short post about a big idea: Transparency.
The word transparency has a useful cachet in business, a condition where nothing of material importance in the transaction is concealed from the consumer. When I was a kid, I worked with a print broker who led his clients to believe that he owned his own composition house, his own pre-press facility and his own printing plant. In fact, he worked out of his car and, for all I know, he rented his shoes. Why would his clients really want to know that he was a broker, not an owner? Because it affected his ability to deliver on his promises — certainly a material concern.
In real estate, we hear about that kind of transparency, and we’re one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock. We absolutely hate it, for example, when the other agent in a cross sale fails to disclose a material fact — no doubt hoping against hope that the problem will go away if no one mentions it. But we rebel against the idea of what we might see as an intrusive transparency. As an example, where one agent might disclose to the penny how a listing commission is to be spent, another might feel that this is none of the seller’s damn business. The discussion then would turn on whether such a disclosure is a material fact.
The issue is clouded because the word transparency means something very different in the Web 2.0 world — and in the world of persuasive communication in general. The fear in any advertising or marketing presentation — your own fear, too — is that you are being tricked, sold a bill of goods. That by dishonest or technically-honest-but-non-obvious means, you think you are buying a rabbit when all you’re really getting is an empty hat. The purpose of transparency in this context is to take away that fear.
So in reply to my post last night about video testimonials, John Kalinowski notes that they could be boring to watch. Indeed they could — if you were watching them for entertainment. But the people who actually watch them will be doing research about whether to do business with us. Entertainment has to be interesting, but research just has to be true. In fact, most people might stop watching after a few seconds or after sampling a few clips. Why? It won’t be because because they’re bored, but simply because they will have satisfied themselves that they are not being lied to.
In my own reply to John, I mention the idea of tricky editing. The boring head-on verisimilitude of that kind of video clip is also beneficial, since it is obvious to the viewer that I haven’t done a lot of chop-cutting to put words in people’s mouths. Again, my goal is not to be entertaining, but to take away the fear of deception. Chris Johnson is doing much the same thing by giving you obviously-unedited recordings from his own voicemail.
Transparency and verisimilitude both mean the same thing in this context: This is real. People are so used to marketing trickery that they expect it everywhere. The challenge for anyone seeking to change minds in the Web 2.0 world is to take away that expectation. Transparency doesn’t mean I am obliged to disclose to you the color of my underwear. Transparency means that if there is any possibility that you could entertain the smallest doubt that I am effecting some kind of sleight of hand to trick you into doing something you otherwise would not do, I have to give you the means of eradicating that doubt to your own satisfaction.
Why do I have to do this? Because I’m trying to sell to you! If I don’t take away every fear, doubt and objection you have to buying my product, you will not buy it — even if you end up buying the exact same thing — same terms, same price — from someone else.
How do I go about taking away your fears, doubts and objections in the world of Web 2.0 persuasion?
By linking, more than any other way. Linking is not about footnoting. Linking is not about providing resources for more information. Linking is not about sending link love to your buddies. Linking is not about building a community. Linking is not about engaging in conversations. All of these are ancillary factors, secondary consequences — but the purpose of linking is to demonstrate to your audience that you are telling the truth.
That bears repeating: The purpose of linking is to demonstrate to your audience that you are telling the truth.
By means of the link, you provide your reader with the means to check up on you, to verify your claims, to follow up on the sources you say buttress your case, to find out if they really do reinforce what you are saying. I linked to John and Chris in this post not to give them link love but to demonstrate to you that they are real people, not marketing avatars I made up to create a faux verisimilitude.
In the same way, if I start with a short clip of the video testimonial I linked to last night, and then link that to the full video, I can take away the fear that I edited away everything that wasn’t to my own advantage. Not to be mercenary about this, but proving your integrity in the face of a doubt will have more impact on people than if they had never had the doubt to begin with.
Here is the real world of shopping on the internet: My choices are effectively infinite. Fifteen years ago, I had to take what I could get from my limited ability to shop and learn to live with it. But now I have access to everything that is available, and I can research all of that everything until I have settled on the one thing that I will actually buy. Am I searching for perfection? No. Perfection is unattainable, an idealization that can exist only in the imagination. What I am searching for — and eliminating from my search — are imperfections. When I arrive at the item that has the fewest imperfections in my own unique hierarchy of values, then I will make my purchase. This is how I shop, this is how you shop, and this is how your potential clients shop.
Even if you don’t link — or if you link dishonestly — they will suss you out. They are not looking for reasons to so business with you, they are looking for reasons not to do business with you. Linking honestly and comprehensively may not swing the balance your way, but failing to demonstrate that your are an honest person who always tells the truth will alienate more and more potential clients. If you want to do business with the Web 2.0 consumer, you not only have to be prepared to defend everything you say, you have to effect that defense of your claims in advance, so they can research it all while they are shopping — long before you hear from them — if you ever do.
Do you have to do this? Absolutely not. But Web 2.0 consumers are already pretty sophisticated — and everything they do on the nets teaches them how to be more sophisticated. If you are not willing to be completely transparent in your online marketing presence, consumers will gravitate, one by one, to people who are willing to back up everything they say.20 comments