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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.

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  • 20 comments

    20 Comments so far

    1. Louis Cammarosano May 11th, 2008 10:29 am

      Nice, so even vendors can gain credibility if they are transparent.

    2. Greg Swann May 11th, 2008 10:49 am

      > Nice, so even vendors can gain credibility if they are transparent.

      Damn straight. Everybody sells something, Louis, and everybody knows that the other guy has something to sell. If you want to make a client out of a consumer, don’t wait to be asked about that elephant in the room. If you bring it up first, you’re an honest man. If the consumer has to bring it up, you’re already one down — at least.

      I’ll be at an open house later today. People come to open houses because they want to see the home, but they’re scared to death they’re going to have to ward off some glad-handing salesman. How do I know? Because that’s how I feel in similar circumstances.

      So what do I do? When a party enters the home, I will say something like: “Hey, so glad you could come. I know you’re worried that I’m going to try to arm-twist you into buying this house, so I want you to know right away that I’m not that kind of Realtor. If this home is for you, you won’t need me to tell you that. So just make yourself at home and come and grab me if you have a question.” I never sit down — I am at their disposal — but I stand out of their way — and out of earshot — until they say they need something. If they’re not comfortable, they cannot move into the home in their minds, and they will not buy.

      Transparency engenders comfort, and comfort engenders transactions. We do well by doing good.

    3. Brad Coy May 11th, 2008 11:02 am

      >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.

      Brilliant!

      Get out of your own way and provide value instead of what you perceive to be perfection. It’s in the fear of being “perfect” that will keep you from doing anything at all.

    4. Mike Farmer May 11th, 2008 11:26 am

      I’m all for transparency as long it’s valid and truly transparent information and not a weapon to disseminate disinformation based on partial facts.

      The more we show, the more that be taken out of context. So, you are right, transparency is about revealing the FULL story.

    5. Teri Lussier May 11th, 2008 11:35 am

      Linking and transparency…

      >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 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.

      I haven’t thought of this in quite a awhile, Greg. When I first ventured out into the bigger world of blogging (that would be here) this way of linking to prove transparency was a new and kinda scary thing to me. Perhaps a bit shocking to me as I came here from Active Rain- a very different way of blogging there. It kinda threw me at first. I understood the need for it. I understood the importance, but it wasn’t comfortable to do. And now that I’m thinking about my own blogging, I still don’t do it enough! Oh dear.

      Thanks for this. It doesn’t seem like much, perhaps, (links- well duh) but remembering back to my first discomfort over “comprehensive links” it truly is a big deal. It means the difference between a fantastically useful blog that you can count on for solid information, from a nice blog that you visit once and forget the url.

    6. Brian Brady May 11th, 2008 11:57 am

      Transparency is salesmanship. Sounds counteruntitive doesn’t it? We’ve been conditioned since an early age to “distrust” salespeople yet we are all selling something, at one time or another in our lives.

      Sales 101- Get all the objections out in the open. Remove their ability to say “NO” whenever you are ready to answer the buying question (NB: notice I didn’t say “close”?)

      Pay close attention to this post. Linking is deep proof to remove consumer distrust. It addresses objections before they ever appear. It is that built trust that sells a prospect before they even call.

      Dan Kennedy (I know, I always quote him) taught us that a properly written sales letter can attract the right prospect so that she is “low-hanging fruit” by the time she calls; the sales letter does all the work and produces a trusting person with a huge need for your service. What Greg has done is to show you how to IMPROVE on the Kennedy-esque sales letter by providing proof for every statement in a living document.

      The blog post or the landing page, then, can be a useful work-horse in your marketing efforts because it is a perpetual yet living document. It can be internally linked (which helps SEO) from other pages on your website. It can be externally linked from others. It is the ultimate “closing statement” removing every bit of doubt while funneling the prospect to the ultimate goal…

      …conversion.

    7. Brian Brady May 11th, 2008 12:10 pm
    8. [...] Why Do We Link in the Web 2.0 World? [...]

    9. Chris Johnson May 11th, 2008 4:00 pm

      …yet another link to a dying site from a PR6 blog.

      Anyway, I’ll post on how easy that’s done on a WP blog tonight. Soup storm is seriously coming.

      Much of what you said I was trying to say in a post on a different topic–it’s in your drafts…I was reacting to the reactions about BHBU and thinking…how myopic people are…in bashing you…and everyone is bashing your marketing. prior to having seen your content.

    10. Greg Swann May 11th, 2008 4:19 pm

      > Much of what you said I was trying to say in a post on a different topic–it’s in your drafts…I was reacting to the reactions about BHBU and thinking…how myopic people are…in bashing you…and everyone is bashing your marketing. prior to having seen your content.

      Not sure I’m connecting all the dots here. Of course we know nothing about internet marketing. That’s why we’re a PR6 weblog with 490 Technorati links, 65,000 backlinks and 50,000 unique visitors a month. That’s why our growth curve, allowing for the voluptuous Ashley Dupré, is steadily upward. What could we possibly know about connecting with people on the internet?

      > everyone is bashing your marketing. prior to having seen your content.

      That’s false. They see it here very day. We conceal nothing, ever. All of the rest of the Old Guard of the RE.net put together don’t come up with one tenth of the ideas we throw off here — and I link to the best of everythng. That much really is pearls before swine — especially the second half of that verse. It’s the people who come here to learn, to teach and to grow who matter to me. The wailing outside our walls is nothing, just so much noise.

    11. Thomas Johnson May 11th, 2008 9:13 pm

      I was standing with a buyer outside a house that is in need of more than just TLC. He asked me, what do you really think this house is worth? I told him about 20 minutes with a D-6 Caterpillar. He won’t be making an offer, but I think he appreciated my….transparency.

      Greg, this stuff should all be seamless from the web to phone to correspondence to the face to face interactions with consumers. Our industry was built on a foundation of smoke and mirrors. With the wonders of modern medicine and increased longevity, the Old Guard ways will die hard. Hopefully the “transparency generation” (not an age, but an Unchained attitude) will overcome its demographic disadvantage. There will be no help from within the industry. Market success by the Unchained due to consumer demand will bring about the sea change. If the Old Guard just can’t get the business by blowing smoke and sending recipes, the invisible hand will have worked its magic.

      I would also like to mention that the Texas Legislature has started requiring fingerprints for licensees so that an FBI background check can be performed. http://www.trec.state.tx.us/FASTPrintPass/
      I am still sorting this out in my head, although I do relish the prospect of fewer competitors.

    12. Transparency | Provanta Corporation May 14th, 2008 12:13 pm

      [...] everyone, and why it’s the future of business. But if I did, it would surely not be as good as Greg Swann’s post on the same topic. Greg is a Phoenix realtor, a longtime friend and business associate, and he practices [...]

    13. [...] My post on transparency was picked up by my long-time friend and client, Richard Nikoley. Richard runs Provanta, a debt-reduction company. Partly owing to my influence, they’ve just switched their on-line presence over to a WordPress blogsite, putting them squarely in the warts-and-all Web 2.0 world. [...]

    14. [...] and it is entirely too easy to become one of the liars, de facto, without really intending to. My post on linking is one of the best things I wrote this year, and it’s apposite to the discussion I’ve [...]

    15. Abe February 2nd, 2009 2:05 am

      Great post!

      I learned many a thing or two here, and I’m glad you emphasized transparency even in the internet. It’s rather disappointing to realize that the net gets harder and harder to trust as the years go by.

      I absolutely agree to this line you posted in your entry: “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.”

      More power to you, man!
      Cheers!

    16. Dylan Darling April 10th, 2012 9:51 am

      True that! I can’t stand dishonest brokers. Tell it how it is, and clients will respect and trust you. I’ve talked as many people out of buying a house as I’ve talked into it. And those buyers have thanked me in the long run. It’s our duty to disclose any material facts, but I like to take it one step further.

      I just had a buyer want to write on a REO that was half finished with a huge addition and remodel. I knew my buyers would be way in over their head. I started to give them rough figures of costs (knowing what costs were after just remodeling my own home). I also called a contractor friend to come and give them some estimates. They were figuring $5K-$10K, when it was actually going to be more like $40K-$50K. They thanked me, and now I have their trust- the most important thing in a Realtor – client relationship. They didn’t end up writing an offer, but I know now that they’ll be using me to write an offer when they do…

    17. Lisa Gray April 10th, 2012 3:09 pm

      Thank you for the post, Greg! I completely agree about the relationship between linking and transparency. Although, with the anonymity of the internet and the ability to write whatever you want a link to another website does not make every link a fool proof example of honesty. But you’re right about providing a trustworthy link as a way of proving your credibility.

    18. Peter Jordan April 13th, 2012 5:47 pm

      I have often been accused by other agents of being tragically transparent in my interactions with clients in that I will often reveal perhaps more than I should and, in the process, gain credibility but lose a transaction.

      Are there sacrifices to be made in being genuinely transparent? Tragically, there are.

    19. [...] written at length about linking as a proof of reliability: The purpose of linking is to demonstrate to your audience that you are telling the truth. By means [...]

    20. [...] “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.” (Bloodhound Blog) [...]