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Are the honesty lines getting a bit blurred?

I haven’t written a blog post for so long but recently I’ve been doing so much thinking about transparency online and wanted to get all my thoughts down and it turned into this blog post!

You may or may not know this but I’ve only been in the online business world about 3 years and in that time I’ve seen stuff pop up every now and again that make me worry about this fabulous industry I get to be a part of.

Right from day one when my very first coach asked me to write down my business values, I wrote this and they’ve never changed:

Honesty
Transparency
Integrity
Empowerment
Knowledge

Those top three are really important to me. I get that they aren’t to everyone and so I’m always in a quandary over what should or shouldn’t be acceptable online.

We’re in a time now in social media where we can advertise something on Instagram and when we do we have to use #ad quite rightly. Our audience should know we are getting paid to promote. Everyone seems to be in agreement with this.

The same for when we are affiliates for someone else’s programme. We have to let our audience know we’ll be making money if they buy what we’re promoting. And everyone appears to agree that this is only right too.

But where is the line drawn?

This week someone I’ve followed for a while put an exciting post up! She had been invited to go to Miami and appear on a segment on Fox!

Amazing, I thought. She must really know her stuff to be invited all that way to do that! I commented with a note of congratulations.

Then the next day another lady who is a coach posted the same! Then another and another.

Then a coach that I knew had been in the coaching world 5 minutes excitedly announced Fox had invited her to Miami to go on their programme too!

I did some digging and found out that all of them had paid a coach £4500 to get the opportunity to do their nanosecond appearance.

And it got me thinking: if a potential client had seen their posts and like me had thought they must be a great coach to be offered to go on by Fox, that person may then decide to coach with that person based on it. After all, it’s a huge credibility marker! And I’m pretty sure that’s why they’re doing it because are their ideal clients watching Fox News? Seems unlikely so it’s the badge that’s important.

And there’s just no transparency there. There’s no mention in their excited posts that they had paid for it. How would that potential client feel if afterwards they found out it had been paid for? That it wasn’t due to being credible after all? Would they feel conned in some way? Duped?

And it got me thinking: is that acceptable? Should we be ok with it? Does it matter if we’re leaving out information to our audience in order to look better? Unlike ads and affiliates, there are no actual rules here.

And then I remembered a similar situation in the first few months that I started as a coach, I was offered a piece in a Forbes article called ‘women to watch out for’ – it was an opportunity for £2k.

A newbie me was talked into it by a very persuasive coach. This was going to be the making of me! I excitedly told my audience. And then I got that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that something didn’t feel right.

I hadn’t earned my place in this article! I didn’t want clients booking me based on a logo I’d paid for. I tried to imagine myself talking about how I’d been featured in Forbes with any kind of integrity and couldn’t see it. I wanted to ignore the feeling but I couldn’t.

I asked myself if it was any different to buying ad space or even an advertorial because they look like a feature but are paid for aren’t they? Was it really any different? But I knew it was because advertorials state boldly at the top of the page that they are just that. Paid for. It was transparent. This was not and my values meant I had to go to my audience with my tail between my legs and tell them the truth – that I would not be in Forbes right now but would be one day when I earned it (2 years later my authentic Forbes interview went viral with 250k views in a week and I could shout about it without feeling dirty!)

I had to fight to get my £2k back and eventually did. I’ve yet to see any of the other women featured in that article which ended up in Forbes Africa shout about it.

These aren’t the only ‘pay for credibility’ opportunities I’ve seen though.

The biggest ones are the awards.

Over the years I’ve had many many emails and calls telling me I’ve been ‘nominated’ or shortlisted for an award. Sometimes I seem to get to finalist without providing any information and a handful of times I’ve won even without entering. I ignore them all and can tell you right now you’ll never see me accept an award.

Because for 99% of these awards, you are simply buying them. Sometimes you just pay an acceptance fee, sometimes you have to book a pricey table at the awards dinner (you can’t win if you don’t go) and many times pretty much everyone who pays wins.

I have seen some exceptions to this but they’re few and far between. In the wedding industry which I was in previous to my coaching career, it’s even worse with people winning who had never even had a wedding client. The awards industry is a money spinner.

Is this any different? Aren’t we just paying to be able to use those words everybody wants ‘award-winning coach/planner/creative’?

Is it ok for our potential clients to think these were obtained based only on merit?

And with all of these examples there’s no doubt they work! They are great marketing tools whether it’s a tv appearance, a magazine feature or an award but at what cost?

When will our audiences start doubting the authenticity of the achievement posts they see because they know some are paid for? Perhaps it’s already happening?

I have TV appearances, BBC radio, Forbes, national newspapers and magazines as well as a Tedx talk. All of these were obtained the old fashion way – by becoming good at what I do until the results gave me the credibility needed to be asked onto these things. And it means I can sleep at night knowing those values are still intact.

And we’ve seen countless times in history what happens to a sector once dishonesty becomes normalised as commonplace and we hear the words ‘everyone was doing it so I thought it was fine’. Just look at the banking industry.

My view is that if we don’t want to be the reason the coaching industry implodes, we need to start becoming more honest and more transparent.

And a little regulation wouldn’t go amiss either!

I’d love to hear your views! Is it just the way of the marketing world now and I should be less worried or do you think things need to change?