My letter to all the #telstradesire haters

Telstra gave me a HTC Desire to review as part of their ‘Social Reviewers Program’ this week, and what is most interesting is not the phone itself (which is certainly interesting), but the reaction to it by some pockets of the social media landscape.

As a background, Telstra chose 25 people (out of more than 2,000) from an application process to be a part of the program, looking at the list of reviewers it’s reasonably clear that while certainly a cross section of people have been selected, many at the very least have significant reach via social media or are influential to others through their medium of choice.

Now seeding products with ‘influential’ people is not something new, ‘cool’ marketers have been seeding the latest products with teenage influencers for years, be it sneakers, music or the latest Xbox game. What *is* different about the Telstra Desire review is the company is not seeding products surreptitiously with influencers, but doing it out in the open as part of a larger social media campaign.

Transparency is in my opinion, the only way to maintain credibility with an initiative such as this, and Telstra has been very clear from the start with reviewers that we are to make certain those with which we are communicating with understand that yes, we got a free phone, and that the company has asked to give our honest and forthright opinions through the process.

Now many have been critical of the #telstradesire (twitter hashtag for the program) review process, with participants being labelled as “selling out” or “prostituting” themselves to Telstra for a free phone. Participants in the program have felt it necessary to defend their participation as a social reviewer, including @trib and @mpesce, who both maintain that they aren’t in this for the free phone (And I honestly believe they aren’t).

Me, I’ve a long history with HTC phones, having had 3 (Windows Mobile) based handsets in the last 5 years, I’ve had my eye on the Desire for some time, but been cautious about splashing down the cash on an Android handset. Being a part of this program solved two problems, I get to try Android to see if I like it, and I get a free phone if it turns out I like it. (or don’t like it as the case may end up).

My point being, rather than attack the people who are participating in the social review program. Listen to what they have to say, understand that yes, their opinions may be influenced (even subconsciously.. it’s impossible to be completely unbiased, we all carry existing biases) by the free phone, but take that into consideration when asking whether you can trust what the person is saying.

Then make up your own mind taking into account any perceived bias, don’t be a hater.

I have been given a HTC Desire handset by Telstra free of charge to review. The comments expressed by me reflect my user experience and personal opinion.

15 thoughts on “My letter to all the #telstradesire haters”

  1. Hello David

    Your post is quite illuminating, and shows the unfortunate side of human behaviour. Personally I think those that are critical of the Telstra program are either jealous that they didn’t get a free phone or just sour bastards in general. Telstra have certainly left themselves open to criticism, having handed out free handsets and airtime without any contracts or strings attached, the best way to have a product reviewed in my opinion. Congratulations on being part of their program.

  2. Whoa, I must be in a bubble because I’ve missed all this hating!

    If anything, I was kinda bitter that they DID choose those with a relatively significant reach, as I thought it’d be chance for people like me [who are definitely passionate on the subject, write the occasional blog post and spam twitter] to review a new device, coz let’s face it, what are the chances of that happening normally?

    I don’t think I’ve seen much kiss-assery at all amongst the #telstradesire tweets I’ve seen though

  3. I have to admit to being a bitter, rejected applicant and I have no issue with the people chosen themselves but I do question if Telstra really did what they said they would with their cross section of people or if they just picked the most influential.

    Now, I would have no issue if they picked just the most influential if that’s what they said they would do, but they didn’t. They said they would pick a cross section and I don’t think they hit all the targets. For example (and again I will admit this is a self serving argument) I don’t think anyone picked didn’t have a mobile before the program. Wouldn’t you think that would have been an interesting experiment within this program?

    Anyway, good luck to those in.

  4. Hi David,

    I suspect I’ve been lumbered into the category of a “hater” as I’ve raised the issues of conflict and probity for a number of the reviewers on the #telstradesire program.

    Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with Telstra and the concept of the #telstradesire campaign or any case of sour grapes. Through my media work, it’s just a matter of sending an email to get a loan of an HTC Desire or any other phone (except for Apple who won’t talk to me).

    The key word in that above paragraph is “loan”, journalists normally don’t keep review products. By letting you keep the phone you are immediately compromised.

    But that compromise is only one problem with many of the reviewers’ participating in the #telstradesire campaign which I hope to address by replying to each paragraph in your above blog post.

    As you correctly state, Telstra chose 25 people out of 2,000 applicants for their significant “social” reach. Basically you have sold space on your social network for a $779 phone. A great deal for Telstra, but not for people in your circle of influence, like me, who value your views and probably not so great for you.

    Seeding products is nothing new as you state, however the cool kids accepting shoes, clothes and booze are taking a risk that a bad or daggy products will tarnish their credibility. You are taking exactly the same risk.

    One of the myths in “new media” circles is that transparency cures all; it doesn’t. By taking a freebie from Telstra you run the risk the next time you tweet or blog about a great cup of coffee or excellent service a sceptical reader thinks “was that a freebie”. You’ve set the precedent and that perception is not unreasonable.

    As far as being in it for a “free phone” it doesn’t matter one way or another. It’s the perception that matters, that you’re available for hire. Worse, you’re spamming your loyal Twitter followers with spam about a phone the majority don’t care about.

    Now you did care about the phone, as an HTC fan with a desire to try Android Telstra’s offer solved two problems. That has compromised your position and probably exposed you to a bigger problem than the two it solved.

    Your final paragraph nails exactly the problem; listening and trust.

    Unlike a journalist working for a major media outlet, you have no masthead to hide behind. It’s your reputation and nothing else. Trash your reputation and you have nothing. I think your reputation is worth more than $779.

    Those of us who follow your tweets want to listen to your views, by poisoning your Twitter stream with a commercial break, which is what #telstradesire tweets are, you make us want to switch channels or unfollow you altogether.

    Poisoning your Twitter stream is probably the part which baffles me about why you and a number of the other reviewers volunteered to join this program. You’ve worked hard to build a loyal and intelligent following and then you risk trashing it for a lousy phone.

    Dave, I write this comment as a friend as I’d like to think I am with a few of the other reviewers. I really hope you guys and girls have thought through your participation in this program fully.

    As a parting shot to some of the other Telstra Desire reviewers, I hope those of you who have government and corporate jobs have checked your employers code of conduct before accepting this gift and for those who’ve tried to appropriate Tim Ferris’ haters tag, come back when you’ve done something more than scam a free mobile phone.

    Good luck from a non-hater.

  5. @Paul Wallbank

    I hope this short response doesn’t seem flippant or disrespectful of your opinion however two thoughts immediately came to my mind:

    1. I can barely continue to use a Twitter client I don’t love love love so I think keeping the phone would mean you *choose* to use it above all the other options.

    2. I don’t see how a stream of #telstradesire tweets are that different from the for/against tweets that flood the Twitterwebz after an Apple release (or any other product for that matter).

    Looking forward to hearing more thoughts on this use of “influencers” and the impact on both the brand and the person

  6. “Telstra has chosen people who don’t appear to be an ‘average cross section’ (or at least, all of whom seem to have large social media presence)”

    Before this started, I had about 180 followers on Twitter, a handful of regular readers of my parenting blog and less than 10000 posts on a dance forum, of which I’ve been a member for 7.5 years. Not exactly a large social media presence.

    And might I say, that obviously people ARE interested in what the reviewers are saying. My Twitter followers are up to 263 now (including the other reviewers who weren’t already following me) and there’s no spammers or bots in there, as I block them. That’s the biggest increase in followers I’ve had in the 13 months I’ve been on Twitter.

    And may I ask, what is the point of giving the phone to people with no social media footprint, since it’s a SOCIAL REVIEW? *eyeroll*

  7. @Mandi
    Mandi, I think the impact of this campaign on both the brand and the individuals is going to be the most interesting lesson.

    I maintain the majority of the reviewers, including David, haven’t thought through the potential impact.

    On the point of other hashtags at the time of product releases, the fanbois are generally true believers so if anything we know exactly where their allegiances lie.

  8. Paul you assume not many are interested. I think that is wrong. I’ve been give even more reasons to follow other people because I’m interested.

    Had I not already bought a Desire I’d be following #telstradesire very closely to see how real people went with it. Hell, I am anyway… I’ve followed many new people simply to see more about what they are saying about it.

    I put myself in their position, I think I’d do the same thing and I’m even a Telstra hater.

    I’ve seen several people who I have a lot of respect for (and found out about a few other new people to follow) talking pretty honestly about a device I love. I haven’t always liked or agreed with what they said, which has actually meant a lot when it comes to judging their credibility.

    Ultimately everything we say is influenced by opinions, discussion and countless other influences around us. Would you considered untrustworthy if you received a review phone from Telstra? It’s the same essential influence, just not as strong as actually being given the phone. You’d still benefit from it presumably, you get paid to review it potentially, or a favorable review may get you earlier access to future review units. Ultimately, until you’ve put the $779 down on the table you can’t be expected to give an entirely objective review.

    I think anyone who has read what these people have said can see that they aren’t “yes people” as Telstra put it. I’ve found it very informative, and have enjoyed helping out with my own experiences as I’ve had the phone since day 1.

  9. @Paul Wallbank

    You know what Paul? I was at first a little peeved at your comments, and having had time to think about them, I’m left just feeling moderately amused.

    You make your arguments with emotives, claiming that people are damaging their reputation, and even going so far as to imply that some of us may have breached codes of conduct with our employers.

    You cast us as unintelligent folk who are happy to shout ‘Telstra is great’ and ‘Hooray for the Desire’ from the rooftops, all at the expense of alienating those with whom we share a circle of influence. I’m sorry, but that simply is factually incorrect.

    I thought quite carefully about entering the ‘competition’ to be a social reviewer in the first place, and even moreso before signing paperwork and agreeing to participate having been extended the offer. I’ve carefully considered what I will, and won’t, do as part of the program, and blindly giving props to Telstra and HTC is something I’d never do – a spade is a spade in my books, and from what others are saying about the Desire, so it is for them.

    Your so-called ‘concern’ for the people participating in this program is unwanted; I maintain that we, as a group, know what we’re doing. What I and others don’t know is why you think we care one iota for your negative opinions?

    Thanks for giving me another chuckle.

    As always,

  10. @Chris Rowland
    Chris, that’s a nice misrepresentation of my comment and I can only assume you are doing that because you understand the conflicted position you are now in.

    As far as casting the participants as being “unintelligent folk”, I have either business dealings or friendships with @susan_m @mpesce @trib @stilgherrian and @DDsD. All of them I know to be clever people with integrity.

    It’s my concern about the damage some of them might do their well deserved reputations that led me to make my twitter and blog comments.

    Sadly, that’s the last chuckle you’ll get from me as I subscribe to Dilbert’s maxim to “Never argue with an idiot, they will drag you down to their level, and defeat you with experience!”

    Enjoy the phone.

  11. Some interesting opinions. I’ll add mine.
    I’ve been following a good number of the “chosen few” for a long time, long enough that I feel like I know them. At the very least, I know their online personas. And I trust them.

    Of those I follow, most are quite outspoken. It was, IMO, quite brave of Telstra to give outspoken people with no skin in the game a large platform. If one of them absolutely trashes the Desire, there’s no downside for them. Unlike MSM reviewers who need to keep somewhat of a working relationship with tech companies.

    Mostly though, it’s a huge win for me. I get to see people who’s opinions I value hands-on reviewing a product I’m interested in. Of course if all we get are 25 gushing reviews then perhaps I’ll not be so happy, but it’s already clear from the #telstradesire tweets that many of the reviewers are quite happy to point out flaws, at times rather loudly.

    There is no more risk of the reviewers poisoning their “social graph” than there is with any of their other activities: the fact that there was an $800 phone involved doesn’t really come into it. Either they are genuine or they are not, and they’ll be judged accordingly.

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