ASTROTURFING: THE ICKY SIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Photo by Mario Sixtus
It’s disingenuous. It’s dishonest. And, it’s everywhere.
It’s called “astroturfing”. Chances are, you’ve been exposed to it. And, if the folks behind it have done their jobs right, the chances are pretty good that you didn’t even know it.
Social media is powerful stuff. In its most basic form, it’s the high-tech equivalent of your best friend recommending Gap jeans or your next-door neighbor telling you that she never shops at XYZ grocery store anymore because the cashiers are rude.
The truth is, we’re all influenced by what our friends think. Most of us buy books or see films based on the recommendations of friends we trust. We’re probably more likely to try a new restaurant if a few people from work say the food’s good. And yes, if everybody jumped off a bridge . . .
Well, we’d probably at least think about it for a second.
But imagine if your friend was getting kickbacks from the Gap. If every time she plugged her favorite jeans, she got fifty bucks. Or if your neighbor was getting free groceries from XYZ grocery store’s competitors whenever she badmouthed the competition.
That’s the difference. Legitimate social media (where consumers or groups of friends share feedback, make recommendations, rate products, etc.) is a way for all of us to share our favorite things and do some research before we make a decision. We can connect with people who like the same things we like, we can enter contests, and we can gripe if we’re not happy with a product or service.
Astroturfing, on the other hand, is what happens when companies (or political parties or special interest groups) fake it: They pay people to rate products they’ve never used or to post glowing reviews for services they’ve never received. Or to show up at meetings or protests or debates and voice opinions that aren’t really theirs.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion. I don’t have any moral qualms about advertising or trying to convince a customer to buy your product. I love when I hear about a fun, creative social media campaign.
But, using social media to create a false buzz about your product?
Like I said. Ick.
Want to see some good (or, I guess, bad) examples of astroturfing? Check these out:
• Fake iPhone app reviews
• Comcast hires “customers” to say nice things on sports-related message boards
• My favorite: A plastic surgery company gets caught instructing employees to post fake positive feedback. Heh, get it? Fake reviews from a company that makes fake . . . well, you get the idea.
So, what’s your take on astroturfing? Know of any good examples? We love (real) comments!