Monday, December 21, 2009

Astroturfing: Effects on Social Media

Wiki: Astroturfing is a form of propaganda whose techniques usually consist of a few people attempting to give the impression that mass numbers of enthusiasts advocate some specific cause. In the UK this technique is better known as "rent-a-crowd" after the successful "rent-a-crate" business.

Online: The practice of astroturfing is faking support for a product or cause.

I feel that it is okay to promote your company's products and service using Social Media but Social Media does not condone astroturfing, and the effects may be severe.

These attempts to manipulate the media and public opinion seem to be on the rise. An article on Guardian cites that such practice is commonly found, but for Social Media, when you are blogging or tweeting to build relationship and trust, one simple mistake can be very severe.

This constantly happens in countries with controlled press. When someone wants to prove a point, but no one ever replies, in controlled media, there will be perfect, planned responses to the news article even before it is posted, and when it is up, the perfect responses will soon follow. Fake comments are prevalent when you do not see the responses, but when you are on Social Media, savvy Internet users can usually see through this, and it will cause a loss of trust and even affect branding.

There are a few good articles on Astroturfing, and it is commonly known as a Social Media "Don't". Capturetheconversation has a great article on this.

Astroturfing can be seen in Facebook Games like Mafia Wars and FarmVille, where you are encouraged to say you are a fan of it, just to get some "rewards" I feel that it cheapens the real fans who truely love the game, and you cannot tell whether people are fans because of the rewards or they just love it.

Health Insurers Caught Paying Facebook Gamers Virtual Currency To Oppose Reform Bill <_ This article shows how devious some of the lobbyist are using this technique to garner support. Health insurance industry trade groups opposed to President Obama's health care reform bill are paying Facebook users fake money -- called "virtual currency" -- to send letters to Congress protesting the bill.

A Belkin employee was caught red-handed looking for people to write positive reviews of one of their products. This article shows us how sad some of these practices are, and when you are caught, it reflects badly on the company.

In short, in social media, you need to build long term relationship and trust. Astroturfing is a great way to lose that trust. Use Social Media to promote your products, but be true to yourself and your followers, do not Astroturf.

-- Robin Low

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