Capture The Conversation

2008 August

Fired for Astroturfing: A Social Media Don’t

Jason Cormier, August 28, 2008

To partially quote from Wikipedia, Astroturfing is when an individual disguises the efforts of a commercial entity as an independent public reaction to a product, service or event. It’s an orchestration of overt outreach tactics by covert means.

More to the point, it’s something you don’t do as a responsible marketer. The thing is, the rules are easily bendable, the tactics are highly tempting and the ethics are typically questioned. After all, what “harm” can it really do? Well, actually a lot — and I have a fresh and unfortunate story to share with you about it.

To give some background: One of the main activities we do as a social media company is key influencer identification and blogger outreach. Our outreach efforts are always about approaching people on a personal level. In other words, asking for permission, being short and sweet about our agenda, and even apologizing up-front in the event our outreach is perceived as irrelevant to a blogger’s interests and audience.

Recently, we came across an influential blog that posted about our client’s product. But before we could start slapping high fives, the blogger made an additional post that specifically called out one of the commenters. Although the commenter in question had good intentions, clarifying some false statements made about the product, his enthusiasm took things to the point of spewing marketing jargon in his comment. Dead giveaway.

As one of the shark commenters clued into the chum, the blogger was inspired to do a little investigation. You know where it goes from here. What he easily found was the commenter in question was using a fake name with a standard email address. From there, the blogger not only identified the commenter as a marketer, but even discovered when he was hired.

So of course, he owed his readers a juicy post about this discovery. Today, that marketer was fired. And as many might agree to that being an over reaction, the reality is the marketer’s company and client was dragged into a search engine index-able conversation among far more than a normal room full of people.

Could it quickly smolder out and go nowhere? Absolutely. Could it be dragged to other blogs, becoming the latest meat puppet case study in social marketing? Absolutely. So the harm, aside from possibly losing your job, is not only the potential of short-term brand damage – but also long-term search engine results associated with the brand, its’ products, services, etc.

From my position, I understand how someone could be reasonably fired for this. At the same time, I believe this particular person simply made a naive mistake that blew up like a firecracker in a child’s hand.

If he would have disclosed who he worked for up front, this all could have been avoided. In all fairness, the most obvious things are sometimes the hardest to see – and in the world of internet marketing, learning on the job is commonplace.

This just in (this post has been evolving throughout the day as I’ve written it): the marketer wrote an apology to the blogger today. The blogger responded by emailing an apology regarding the job loss, removing his original post about the client’s product, and the post that called out the marketer as deceptive. Wow.

What is your take on this? How would you have respond as the blogger? How about the employer or client?

Podcast Interview with HiveLive CEO, John Kembel

Jason Cormier, August 26, 2008

Listen to our Podcast:

Show Notes:

Room 214 Co-founder, Jason Cormier, discusses community website platforms with John Kembel, CEO of HiveLive.

We talk about:

1. What a community platform provides

2. Potential trends in community websites (community sites with typical website attributes vs. websites with bolted on community attributes)

3. Challenges with the technology

4. Businesses now focusing beyond the technology, and at the real business value of online communities

Final Note: Thanks to John and Tracey at HiveLive for allowing me to pick up a discussion directly after John’s interview with Jeremiah Owyang.

PC to Mac – Does Anyone Look Back?

Jason Cormier, August 12, 2008

Last week, my wife conspired with my business partner to crush my Verizon phone, literally. Her text messages weren’t getting through to me. Before long, James had my phone in one hand and a hammer in the other.


The new iphone was its replacement, happening the same week of giving my Dell to Stepan as part of forcing my use of the new MacBook Pro that had been sitting on my desk unopened for two weeks. BTW, Stepan has his own MacBook Pro, and is only keeping the Dell until somebody here needs a better PC.

Supposedly, I have been thrust into “the brave new world.” Each day is getting easier, but there is still pain (enough for me to blog about it here). I’d like to think I’m somebody who embraces change. But as I look at this ultra small type on my new higher screen resolution, and consider how my old cell reception in my house was better than I have now — I’m not so sure.

I can’t help but wonder if anyone who converts from PC to Mac looks back… or more importantly, actually goes back. All comments graciously welcomed.

3 Reasons Google’s Ad Planner Can’t Compete With Nielsen/ComScore

Room 214, August 4, 2008

Rumors of Google’s free media planner have been buzzing around the  interactive community for at least a year. When Google announced the beta version, I immediately signed up to be a beta tester for the product. My initial reaction? It can’t compete with Nielsen’s @plan or ComScore’s Media Metrix. At least not yet.

Most interactive media planners would agree that having a free planning tool would benefit our industry tremendously. Google has already released updates for Ad Planner, so I have hope that they will continue to improve the product to compete with larger, subscription-based tools. Until then, below are three reasons Ad Planner will not put Nielsen or ComScore out of business any time soon.

Why Google Ad Planner Can’t Compete

1. Target audience definition is limited.

Media planners love to define niche audiences for their targeted marketing messages. These target definitions usually contain a mix of both demographic and psychographic qualities (such as age and specific purchasing behavior/interests).

Currently, Google’s Ad Planner only allows you to define a target based on a very limited number of demographics. Both @plan and Media Metrix allow planners to mix and match hundreds of characteristics to create a targeted audience, and thus a more targeted list of sites.

2. Sites can only be filtered by inclusion in Google’s content network.
When I am planning an online campaign for a client, I am only interested in reviewing sites that accept advertising. Ad planner does not have a good way to filter these sites out of the master list. The current filter does allow you to exclude sites that are not included in their content network, but this filter gets rid of sites that may be a good fit for sponsorship or banner ad placement.

@plan and Media Metrix offer filters that show any site that accepts advertising, whether or not they are included in a specific network. This type of filter is more ideal than sifting through hundreds of site names to determine which ones accept advertising.

3. Site metrics are not target specific.
With the exception of Comp Index, all of the site metrics shown are based on total traffic, not the specific target audience defined in Ad Planner. While Comp Index gives planners a general comparison of which sites have a higher composition of the defined target, I am more interested in the actual percentage of site visitors that meet the target audience I defined.

@plan and Media Metrix both provide these target specific numbers, such as composition. Hopefully by now you get my drift. These two tools provide a more detailed analysis of which sites are best for a specific target audience.

Despite being somewhat disappointed by the initial beta of Google Ad Planner, the tool does provide an easy way for any online marketers to compare traffic for multiple sites. Hopefully, with enough feedback, Google will turn Ad Planner into a more competitive interactive planning tool.