19 September 2008

Can You Cheat The Social Media System?

Word of mouth has long been a good marketing tool. In the social media world, however, the stakes change. Online, one person can influence thousands, even millions of people. Traditional word of mouth embodies a viral, yet transient spirit. By contrast, comments made online can live forever.

So, what's to stop people from cheating the "social media system"?

Yesterday, my friend and colleague blogged about how SourceForge, a premier online media site targeting techies, monitors the Web for negative customer comments. Using tools like Twitter and Facebook, Sourceforge will pursue disgruntled customers and users. The process has yielded positive feedback and provides Sourceforge with key product management and marketing feedback - a healthy example of customer service instigated by online feedback.

By contrast, other sites like Yelp, the popular review site, seem to be easily manipulated. Some of my friends have used Yelp to voice their anger over poor food service. In one case, a friend complained after going to a restaurant's Grand Opening and waiting for more than an hour for her meal. She wrote a negative review, posted it to Yelp, and the restaurant immediately contacted her offering a free meal.

Couldn't I choose a random restaurant I've been wanting to try, do the same thing and reap the benefits?

What about online competitor bashing? If I were AT&T, what would stop me from asking my employees to throttle ComcastCares on Twitter under the guise of an online alias?

Robin Stavinsky, high tech PR and online communications specialist, has assured me that online fraud in the form of competitor bashing would never work because there are too many ways to track down the source.

I remain skeptical. No matter how altruistic I'd like to be, why not test out being a professional online whiner to see what benefits (or punishments) I might reap? Wouldn't you?


Bret Clement said...

Interesting. I had no idea consumers/restaurants were using Yelp this way.


I guess you can cheat on Craigslist, too. For example, I've replied to housing ads that are too good to be true only to be asked to share personal information for a credit check. These people tend to get caught, but I think they probably trick a few people into giving up personal info before the ad is removed.