Manipulating Social Media

Since the early days of consumer reviews against books listed on Amazon's website, we've become more and more interested in, and believing of, the opinions of others -- particularly strangers. I remember that once buying books from Amazon because on the basis of whether the books had been given five stars out of five by readers. Only later did I realize that most books on Amazon seem to have four or five stars, and that savvy publishers had begun gaming the system to promote their books.

As with those ratings on Amazon, we're now seeing savvy marketers attempt to manipulate social media for the same purposes. Signs and shortcuts that we might have once trusted - such as a referral from a friend - we're now not as sure we can trust. Three examples of these are LaunchRock, Like-gating and Web-advertorials.

  • LaunchRock is a pyramid scheme for driving traffic to a website. You can only get access to a hidden beta of 'some cool new thing' by referring three of your friends. This is before you yourself know what you are referring your friends to!
  • Like-gating is a strategy brands, such as The New Yorker, are using on Facebook. If you Like a page, you are given access to fan-only only content and goodies. In essence, your approval of a brand to your friends is exchanged for personal rewards. There was once a time when the ethics around this would have been questionable. Not any more.
  • Web-advertorials, such as this one, are websites that look like real news sites, and pose themselves in a way that make the viewer think it is an authentic and impartial site. They even have fake comments seconding the article's supposed real experiment.
In a world in which manipulation is becoming the norm, it will be interesting to see how social norms in the online world adapt to account for these.