Last week we started a conversation that – judging by the amount of feedback – was long overdue.
I shared with you that at one point I bought some additional views for YouTube videos on top of “real” marketing, and the result was an increase in authentic feedback when the view counts were inflated.
All other tactics including promotion, distribution, etc… were done by ethical means, but when the view count inflated, the organic feedback went up.
I shared with you a common tactic I’ve seen several big blogs use to inflate their social sharing numbers on content that is good ←– This matters —- and asked “if you don’t know, is it a big deal?”
I asked because every day bloggers are asking their readers to trade their social currency for real dollars, on a foundation of social proof that is easily manipulated.
As you could imagine, the response was about as unanimous as a conversation about gun control and women’s rights. While many agreed that “gaming the system” wasn’t right for them, they found it understandable, albeit very frustrating to learn that we play on a “Skewed playing field.”
Below you’ll find the comments that I feel best represent all sides of the argument…
THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS HERE ARE EDITED: PLEASE VIEW THE ORIGINAL COMMENT THREAD HERE. (also, all emphasis is mine)
“…I always believe that as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you can do whatever the heck you want to do. And since setting fake accounts and increasing your share numbers doesn’t hurt anyone, except the person behind if it, ha, I think you have to the right to do it. Whether people like it or not shouldn’t be your problem.”
- Mars Dorian
“When one person games the system to get ahead, it often forces others to engage in the same underhanded behavior ….On that sort of skewed playing field, you’ve invariably got some content creators whose content isn’t worth a damn. But they’ve learned how to cheat the system and thereby waste peoples’ time with their lackluster content. And that makes for a cynical audience — one that may not bother to take the time to engage with good content that was created and marketed ethically.” – Brian Brolin
“Hmm. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Mainly, I feel annoyed, I guess. Stuff like this always bugs me because I feel like I’m trying to fight a bunch of fucking ghosts… I want to believe in the crowdsourced beauty of the internet, where things tend to be real because the presence of so many people makes everyone kind of even out and police themselves.
…I get annoyed at stuff like this because the above optimism means I look naive even when doing my own material. Material, by the way, I WORK MY ASS OFF to create and distribute. So when I hear that anyone can buy views or reload pages and beat me through bullshit, not-real magic, yeah, it pisses me off. And what’s worse, it gets me thinking that maybe I should do some of it too. Partially because it works, but also because the presence of so much smoke and mirrors makes even great content with good marketing hard to stand out without it.”
- Johnny B. Truant
“…The frustrating thing is that some people who do game the system do get ahead. But at least when you don’t game it and rely on your own awesomeness, you can sleep at night ” – Andrea Vahl
“It comes down to how okay are you with using trickery for personal gain? I don’t know. How okay are you with shoplifting? How okay are you with shoplifting if you’re starving? It’s circumstantial ethics…
…Overall, I’d say that we put too much emphasis on social proof to guide our consumption decisions. Why do we give a crap how many times something has been tweeted or viewed?
…The reality is that if you use the “wisdom of crowds” to dictate what you watch, what you read, and what you buy then you are – by definition – a lemming. If everybody had more self-confidence in their own desires and preferences and stopped trying to use (easily gamed) social proof to short-cut the curation process, we’d all be better off.” -Jay Baer
AGAIN, THESE COMMENTS ARE EDITED. I ENCOURAGE YOU TO READ THE ENTIRE DISCUSSION HERE.
There were some very interesting things that happened as the conversation continued.
1.) The Question of “Does it matter if the content is good?” quickly morphed into “It matters when bad content gets gamed and rises to the top.”
2.) Depending on where the question was asked, the answers varied from “YOU gamed the system, you’re evil (This is the first time I’ve ever seen your content, bee tee dubs) to “if a tree falls in the woods” (Reddit)
3.) The entire post was seen as a “How to Manipulate the Internet.” post, and I became criticized for outlining tactics that are frequently used.
This was not the point of the article at all, and if after you read it you thought, “you know, I’m going to use these methods to sell my low quality stuff” – please die in a fire.
Here was the actual point of the article…
Lisa Hanson of Mompreneurmogul.com shared an article from Inc.com titled Real Estate Entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran: “Perception Creates Reality”
The article talks about how Barbara Corcoran’s “the broker of the stars” real estate agency was struggling until she placed a small ad in New York Magazine. The ad was an image of her brokers and their families with the word “Power Brokers.” across the top.
“Were we power brokers? No, of course not. We were at the bottom of the heap,”
“What was important was the brand on top of it. ‘The Power Brokers – The Corcoran Group’ ‘The Power Brokers – The Corcoran Group’ Did you know it was a year and a half after I finished running that campaign, knowing we were not power brokers, New York Magazine did a cover story and called it “Power Brokers”? They profiled 5 brokers and chose 3 of my people.” - Inc.com
She sold the Corcoran Group for $66 Million in 2001
Do I agree with it?
Ethically No. But would that stop me from buying real estate from her company if I ever reached celebrity status?
Probably not. It doesn’t change the fact that ultimately her firm attracted celebrity clients, and those clients were satisfied to give referrals and keep the title of “broker of the stars”
It doesn’t change the fact that our brains are hardwired to believe “bigger is better.” Or most of us are early majority waiting for “innovators” and “early adopters” to test the waters and let us know everything is ok.
It doesn’t change the fact that when you add a bunch of people on Twitter, many will add you back, giving you permission to Direct Message them.
It doesn’t change the fact that out of the 34 different people who commented, 27 of them were people I messaged directly on Twitter.
What scares me is even though I sent 1oo DMs by hand, the entire process could be automated and scaled faster and wider. We’re not talking about “buying” followers here people, we’re talking about real people following you simply because you followed them.
So by that logic, you could follow 100,000 people, unfollow the 60,000 who don’t follow you back, post links to great content and “join the conversation” repeat… in 3 days you’re elite, now all you have to do is look the part – according to the Corcoran theory.
For the record, most of the people I sent Dms to started following me on the merit of my work alone. Sending DMs en masse has always been outside of my comfort zone. Though it’s made me uncomfortable in the past, these results have me questioning what I’ve considered crossing the line.
If you look at the sheer amount of thought leaders who commented, it’s difficult to argue what I’ve considered “grey” tactics work only on “sheeple”
The truth is, we’re still human. Most of us want friends and will be impressed with big numbers. We have to look at train-wreck, and grasp at anything that floats when we’re drowning. It’s in our nature.
So, I’m at a bit of a loss. I want to believe that doing everything the slow hard way will yield the highest reward, I really do. But when the data supports pushing just a little beyond what I perceived as comfortable, it makes me wonder; Where do we draw the line?
If I don’t know I’m being manipulated (i.e. being exposed to content that was brought to my attention by gray or black tactics), and the content is good, then it’s “no harm no foul.” If I get exposed to an awesome new artist, or hilarious meme earlier, than that’s a positive.
HOWEVER, if I become aware that I’ve been manipulated, my anger towards you the marketer will be disproportionate. Meaning, I’ll totally forget the benefit I got from the content, because you’ll have made me feel like a sucker.
I don’t know, maybe I’m asking the same questions again, but I felt it was important that I clarify on a few points.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse, and perhaps it’s a fruitless effort to try and determine some sort of ethical code for the online marketing space, but I think it’s something we should try and figure out as a community, otherwise, the whole system might implode.