Tuesday, 15 April 2008

PR agency posting fake comments? Don't get caught!

Just read an embarrassing Czech story: a blogger uncovered four non-existent girls posing as 'members of the public' blogging from the IP address of a PR agency to promote a bank's new product. Of course, it does not take an Edelman screw up to know this takes place all over the place - although only a portion of the cases are ever uncovered. In this case, like often, this was a 'private activity' of an intern and the PR agency (Bison & Rose) had no idea.

Fake reviews of all sorts are rampant in the travel business and really, logically anywhere stuff gets reviewed (semi-)anonymously online. My pet peeve is the website of the UK Guardian newspaper on travel called Beenthere. I follow the reviews on Bratislava ever since someone posted a genuine review of one of our websites (here). Soon our competitors went crazy posting their own reviews of their own sites.

Now you ask how I know they are fake? And why should you trust me ours is real? Easy, Sherlock, real easy. Our reviewer MikeP has actually posted other reviews, some are lengthy and they cover a number of destinations and his profile contains a photo. The other reviews are usually one off affairs or the 'reviewers' have posted a few short spammy 'tips' on the same day.

The lesson here? If you wish to give yourself favourable publicity in the social media either make the effort to be a real user or at least work shrewdly to cover your tracks. Here are a few important tips to help PR agencies avoid embarrassment:

1. Keep a few active social media profiles around - some social media sites (e.g. Digg) discount inactive users algorithmically, elsewhere it is the community that shuts up the abusive new users. The best way to make your posts credible and make them stick is to have profiles that are or look real - regular posting, consistent behaviour.

2. If you must pick names or photos, be careful (not like the Czech blogger who used on of the top Google image results for 'girl', showing the Debian girl posted here, which was easy to track down - the girl in the photo is a Cambridge PhD. student quoted as being "pretty upset"). If you are going to do this on a grand scale, plan ahead with changing your IP addresses or at least not using ones easily traceable to your company (lots of fake Wikipedia entries get uncovered through IPs traced to the company doing the embellishing).

3. Watch your language - real people don't talk like PR pros, so if the review contains PRish funny speak it is probably written by someone who speaks it.

4. If you ask who cares probably no one real does - in the Czech bloggers' case these young women were raving about a new banking product, but I mean who (other than a few geeks) would care about this stuff?

5. Along the same lines if it sounds too good to be true it probably is - again real people don't go around raving about boring stuff.

Your competitors are clever and will dig deep to undo your efforts, so you might as well not bother if you are not going to do this right.