Deception, dishonesty and duplicity: welcome to astroturfing

Fascinating article in the FT about the phenomena of ” “flogging,” astroturfing,” and “comment spamming”.

So what are they?

Well, “flogging” means writing a fake blog to get publicity for your product – according to the FT piece, Sony tried to increase sales of its PSP portable by starting a blog purporting to be written by two boys wanting PSPs for Christmas.

“Astroturfing” – generating fake grassroots enthusiasm – involves companies paying bloggers to write favourably about products they’ve never actually used.

And “comment spamming” is writing lots of flattering comments about a company in the comments sections of blogs.

Needless to say, none of these practices are a good idea, and you really have to wonder at the mentality of the marketing geniuses who have been engaging in them. Apparently the computer supplier Belkin went so far as to advertise online for people willing to write enthusiastic reviews of Belkin products on Amazon for 65 cents a time. Not only dense, but counter-productive too: now that everyone knows Belkin is so desperate for good reviews it has to pay for them, who will buy their products?

In fairness, we can assume that the most senior people in the guilty organisations didn’t know what was going on, which is why the most savvy companies, like IBM and Coca Cola, have produced guidelines requiring employees to act honestly and ethically in all their dealings in the online world.

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