Reddit, crowdturfing and online fakery

crowd turfingSocial news site Reddit has been in the news this week after they've banned several high profile sites.  Amongst those under the ban hammer are industry heavyweights Business Week.

“One of the more difficult things to deal with is manipulation by publications or individuals of actual quality content,” Reddit General Manager Erik Martin told Forbes. “These are not occasions where an employee or even multiple employees were over-submitting content. We’re talking about relatively sophisticated, coordinated manipulation of votes.”

In other words, it sounds like some big names have been participating in crowdturfing.  Crowdturfing takes its name from astroturfing, whereby people use another name and promote themselves on the web.  Crowdfunding takes this to another level by hiring thousands of people via the cloud to do their bidding.  In the Reddit case it would appear like they've been paid to vote up content and get it into a high profile position.

The industry is already valued at several million pounds and appears to be growing exponentially, so well done to Reddit for having the courage to take action against this activity, even when done by big brands.

What's telling however is that senior managers seem oblivious to the actions of the people orchestrating the crowdturfing.  Martin reveals the common response of firms barred from the site is for senior managers to get in touch and beg to be reinstated.

“It’s often the case that the management is not aware of what is done on their behalf, and that sucks, but we still have to take action,” he said.

The sad thing is that this practice seems so commonplace.  Research this month revealed that nearly half of all Twitter followers on big brand accounts were in fact bots.  Are we to believe that someone nefarious has just signed up on these accounts or is it someone on the Twitter team at these companies looking to inflate their follower stats by crowdturfing?

Either way it suggests a huge distortion of ROI.  It doesn't matter how many Twitter followers you have, or how much traffic you get from Reddit.  They're not going to impact your business at all and the focus on these metrics suggests that senior managers are adopting a build it and pray approach where they don't know what to get out of social media but feel they have to do something.

Strategy and success is very unlikely to arrive through chance.  To get the most from social media you need it to be part of your culture, to be infused with how you operate and for you to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.  Of course to achieve that you need senior managers to get involved.  Given how few C-level managers participate on social media however I won't hold my breath.


4 thoughts on “Reddit, crowdturfing and online fakery

  1. To be honest my hat goes off to Reddit for having the balls to do this. Gaming social sites has been going on for ages, and most of the time people have been allowed to get away with it. Nice to see them standing up for the end user rather than the big publishers.

  2. Always tickles me when these things come out. Few years ago there were cases of really big names doing black hat SEO and then getting bunted out of the SERPS. They have this image that the big boys do everything so well, when in reality they often do anything but.

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