Social Media Marketing or Astroturf? – Janet Fouts

Social Media Marketing or Astroturf?

A couple of recent reads have been rolling around in my brain today, and I really needed to just get this out.
Todd Defren writes about his recent experience with a “Black Hat” SEO company in his post "Beware the Charlatans"

For as long as I’ve been working with my clients’ sites to optimize them for search I’ve known about “black hat” SEO tactics. There are a zillion websites that promise to rocket you to the top of Google as if by magic. There are just as many ways to do this as there are crooks to sell it to you, and believe me, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

Of course as soon as they saw the effect of social media on traffic, Social Media Marketing (SMM) was born. Mega-traffic promising marketers switched to SMM as a way to raise their numbers even faster. For a few hundred dollars you can get your website address blasted over the popular social bookmarking sites, or you can go a step further and hire a team to talk about your company in a positive light on social media sites. I have heard of people wanting fake profiles built complete with followers and questions and answers on Linkedin.

As I mentioned in this post earlier this week, huge traffic numbers don’t have as much value as a smaller number of relationships that turn into evangelists for you and your company. That traffic that seems to be hitting your website so hard could just be bots following all those false leads in the social media bookmark sites the Black-hatter created for you. That means they are not even people, so what good are they?

This kind of spamming isn’t the only place you will encounter this. Astroturfing and brandjacking are becoming common and I had a long chat with someone recently who explained that almost every "person" he chatted with online through Facebook and Linkedin turned out to be fakes with a totally different agenda than their online persona.

I had an on-line chat recently on a business network with a person who claimed to be "another business owner", but after a little while it became clear that he was a sales person trying to get me to commit to the premium version of the service. I won’t name the network but you can be sure I’m not wasting my time there.

Another post I read this morning was on Mashable called "How to Know if You Should Fire Your Social Media Consultant". You get the drift, but go read the post and particularly the responses. In my opinion consultants are just like any other employee. Some go above and beyond and some don’t. For some small companies a consultant can be a life-saver because they simply can’t hire in-house, but just like any other staff, they should be properly vetted first. So, how to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys?

  • Ask to see their work and call their clients. Not the just the references they give you, but pick up the phone and call a client. If they have them on their client list they’d better have good feedback about the experience.
  • Look at their work and see if it fits your goals.
  • Are they trying to solve your problem or pitching you on the latest greatest?
  • Do they ask a lot of questions determine what you need, or are they all "push"?
  • Ask about their processes and be up-front about wanting transparency.
  • If meeting them face to face isn’t an option, set up a conf call and trust your gut when you hang up.

Contrary to what some people would like you to believe, SEO and SEM are not rocket science. To be sure, there are tricks of the trade, but most of it is just plain hard work. SEM in particular is going to take some work form you or your team, because to do it right it’s YOUR voice that needs to be out there, or somebody who is a good evangelist for you and your product. You’ll either have to take the time to bring the team up to speed on what is important or do it yourself.

SEO takes a little different skill-set and if you prime the team carefully it can be outsourced. I know a few good honest SEO champions to recommend. (I only do SEO for websites we build because I’m deep in their site anyway), Email me at for a non-affiliate recommendation.

  • fouts
  • September 30, 2008
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 4 comments

Why am I not surprised that people are working with different goals than their online profiles lead us to believe? Todd Defren is spot-on in his post and so are you. My takeaway is it’s ok to make friends but before I really give them anything I carry on a face to face or phone convo or two to verify who they are and if I still want to do business with them.


I think this is basic marketing smarts. You people make it a big deal when it works aagainst you.


It is true that some sites use seeding methods to create conversation. It is different than spamming or falsifying conversation. It is a fine line but important.


Ive found another company astroturfing – see the 100% hard evidence here

I decided to put it in a blog because I think this practise is
disgusting – this company has paid someone to make a video testimonial –
you have to see it to beleive it – the company then uses the video to
decieve others- because the customer says how much money he made from
using their services !


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