When Social Media Marketing Goes Wrong

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  • September 5, 2007
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Social media marketing is often seen as an excellent way to spread the word about an interesting new product, website or service without resorting to an expensive PR campaign. Done well, a SM campaign can be run by just one person and attract a huge amount of buzz within days.

However the readers of sites such as Digg & Reddit are mostly web savvy users who are quick to judge anybody seen to be trying to manipulate them.

Earlier this year a site called web2.0effect.org carried out an interesting experiment to see which web host was the best at standing up to the Digg effect. On the face of it the experiment was very well run and provided a fair comparison, however within days other bloggers were calling the experiment a sham and its credibility was in ruins. Whether the experiment was genuine or not was never proven but the fact that so many people believed they had been tricked left the winners of the test, Burton Hosting, with a reputation problem.

Web 2.0 Effect

One blog ran a story calling the Web 2.0 effect site a “elaborate viral marketing ploy” while another said that the “whole thing was a viral marketing sham”.

The web2.0effect.org site ended up with only 300 links despite receiving over 50,000 unique visitors at the start of the experiment.

Rand Fishkin, in a social media interview, discusses a similar campaign (possibly the web2.0effect.org campaign) which he calls the biggest blunder in social media optimisation:

I saw a company “pretend” to do an independent review of several vendors of a particular product/service on a website. They got very popular with hundreds of thousands of visitors and tons of blogs and social buzz about them, but then one intrepid blogger started investigating and found that the company who was ranked “best” had actually paid a social media firm to put together the whole project. Ugly stuff – that blog entry got nearly as much coverage as the original piece and many bloggers actually deleted their links to the ranking site. That sucked.

The lesson to be learned is that you need to act quickly to resolve any issues that might spiral out of control. In the web2.0effect.org example Burton Hosting didn’t comment on the issue once and are now widely known amongst members of the Digg & Reddit community as the company that tried to trick them, despite this never being proved.

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