Agency boss: We’re targeting blogs with fake personas but it’s not spam

An Australian digital agency is advertising for someone to take on a “supplied persona” and surreptitiously promote clients on blogs and chatrooms.  

In an ad for a “social search consultant” currently on Gumtree, Geoffrey Emerson – boss of recently launched agency The Prosperity Principal says:

“The job requires you to have very good search skills to find conversations online. You will then take on a supplied persona and join in on the conversation.

“You will have to be clever and adaptive, if you don’t know about a subject then you will have to learn how to “sell” yourself as authentic.

“This is NOT spam, you are adding value to the conversation. You are respectful and knowledgeable and most importantly having fun.

“If this sounds like you and you have strong English writing skills, then please I want to hear from you.”

geoffrey-emersonEmerson – previously head of digital at Sydney PR agency Zing conceded to Mumbrella: “It’s a link bait job. There’s no two ways about it, it’s black hat. But it’s not spam.”

He said that an example of the service he is providing through his agency’s “trusted avatar” product would be where someone working for the agency joins in a conversation taking place online about finance. He asid: “We’d say ‘here’s a great site that’s offering a great deal – why not take a look?’”

Asked if the poster’s affiliation with the client would be disclosed, he said: “No. The comments would be deleted if you did that.”

He added: “Clients get five to seven inbound links a week. And it absolutely works.

“I realised when I created this product that I might not be popular for this and I’m popping my head up a bit. “If some of the social media fraternity don’t like this and have a go, what does it matter? We’re not spamming.”


  1. Leslie Nassar
    30 Aug 09
    8:08 pm

  2. Since it’s a fake persona, I suppose it won’t matter if other people use it.

    “Hey, fellow neo-Nazis; after a night of white supremacy and rough sex, nothing refreshes like an ice-cold can of Coca-Cola!”

  3. Alex Campbell
    30 Aug 09
    8:11 pm

  4. How is this “adding value to the conversation”?

    Clients who are stupid or unethical enough to along with this kind of bullshit deserve what they get.

  5. David Jackmanson
    30 Aug 09
    8:13 pm

  6. In other news from The Prosperity Principal, 2+2=5.

  7. David
    30 Aug 09
    8:26 pm

  8. I dont really see the issue, if you are not lying how does it change if you are an employee of the agency or company doing the same task? If you are posting with client/agency email address and website, and not something spammy like “” doesnt the reader benefit?

    How is it any different that plugging a software solution that you use or company that you have a good relationship with, if it solves the solution. If you are providing value by someone asking about a pure online banking solution and you work for ING Direct and put a link to the product that is suitable.

    It is different if they are asking about which credit cards are the best solution and you put a link to ANZ home loans because you get a trailing commission or paid per lead, that is bad for user experience…

    My issue is when these fake personas start a dicussion around what solution is best and they use another fake personas to answer the same question. That is not something that is useful, and I would class that as spam!

  9. Stuart Sheridan
    30 Aug 09
    8:36 pm

  10. It’s all about disclosure and declaring your interest, otherwise it is purely misleading and bound to generate user backlash against the brand who/that engages in this.

    I see no reason why they cannot declare their interest from the outset – it still adds value to the conversation but users can make up their own minds about clicking through.

  11. Sam Granleese
    30 Aug 09
    8:39 pm

  12. You’re not an agency without clients and I doubt Prosperity Principal will acquire any of significance.

    This service is the conversational equivalent of walking into a cafe, rudely interrupting someone while they are talking, giving a false endorsement for a product or service, and then leaving a fake business card behind.

    They used to call people like this ‘Confidence Men’.

  13. David Jackmanson
    30 Aug 09
    8:50 pm

  14. “How is it any different [from] plugging a software solution that you use or [a] company that you have a good relationship with, if it solves the [problem?].”

    In one case you are telling the truth about your experiences, and in the other case you are lying.

  15. David
    30 Aug 09
    8:54 pm

  16. I dont think that dropping into conversations is always best, but if someone posts a public forum question about what is the best solution, it is upto the reader to decide who to listen to.

    Also for a test tag tracking code into blog comment fields and you will see how many people click to view your website.

  17. David
    30 Aug 09
    8:57 pm

  18. I agree that if you are lying about experience there might be some issues, but if I really find that a particular software package works, why not?

  19. David Jackmanson
    30 Aug 09
    9:02 pm

  20. “I agree that if you are lying about experience there might be some issues, but if I really find that a particular software package works, why not?”

    This job doesn’t look like it’s limited to talking about products or services you have experience with. It seems fairly clear you’d be expected, if you took this job, to plug services and experiences you’re told to, whether or not you have any experience with them whatsoever.

    You’d be expected to recommend the deals of your boss’ clients, even if you think they suck, and even if you have no knowledge of that industry.

    I’m sure that if I’m wrong about this Mr Emerson would be delighted to comment here and set me straight. Or maybe there are some commenters who’ve used Mr Emerson’s agency and would like to let me know how good it is ;)

  21. David
    30 Aug 09
    9:09 pm

  22. Mr Jackmanson having re-read the job description, i had a rethink. I must say that having to plug crap products would be more likely, than having the chance to talk about wonderful and useful products would be nice but not as likely.

    It seems likely that most products that be promoted this way would fall below the standards of “snuggie” or “shamwow?”

  23. Stuart Sheridan
    30 Aug 09
    9:17 pm

  24. Shamwow – LOL I gotta get me one of them…pass on the snuggie however.

  25. Ben Shepherd
    30 Aug 09
    10:30 pm

  26. at least he’s honest i guess

  27. just another social media expert
    30 Aug 09
    10:32 pm

  28. Hey I notice you’re talking about Geoffrey Emerson, and the good work he is doing at The Prosperity Principal. I notice you are a bit skeptical. !ut you really should give it a go. It’s a very good service.

  29. Geoffrey Emerson
    30 Aug 09
    10:48 pm

  30. Hi all,

    When I told Tim I would man the comment stream I expected a shit storm, but in all these cases it amazes me the amount “creative license” one takes when reading the above story.

    And before I forget I will be at the social media club tomorrow, you have my picture come up and engage me in person. I love a good argument!

    Anyway, back to the task at hand.

    I am not going to @reply to each post, not to be rude but in the interest of brevity.

    The product Trusted Avatar uses supplied personas to a very select team of social search consultants. They NEVER post on a thread that isn’t related to the client’s service. They NEVER use false or misleading terminology or talk up a product that “sucks” as one person implied.

    The very name of the product should give you an idea, it’s about having some positive brand reference around a relevant inbound link. The reason that they aren’t declared is purely pragmatic, it’s very easy for the armchair social media expert to expound the correct dogma on twitter/blogs/forums but as a business it’s often not commercially viable to live by letter of the law.

    I thought Naked’s lady in the jacket was a cynical play at peoples emotions, because it was. The difference here is that we look for a key term, find a relevant conversation and then post a link that adds value to that conversation. Out of all the (and for the record I did say to Tim it was “kind of black hat”) SEO techniques this one is pretty benign and if anything on the good side of the borderline.

    Lastly, when you employ a SEO specialist and they offer to get you good results and quality inbound links where did you think they came from? I stand by the product and I stand by P2. ?My company is built on ethics and empowering businesses to prosper through taking their marketing in house. I don’t advocate spam and I don’t think that Trusted Avatar is spam , it’s an SEO product that is closely monitored to ensure that it’s not.

    I will check the comments tomorrow and try to cover all comments with a response. If you want to berate me in person see you tomorrow night at SMC.


    Geoffrey Emerson
    MD – P2

  31. David
    30 Aug 09
    11:06 pm

  32. Geoffrey, im not sure maybe it was my comment, the point was more that it is likely people who have crap products may have more interest in using services such as this. Same point around the crap direct sales companies that advertise each week in the local paper offering the world, i can see them jumping on this kind of service and pushing the limits/morals of your team.

    I dont really see the issue, as agency/seo consultants are more likely to use correct spelling, terminology and product names when undertaking such a task. I dont see a massive issue as long as the “email/website” address given by the avatar is clear and not misleading.

    It is usually upto the blog owner/administrator to approve such comments so not using those damn “” as a contact address, they are just unprofessional and sketchy.

    Also these types of methods have been used for years, its only now that their is an agency who has productised it…

  33. David Jackmanson
    30 Aug 09
    11:32 pm

  34. “…it amazes me the amount “creative license” one takes when reading the above story. ”

    Can you list some specific, detailed examples where creative licence has been taken?

    “The product Trusted Avatar uses supplied personas to a very select team of social search consultants.”

    Are the personas under which your employees will post the same as the personas they have previously used online? Or are they personas that only exist to promote the clients of your firm?

    “They NEVER use false or misleading terminology or talk up a product that “sucks” as one person implied.”

    1) If someone you have employed thinks that one of your clients’ products sucks, and they refuse to promote that client, for how much longer can they expect to be employed by you?

    2) What do you define as “false or misleading terminology”? I regard someone telling me that they have an opinion about a service, without telling me they are being paid to communicate that opinion to me, as false and misleading, *even if* no actual lies are told about the service.

    “The very name of the product should give you an idea, it’s about having some positive brand reference around a relevant inbound link.”

    I infer from the product name “Trusted Avatar” that you are attempting to simulate the trusted referrals that can come from discussions on social networking sites. For instance, I may ask about a certain product range, and people whose opinions I respect and trust may give me recommendations.

    However, if I discovered that any of those people were giving me recommendations without fully disclosing any interest they may have in the product they suggest, I would no longer trust them.

    Any “trust” generated by such an exercise depends entirely on keeping secret the fact that the referrals your employees create are paid for. You admit as much in the article above, unless you contend that the sentence

    “Asked if the poster’s affiliation with the client would be disclosed, he said: “No. The comments would be deleted if you did that.””

    is untrue.

    “The reason that they aren’t declared is purely pragmatic, it’s very easy for the armchair social media expert to expound the correct dogma on twitter/blogs/forums but as a business it’s often not commercially viable to live by letter of the law.”

    I’m not a “social media expert”. The sort of people I choose to follow on Twitter hold “social media experts” in amused contempt. And they generally place a high value on genuine social interactions via social media, and would be very hostile to paid, undisclosed commercial messages.

    Which is not to say that commercial messages have no place on social media. Many of the people I follow on social media use it as a way to indirectly or indirectly make a living. I found out about this blog post via the @mumbrella Twitter account, which exists largely to promote this commercial publication. That is up front, I have all the info I need to make a decision, and since I have an interest in the topic I’m quite happy to follow that account.

    When I *don’t* have all the info I need to make a decision – for instance, if it turned out that advertising agencies could pay this publication for favourable coverage (which I do not believe) – I would never visit this blog again and would pass on the info to anyone I thought would listen.

    “I thought Naked’s lady in the jacket was a cynical play at peoples emotions, because it was. The difference here is that we look for a key term, find a relevant conversation and then post a link that adds value to that conversation. Out of all the (and for the record I did say to Tim it was “kind of black hat”) SEO techniques this one is pretty benign and if anything on the good side of the borderline.”

    If I found a comment on one of my blogs making a commercial recommendation that was paid for, I would not regard it as benign. I would regard it as malignant spam to be erased, and definitely on the bad side of the borderline. I wonder how many bloggers, tiny ones like me or big ones like the publisher of this site, would agree with me?

    “Lastly, when you employ a SEO specialist and they offer to get you good results and quality inbound links where did you think they came from?”

    I don’t employ SEO specialists. I build my online presence through the long, slow process of talking to people, letting them know what I’m doing and making contacts. When I make a comment, either self-promoting or just discussion, it is my true opinion, not one I am being paid to give.

    “I don’t advocate spam and I don’t think that Trusted Avatar is spam , it’s an SEO product that is closely monitored to ensure that it’s not.”

    I disagree, and I’ll be more than happy to pass on any information that comes my way about how to detect and eradicate comments from your employees.

    “If you want to berate me in person see you tomorrow night at SMC.”

    What would the point be in berating you? Your claim that spam is not spam suggests to me that you cannot be convinced that this is, in fact, unethical. The only point in arguing with you here is to make sure all the readers of this blog see the discussion and are aware of your marketing tactics.

  35. David
    30 Aug 09
    11:42 pm

  36. Mostly these teams start out as specialists then they get bored, disenchanted and move on to other companies/projects and you are left with a team that may potentially sell their souls to promote a clients product if they have strip KPIs…

    As someone who has done seo projects in the pharam/medicial world I can see this potentially exploding into a lawsuit if not done right. If they are looking to do this project correct I would assume that they would have to keep their personas as many forums reward long term contributions and restrict new or untrusted members.

    How does this product handle if you suddenly switch that staffer from promoting Coke to Pepsi.. i mean say product same knowledge but can imagine bloggers ripping your avatars appart if you suddenly switch sides… as the Australian media has done in the past with certain AM radio stars “The Man with the Golden Mike?”

    I have worked with Geoff Emerson in the past and he has my approval.

  37. Trusted Avatar
    31 Aug 09
    12:43 am

  38. Hey check out this awesome SEO job:

    It’s absolutely NOT spam!

  39. Anonymous
    31 Aug 09
    7:05 am

  40. @nichac Past performance isn’t indicative of future actions.

  41. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    8:23 am

  42. @david jackmanson

    Hi David, I wasn’t going to @reply to people but as you seem to have a massive bee under your bonnet I thought I would do the courtesy of replying directly.

    One mans’ spam is another man’s link bait, I personally can live with that.

    In the end people who know me, know I am an honest ethical being and run my company as such. Businesses need link bait and I rather I did it under controlled circumstances then a team of under paid Indian developers.

    One of the great things about working for your self – which since leaving Zing I am for the first time – is that you can choose who you work for. I don’t work for companies that I don’t believe in their product.

    Also let’s not get confuse between a social media strategy and a simple SEO product! I don’t cozy up to people win their trust and them surreptitiously feed them shit links. It’s just a link posted in a relevant thread, no more or less complex then that.

    If I was working up a strategy for for a company that had the resources and the time I would NEVER recommend fake personas. If you are already doing everything that you can and not getting the SEO traction you need, then I am happy give you some help with Trusted Avatar.

    Lastly let’s not forget that primarily this is an exercise to impress ROBOTS not people, so I find this all a bit of a storm in a tea cup :)

    The comment about “creative license” is that in these cases the most vocal always take the most nefarious outcome as their reason for writing when it’s often (as I feel the case is here) fairly innocuous.

    I wish you the best David please feel free to comment away, if I have time I will respond. To the others I don’t respond to directly, not being rude just really pressed for time.



  43. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    8:26 am

  44. @nick hack – Thanks mate your endorsement means a lot to me :)

    @Anonymous – How then is one ever to judge a company, friend or lover in that case if past performance is but a specter of their future intentions?

  45. Stephen Collins
    31 Aug 09
    9:02 am

  46. Fake is fake. Lack of authenticity is poison. I expected better of Geoff.

  47. Stephen Collins
    31 Aug 09
    9:05 am

  48. That said, if it’s an obvious teaser or brand personality that’s declared as such, it might be annoying, but it’s also possible to pass through. It’d be like talking to Mickey Mouse on Disney or Barbie on a Mattel site.

    I certainly wouldn’t like it, and I reckon this is unlikely to work.

  49. Justin Hind
    31 Aug 09
    9:10 am

  50. Did no one learn anything from Naked’s Witchery man? A lie is a lie and we as a profession should understand that the average consumer is smarter than any of us give them credit. Why do you think there is so much skepticism with marketing & online today. This looks like a great way to desecrate a brand at break neck speed.

    Creating a fake undisclosed persona is total BS and shows little if any insight into the correct use of Social Media from a consumers perspective or using it for a profitable outcome that delivers credibility & scale for an advertiser.

    Maybe you should look to how other successful agencies have used social media in a credible and meaningful way. There are plenty of good examples. Look at Levi’s by One Green Bean or all the great work done for Air NZ by sister agency HOST.

  51. Il Jung
    31 Aug 09
    9:15 am

  52. Undisclosed paid promotion. Misleading. Spam.

    Does it make the internet better? No.

  53. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    9:22 am

  54. @Stephen Collins

    Sorry you feel that way, we meet when I spoke at SMC so I am not sure how well we know each other other than that one interaction.

    I wouldn’t do it if I really thought it was evil, in my mind it’s an SEO exercise for robots. It’s NOT a social campaign and we aren’t building community, so the lack of authenticity doesn’t bother me.

    I know I won’t convince you (or others for that matter) but that’s my view and it’s regrettable that you don’t see it from position.

    All the best,


  55. Il Jung
    31 Aug 09
    9:29 am

  56. So, not really evil, just a bit?

    SEO exercise for robots = more noise on the Internet. More MFA sites. More selfish behaviour.

    If one of these “trusted avatars” shows up on one of my sites, it’s an instant and permanent block. The best bits of community are genuine personalities contributing genuine opinions and anything else detracts from that.

  57. Stephen Collins
    31 Aug 09
    9:30 am

  58. Geoffrey, you’re right, we don’t know each other well. So, I’m certainly not judging you. But I do think this campaign represents a risk against your reputation for several reasons:

    - you’re doing a campaign in a social space, ipso facto, it becomes social
    - you’re doing it on people’s blogs, which are very personal spaces
    - you’re doing it with a manufactured personality rather than an authentic one

    You know as well as I that the reputation economy is immensely powerful. You look like you’ve cashed a big cheque against your account. I hope you have a big enough balance.

    I think, as with the Witchery campaign others have mentioned (and I’ve been critical of in the past), that authenticity is something that we all look for. It’s certainly something that no small amount of copy has been written about.

    It’s possible this campaign could have been swung favorably, or at least with less risk, as opposed to the majority of comments here, which are negative, if the personas you’re using were authentic staff or representatives of the client.

    If you commented on my blog with one of these personas, I’d definitely spam your comment.

    Trust. Honesty. Authenticity. Respect.

    Without these, we, our clients and the work we do for them are nothing.

  59. Cheryl Gledhill
    31 Aug 09
    9:31 am

  60. When this law was passed in the UK I thought it might have been a bit excessive but I’m starting to wish it would be introduced here.

    Fake Blogging, Consumer Reviews to Become Illegal in U.K.

    Starting next year, it will be illegal in the U.K. for hotels, restaurants, online shops and others to post glowing reviews online about their services or products under false identities, reports the London Times (via PSFK).

    The law will also apply to authors who praise their own books on websites, such as Amazon.

    Online consumer reviews are playing an ever greater role in shaping shopping habits, with websites such as TripAdvisor for the travel industry being seen as increasingly influential.

    The law became the focus of debate after a recent investigation found that, within hours, poorly rated travel establishments could lift their reputations from one to four stars by posting fictional positive reviews.


  61. Cheryl Gledhill
    31 Aug 09
    9:32 am

  62. Sorry, should have noted that the article was from last year and the law has now been passed.

  63. Stephen Collins
    31 Aug 09
    9:32 am

  64. What Cheryl said.

  65. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    9:35 am

  66. @justin awesome plug for Host and OGB :)

    It’s NOT a social campaign for christ sake, why is everyone so myopic on this point, it’s SEO for robots and links in relevant places


    Post1: “hi I am looking for a good restaurant in Brisbane, any help would be appreciated”

    Avatar: “Hi I live in Sydney so can’t be much help, but here is a link to an awesome aggregator of reviews, hope it helps”

    I fail to see the evil in this example, and clinging to “black & white” views in life and business isn’t pragmatic.

    Anyway I have stated my point clearly and concisely several times I am just rehashing the same topic, so will only reply in the future when’s absolutely necessary.



  67. Smithee
    31 Aug 09
    9:38 am

  68. Let’s be plain about this. The idea here (with all the mumbo jumbo stripped out) is to trick people in order to make money.

    Making money by tricking people ? What an awful way to spend your life and talents. How did you come to such an awful end ? Is trickery really the best idea you can come up with ? Maybe you should take a few weeks off and think about the direction of your work. Seriously.

    You can see the ethics involved by this very telling quote earlier in this thread by Mr Geoffrey Emerson: “. . . .as a business it’s often not commercially viable to live by letter of the law.”

    Charming. It’s also the sort of business attitude that often interests the Tax Department.

  69. Stilgherrian
    31 Aug 09
    9:41 am

  70. Mr Emerson, do you actually know what the word “trust” means? It’s about reliability and truth. A “trusted” entity is one which you can rely upon to be telling the truth.

    However your “trusted avatar” is someone lying about who they are — a “supplied persona”, you call it — who is failing to disclose one of the most important factors in evaluating whether to trust what they say — that is, that they’re being paid to say what they’re saying. So they’re lying twice.

    If you fail to disclose a commercial relationship on radio or TV, it’s called “cash for comment” and it’s wrong. This is the same thing. You even use the term “black hat” yourself, i.e. you know it’s unacceptable in legitimate business.

    There’s a word for people like you, Mr Emerson, and it starts with a “c”.

  71. Clare Werbeloff
    31 Aug 09
    9:41 am

  72. Who cares if its fake, as long as it brings you 500,000 hits on youtube and a record deal.

    If your interested in my latest hit, check out

  73. Justin Hind
    31 Aug 09
    9:50 am

  74. I have no association with Host or One Green Bean apart from respecting them. Their works is outstanding & credible.

    Look at the back lash that also occurred from Cummins Nitro’s “Best Job in the World” when they seeded their own fake content. If you can’t enter into a credible relationship with a consumer then you shouldn’t!

    All you are trying to do is justify lying. I can’t imaging why any brand would actively spend their highly coveted A&P budget to lie to consumers.

    Your justification is total BS.

  75. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    9:51 am

  76. @Smithee

    The original text reads “The reason that they aren’t declared is purely pragmatic, it’s very easy for the armchair social media expert to expound the correct dogma on twitter/blogs/forums but as a business it’s often not commercially viable to live by letter of the law.”

    You then took this to suit your post and make it look like I advocate breaking the law, which I don’t. In context it is clear by “letter of the law” I meant the self imposed dogma that is being espoused by some. Feel free to state your own case but please don’t manipulate my text to suit your purposes.

  77. David Jackmanson
    31 Aug 09
    9:55 am

  78. I note that Mr Emerson has dodged the direct questions I asked in reply to his comment. Such as my request for specific examples of the “creative licence” he complains about, or my request to know what will happen to his employees if they refuse to promote a brand they think sucks.

    I also wonder how posting links on a blog in response to a discussion can be seen as anything but social.

    However, I think it’s a bit rough for Stilgherrian to call him a churl.

  79. Adam Paull
    31 Aug 09
    9:56 am

  80. Robots will eventually create the spam for other robots to read and we humans will have more time to sit by the pool. Not sure how that’s going to help sell hamburgers though…

    The Internet has become an advertising platform just like TV, radio and print, and the lessons learnt there apply here as well – every time you lie you erode a little tiny bit of public trust for the rest of the industry. Audiences reward trust.

    No doubt the people who came up with this service think they’re very clever, but adverting it in a very public forum like Gumtree wasn’t.

    The rest of the industry should be very vocal in their opposition to underhanded schemes like this as it’s their reputation at stake.

    While no doubt the debate will rage on, there is one thing we can all agree on – the burgers are better at Hungry Jacks.

  81. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    9:58 am

  82. @Justin

    I am now commenting to much and need to get going with my day, but quickly the persona is only dropping links in relevant threads.

    The avatar doesn’t lie it just offers a relevant link, it’s not your mate and it’s not asking for money it’s a simple here you go hope this helps.

    All this bluster, pontificating and imagining some perceived harm and injustice to the consumer is frankly amusing, when in fact it’s just a helpful link.

    And you sir have been the most personal in your attack, not ever a good thing in my view when no harm has been done to you or any venom direct your way.

  83. Anonymous
    31 Aug 09
    10:00 am

  84. Justin – The back lash of ‘best job’!! Justin is was u and one or two overly earnest people who have at last found a voice – but no audiance. 100 million liked the campaign. Guys its mar-ke-ting. Getit?

  85. Anonymous
    31 Aug 09
    10:04 am

  86. Would you think the owners of the sites that these links get posted on have any right to some kind of affiliate pay, or right to refuse interference? Especially seeing as their own ‘brand value’ and ‘trustworthiness’ might be jeopardised by the posting of advertisements that are not marked as such? I seem to recall various other forms of media where unmarked advertorials pissed a bunch of people off, and at the very least the publishers were aware of the content. If I owned such a site and became aware of this activity, I’d probably have a lot of my own opinions about the involved brands to share with my users – opinions that would likely even be taken more seriously than those expressed in the ‘not-spam’.

    It seems like if this was worth doing, you’d be able to set up some sort of formal arrangement with the sites hosting these conversations, and possibly pay them a fee per posting or clickthrough from clearly marked advertorialising. Posts from users clearly marked as ‘brand ambassadors’ or ‘trusted adver-tars’ or whatever you want to call them. Whirlpool seems to do alright with their clearly marked brand reps.

  87. karalee
    31 Aug 09
    10:06 am

  88. I read this this morning and couldn’t believe it.

    Planting links and comments, under fake persona’s and hoping for click thru’s is not only unethical and dishonest, but sloppy digital PR.

    There’s a term for crap like this: Astroturfing.

    If you don’t declare yourself and your clients when trolling online, then when people realise (which they will, partly because of this post) the trust is completely broken and in fact I’d argue the public’s reaction is going to be far more harmful as a result than simply not being in this space.

    Mr Emerson, what ROI can you possibly prove to your clients with this strategy? Number of clicks? Number of comment replies?

    What about trust, sentiment, purchase or action? No, I really don’t think so.

    Some of the best online behaviour from organisations is completely transparent and adds value to existing marketing strategies. Look at the Telco’s online, using Twitter and the like to add an additional customer service channel as well as some push marketing. But essentially, people opt in and choose to engage with that brand, because at the end of the day they trust that the ‘people’ are who they say they are.

    Wake up people. I don’t profess to be an expert, but online astroturfing like this is harmful to both the people doing it, and the digital PR world, as well as the brands being represented.

  89. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    10:07 am

  90. @david jackmanson

    I did reply to the creative license line and it was about people always taking the most nefarious view of things.

    With the employees I answered that when I said I choose which companies I work with and I don’t work with companies I don’t believe in. No employee would ever be reprimanded if they didn’t want to work on an account, they would simply be moved to another account.



  91. Anonymous
    31 Aug 09
    10:08 am

  92. As part of my own helpful link-baiting strategy, here’s an interesting case study:

  93. Il Jung
    31 Aug 09
    10:08 am

  94. “just offers a relevant link” = spam. No ifs, no buts. Spam.

  95. Justin Hind
    31 Aug 09
    10:09 am

  96. Sorry Geoff,

    I am very passionate about credibility in digital.

    Why, because there is so much BS out there. There is no venom either. It is a my professional opinion about something posted on a public forum in response to material you seeded. I picked it up from a Tweet that Mumbrella posted today.

    Digital is an industry that I work in & I derive a living from and a major part of my role is to help clients navigate digital realms that make a difference to their business in a positive way.

  97. Justin Hind
    31 Aug 09
    10:12 am

  98. 10:00

    I know about the campaign. It was a great success overall. One point of contention was when a fake entry was posted from the agency where someone got a “real” tattoo for their entry? Two things 1. The entry wasn’t real & 2. The tattoo was fake……

  99. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    10:13 am

  100. @Justin – thanks for the apology I appreciate it take care and good luck.

  101. David Jackmanson
    31 Aug 09
    10:15 am

  102. “I did reply to the creative license line and it was about people always taking the most nefarious view of things.”

    You did not provide even one specific example, just that self-pitying generalisation. “Creative licence” implies that people have misled others about your product.

  103. Riley Batchelor
    31 Aug 09
    10:25 am

  104. This is very lazy social media work

    But he does have a PR background! Perhaps expected

  105. Anon
    31 Aug 09
    10:32 am

  106. In my experience, most clients would go for this. Many would not see anything wrong with it and many would give it a go if they thought they could get away with it.

  107. Il Jung
    31 Aug 09
    10:48 am

  108. Until someone built a shame file of companies doing this sort of thing…

  109. Will Hughes
    31 Aug 09
    10:53 am

  110. “If some of the social media fraternity don’t like this and have a go, what does it matter? We’re not spamming.”

    Actually, it is.

    Although the Spam Act 2003 may not preclude this activity specificly, it’s only because of a relatively narrow definition of ‘Electronic Messages’.

    Were that definition widened slightly to include “comments or postings on electronic forums” – you could potentially be in breach of the Act.

    Either way – this sort of behaviour is absolutely despicable. Any business involved in generating spam deserves to be publicly outed and shamed.

  111. Melinda
    31 Aug 09
    11:00 am

  112. The UK introduced legislation against this last year – outlining that an advertiser must not falsely represent oneself as a consumer. The advertiser must disclose its relationship.
    Debates like this may eventually encourage similar legislation here.

  113. Ben Shepherd
    31 Aug 09
    11:13 am

  114. the internet

    serious business

  115. Gnoll110
    31 Aug 09
    11:16 am

  116. @Geoffrey
    He who lives by the sword, die by the sword. May a two tonne bale of mailbox flier fall from the sky and land on you.

    Just another example of how when the price of producing ‘print’ drops to near zero, things worth near zero get printed.

    Just more noise and less signal.

  117. Sam Deleise
    31 Aug 09
    11:22 am

  118. These controversial stories are so much better to read once the opinionated with time to spare have jumped up and down and the subject has tried to explain themselves, which is hard when people in these forums usually scan the article, decide their position, rant, THEN ask the questions why, where, how….very amusing. Not very well discussed though.

    He’s said where he’ll be tonight – go an TALK to the guy! I will. Things are very easy to say when youre at the keyboard…

    I admit I was going to write my opinion in a similar way as these guys, David, and Stilg (you’re harsh dude) etc, but then its just another negatively charged holier-than-thou comment that frankly tires everyone when the soapbox gets kicked out from under you or everyones sick of looking up your nose. So I decided to write in a way that encourages learning, discussion and an open mind. Heck I’ve never read one of these posts, and if I have I’m sure it wasnt the http://www.sugardaddy etc etc sites – theyre the ones that bug me! A restaurant review link would be cool if I needed it and asked for it – I wouldnt care where it came from! Consumers are smarter than we all think, so why doesn’t that translate into others (us) also thinking that they’ll make THEIR OWN opinion?

    Sure having an authentic person, saying authentic things is best as a reading experience, in a personal blog with specific subjects…its great to learn from others…but something has to be said for P2s use of ‘relevancy’. I take that from the article mostly…Spam to me is, for example, having a sex site show up on anything other than a sex forum, or an ad for plastic surgery products on a pre teen girls blog….that ‘information’ can harm minds, ruin families, and isnt helpful in any way ..

    To add to that I reckon the cafe analogy is a bit extreme – I think a more likely analogy would be walking around a car yard, and having another guy there (not sales staff) just say that his (brand name) car he’s trading in has served him well, qualitys good so he’s getting the newest model….and walking away. Would that be more correct Geoffrey? Thats my impression. Would I instantly buy the car just because he said so? No. Would his opinion inflame my sensibilities? No. :) Perhaps Il Jung’s though – I can just see you, placed in said analogy, stepping forward military style with a hand in the guys face saying ‘ You are permanently BLOCKED! Step away!’ LOL

    Geoffrey, It’d be good if you could answer those questions so we can all ‘um’ and ‘ah’ at them for a millesecond before we launch on you with the same opinion anyway :)

    …cause hey, weve got a whole world of impressionable stupid minds to protect and of course, our concretely decided opionions to stoke! And no, weve no time to discuss things correctly…. we’ve only time for ranting.

    (For all of you who are rageful about the indignation still, and not thinking calmly, I must inform I am being sarcastic in my last sentence.)

  119. Damian Guiney
    31 Aug 09
    11:27 am

  120. We’re over-intellectualising this. It’s just grubby and the kind of thing our industry doesn’t need.

  121. Stilgherrian
    31 Aug 09
    11:41 am

  122. @Sam Deleise 58: Me, harsh? Perhaps. I have an extremely low tolerance for liars.

    Emerson, in his own words, says: “The reason that they aren’t declared is purely pragmatic, it’s very easy for the armchair social media expert to expound the correct dogma on twitter/blogs/forums but as a business it’s often not commercially viable to live by letter of the law.”

    Ignoring the ad hominem “armchair experts” rhetoric, what he’s saying is that he knows his behaviour is socially unacceptable, but he’ll do it anyway because he’ll make more money that way.

    I stand by what I said on Twitter: “In a more civilised time than today, Geoffrey Emerson would be hog-tied, knifed and thrown into a ditch.”

  123. Gnoll110
    31 Aug 09
    11:45 am

  124. Guess the real nub of this is disclosure. You can have three posts with exactly the same text, except for the bottom line.

    1 Cheers, Ned

    2 Cheers, Ned (Disclaimer: Employee & I use this product)

    3 Cheers, Ned (Disclaimer: Agent of Marketing department)

    When you see these 3 by lines in a signature block I bet you give a different response. What we really got is people in group 3 not disclosing and pretending to be in first group. Group 1 (Customer) and group 2 (employee who uses the product) both have creditability because we know who they are and can judge the reliability of their experience with the product.

    Group 3′s comments lack any value because there is not experience. This kind of posting is fraud because they can’t attest to their comment, regardless of the factualness of the post they put their name to.

  125. Simon T Small
    31 Aug 09
    12:03 pm

  126. Geoffrey, what you’re currently doing isn’t spam but it’s being fake, lying, telling porkies… whatever you want to call it – IT’S WRONG.

    Your service may be delivering value to your clients, improving Google rankings and revenue – however that doesn’t make it right.

    It’s sad that I’m the only one to say this but it’d be totally fine with me if you changed your approach ever so slightly. Here’s your example….

    Post1: “hi I am looking for a good restaurant in Brisbane, any help would be appreciated”
    Avatar: “Hi I live in Sydney so can’t be much help, but here is a link to an awesome aggregator of reviews, hope it helps”

    And how a simple/tiny change, that wouldn’t effect your clients outcome, would be much more ethical.

    Post1: “hi I am looking for a good restaurant in Brisbane, any help would be appreciated”
    Avatar: “Hi I work for Ethical Aggregator Co., we’ve got a website that aggregates reviews of restaurants and you’ll be able to find something perfect for what you’re looking for.”

    Your client still gets links and you’re not lying your pants off.

  127. Stilgherrian
    31 Aug 09
    12:06 pm

  128. @Gnoll110 60: Yes, disclosure is precisely the issue, in my opinion.

    Disclosure of the commercial interest is mandatory on commercial TV and radio. In print, it’s also customary (required?) to differentiate between advertising and editorial. Google was challenged on the issue of whether their “sponsored links” were sufficiently distinguishable from organic search results. Why is this any different?

  129. Stephen Collins
    31 Aug 09
    12:07 pm

  130. @Simon – agree completely. I think I suggested as much in my post above. So, jinx! ;)

  131. Sam Deleise
    31 Aug 09
    12:08 pm

  132. Stilg – seems youve got a slightly psychopathic intolerance for everything…thats actually a really frightful post. Neonazi mentioned in first post perhaps? I hope you dont get the idea to hunt me down and torture me in strange and unusual ways too.

    My advice – Start using decaf. hand off the gun. Stop writing out ‘Sam’ on the hitlist.. Easy does it…..Good boy.

    Why not use all that twitter energy you stand by for good? Ironically all of your posts havent really done anyone much good. Theyve only given me a headache and a mild panic for my life…. :)

    The restaurant link though….yum, here comes lunchtime!

  133. Sam Deleise
    31 Aug 09
    12:11 pm

  134. I just read your post Simon -Thats a good change. And no-one gets hogtied and knifed. Thats constructive. Good work.

  135. Simon T Small
    31 Aug 09
    12:12 pm

  136. Baguettes anyone?

  137. Stilgherrian
    31 Aug 09
    12:21 pm

  138. Hyperbole is my shtick. [shrugs] That said, my intent is to convey how much I think Mr Emerson’s behaviour is beyond the bounds of decency.

    I’ve been trying to think of examples from other fields where people’s punishment has been harsh not because they did something wrong but because they subsequently lied about it and tried to cover it up. Brain’s stuck. Suggestions, anyone?

  139. Beaudacious
    31 Aug 09
    12:22 pm

  140. I’m not sure I agree with the practice, but I do think Geoff needs kudos for putting his money where his mouth is. Listing his full name and company details takes balls.

    Unlike all the ‘Anon’ posts on here trying to rip him a new one..

  141. Simon T Small
    31 Aug 09
    12:23 pm

  142. If anyone cares, I tallied the opinions (because it seemed a balanced debate) and tabled them here

    Summary: 18 out of 20 think it’s wrong

  143. Sam Deleise
    31 Aug 09
    12:35 pm

  144. I’m in – It does look like everyone needs to break bread!

    Stilg – are you going to SMC tonight? Should I call an ambo for Geoff, ready to go? Or the cops for you? Theres a term for people like you, and it also starts with a ‘c’…crazed lunatic.

    Re: “I’ve been trying to think of examples from other fields where people’s punishment has been harsh not because they did something wrong but because they subsequently lied about it and tried to cover it up. Brain’s stuck. Suggestions, anyone?”

    Are you STILL thinking of ways to inflict pain on people? Asking for suggestions on how else to do it? Man, just drop it. Like I said before. Goooood boy. Are you his competitor by any chance? if so today would be so much fun for you!

    How about you do your work, Emerson does his, and let that be that?

    I reckon there are better ways for Geoffery to go about his work too… but let his work speak for itself – if its no good it’ll wither…if it works, then it works. Though either way you’ll still look absolutely mad.

  145. Tim Tyler
    31 Aug 09
    12:42 pm

  146. Surely the WOMMA ‘ROI’ code of ethics is worth a thought?

    R- declare who you represent
    O – make it clear whose opinion you are presenting, yours or someone else’s
    I – Identity – state who you actually are

  147. Stilgherrian
    31 Aug 09
    12:56 pm

  148. @Sam: I’m looking for examples for a further comment about human group dynamics, where lying is considered a worse “crime” than doing something wrong but then coming clean about it. I think it’s the misrepresentation which is causing this discussion to become heated. That links to Simon T Small’s point about adding comments to websites being OK if you just disclose who you are.

    No, I am not Emerson’s competitor.

    You ask: “How about you do your work, Emerson does his, and let that be that?” My answer: Because I consider what he’s doing to be so fundamentally wrong that it would be wrong for me to sit idly by and let it happen.

    I haven’t been to SMC, and have no plans to do so. My impression (which may well be wrong) has been that it’s more for people at the marketing end of the social media spectrum.

  149. Martin Aungle
    31 Aug 09
    1:03 pm

  150. Here’s a good example of social media promotion working well with disclosure on Twitter: @cameronreilly Free beer to giveaway! I’m running a survey for our client Bighead beer – help us out (esp if you’ve tried it) I know who he is, I like the idea of free beer, so I’ll give his survey a go.

  151. Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond
    31 Aug 09
    1:11 pm

  152. It’s spam delivered by professional sock-puppets.

    What’s so hard to understand about it?

    I would want to delete it from any blog/forum or other CMS I controlled.

    SEO is tantamount to spam anyway (it’s all about gaming the search systems better than the other spammers regardless of the value of the product being spruked).

    Next we’ll be hearing that …’plausibly-deniable-DDoS attacks can be a great way to neutralise your online competitors’…
    Maybe you could call that product the ‘Trusted Competitor Suppressant’.

  153. David
    31 Aug 09
    1:47 pm

  154. Oh well this seems to have stirred up a few people, I initially didnt see the real blackhat side to this post, but this statement changes the intent of the product. That would class that their aim is mostly spamming search engines and not people, so dont worry folks, they are just screwing with search rankings not looking to add value…

    Quote #20 @Geoffrey 31 Aug 09 8:23 am
    “Lastly let’s not forget that primarily this is an exercise to impress ROBOTS not people”

  155. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    1:50 pm

  156. @Sam Deleise

    Your analogy is best how I see it and thanks for one of the most balanced and sensible posts. This is how I see it which is clearly not the consensus so I will take that on board and possibly looking at changing the product definition.

    @stilg – Don’t know what to say? In my mind there is a HUGE difference between hyperbole and advocating violence, as it wasn’t a direct threat I am just going to give you a wide berth for now.

    @jeffery – Trusted Competitor Suppressant’ love it where do I sign up :)

  157. Anon
    31 Aug 09
    1:53 pm

  158. Bloggers are pretty wise when it comes to spotting fakes. Most likely the fake blogger will be banned from the blog and the brand will come out much worse for it all.

    Much better to create real advocates by winning real customers over.

  159. Anonymous
    31 Aug 09
    1:53 pm

  160. Companies are seeing mass markets in online communities, and are now seeking to infiltrate. Fake personas pretending to add value by directing us to their clients?

    What a load of crap.

    I’m so sick of every business trying to infiltrate every single online community.

    If you want to get heard in an online community, make a difference with your product. Start investing in some research and development, and if people actually like your product, then maybe you will get a mention where people chat online.

    If a business engages in this deceitful rubbish, name and shame to send a message.

  161. adwrighty
    31 Aug 09
    1:53 pm

  162. There are too many examples out there of poor ways to conduct yourself in social media. Authenticity is key, and unfortunately this isn’t.

    I’d be very surprised if any brands who took social media seriously would use this as a tool. I’d place this somewhere between ‘Nigerian emails’ and ‘click here you’re our 500,000th viewer pop ups’.

    Relevant is good for display advertising and search results, not as a ‘ad’ in a forum between bona fide individuals.

  163. Sam Deleise
    31 Aug 09
    1:55 pm

  164. Martin, thats a good promotion, when the survey is filled out – and very good of you to put it in this thread – or is it you Geoffrey?

    I joke :)

    Seriously, this is a fantastic topic of discussion, a philiosophical ponder that continually pops up in Social Media.. consider the following:

    1. “Hi, my real name is Jan, I work for the council, Im 30 years old and I kill 100 perfectly healthy puppies a day for a living.’
    2. “Hi, my name is Trevor (when its really Geoffrey) and heres a good site to compare washing machines”

    First is an honest, fully disclosured PERSONA, the second PERSONA is not – I’ve just thought what is worse out of these two?

    I’ve come to think the message posted is far more important than who posted it. Its tone and insinuation/connotation is paramount. The fine line is there, Geoffrey, just dont cross it! Perhaps stick to objective unemotional messages that dont require trust per se, just pure opinion (and saying that it is just your opinion) and a bit of guidance. Dont lie by saying you’ve used the product unless you have. Don’t present a website that you know nothing about. Youve already said you dont drop ‘shit links’ , thats great. I hope youve got clients with usable product that you can test and write up on. I suppose I’m saying if you’ve used a product then your posts become reviews, not lies. I wouldn’t care what your name is – I’d care if you had used the product and were honest about its capabilities. I invite you to tell us how it is further.

    I’m liking Simons view on an improvement on what your employees are currently doing….

    Ok, great chatting – I’m out to enjoy the sunshine.

  165. karalee
    31 Aug 09
    1:59 pm

  166. Interesting article for people to read on this issue. Not all public relations practitioners are unethical, and it is not wholly subscribed to here or overseas.

  167. Tom Dodson
    31 Aug 09
    2:00 pm

  168. Just another reason why the younger generation is turning off social media…. It is no longer a trusted area to talk to friends. There is no trust any more..

  169. stringy
    31 Aug 09
    2:01 pm

  170. “The very name of the product should give you an idea, it’s about having some positive brand reference around a relevant inbound link.”

    Oh well, if some PR product has “Trusted” in it’s name, I’ll be sure to take their word for it. It’s not like PR people have a track record of being lying douchebags or anything.

    I’d delete this kind of marketing bullshit without a second thought if I discovered it on my blog. I’ve already had to delete PR flacks posing as real people, I don’t want your fucking spam. People are trying to have a conversation, and you interrupt with your pre-prepared message targeted to search-engine robots? If you did that in person, people would hate you and rightly so.

    Thanks, Emerson, for doing your bit to fill the net with noise-pollution. Remind me to blare a recorded ad in your ear with a bullhorn if I ever meet you for a chat – you’re not averse to a bit of targeted marketing during a conversation, are you?

  171. Gavin Heron
    31 Aug 09
    2:02 pm

  172. Hi,

    I’m looking for an argument, ideally in the south melbourne area and in close proximity to public transport, can anyone help?

  173. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    2:02 pm

  174. @david – that comment although fundamentally true was in response to people assume I was out to lie to people. No one is lying about the products or links, they are just posted by avatars manned by real people.

    I worry that all I hear is this nefarious practice I am running of lying to people, are you trying to tell me that 100% of all “real people” online are 100% what they look like or profess to be?

    Lot’s of people hide behind the anonymity of their avatar this is no different, the “real people” don’t disclose what they don’t want too neither do my avatars. The links are relevant to the thread it’s up to the individual to make up their mind when they get to the other end what they want to do.

    I am running a poll on another forum full of “real people” that know me totally outside of marketing and going to ask what the end user thinks. Cause in the end this is a very specific audience that is commenting, but if the consensus everywhere is that the practice is unsavory I will look at stopping it.

  175. Saddam
    31 Aug 09
    2:05 pm

  176. It’s sort of like the difference between, Bush, Blair and Howard saying “I believe Iraq has WMDs” and saying “Iraq has WMDs”. The second phrase was proven to be a lie, which is why they used the first phrase – but it still left an unequivocal impression that led to war. While this is only on-line junk and spam, the principle is the same.

  177. Sue Parker
    31 Aug 09
    2:07 pm

  178. Please tell us Geoffrey that you would REFUSE to have AMI (refer Adam Ferriers experience) as a client.

  179. Sean
    31 Aug 09
    2:18 pm

  180. Hey Geoff,

    I don’t agree with your product – it’s dodgy. Full stop.

    However I also don’t agree with commentators using this forum as an opportunity to vent vitriol and personal attacks on you either. Chill out guys…

    Finally Geoff, I think you might want to think about employing a PR agency to help you out with your responses in this forum….e.g. “Lot’s of people hide behind the anonymity of their avatar this is no different”……????

    I don’t think that comment is a defense as much as it is an endorsement of the doubts about your product coming up in this forum.

    Anyway, good luck

  181. Joel Pearson
    31 Aug 09
    2:25 pm

  182. Am I the only one who thinks that regardless of the deceit etc. the worst thing about this is that its just plain fucking annoying?

    I know I’ve been on forums before where you’re having a conversation and a new user register’s spruiks a “relevant product or service” and then logs off. It doesn’t contribute anything, I understand it isn’t really harmful either, but its annoying as hell.

    Also, it unfortunately makes life more difficult for those of us who work in digital (and who constantly try to improve the quality of Australia’s landscape) to explain that we’re not all douchebags who use popups and spam to annoy consumers online.

    I don’t think its a despicable as others in this thread clearly do, but it is dishonest and annoying.

    I also don’t understand hiring people in Australia to do this. Just because someone is sat in an office here doesn’t make it any less spammy than if it were “a team of under paid Indian developers.”

    There are lots of agencies that do it, that doesn’t make it right though. There are several publishers who still auto launch video with sound and still use pop-ups and pop-unders, however I personally would never recommend these to any client I consulted with because I see them as annoying, interruptive, bad practice and as a major inhibitor of the true value of online media.

    Digital in Australia is never going to achieve the momentum it should while there are so many out there who are chasing the quick buck.

    If you want to do this crap by all means go ahead, just don’t pretend it isn’t poor form and bad practice.

  183. Mero
    31 Aug 09
    2:26 pm

  184. Nine to seven inbound each week? Whats the bet they all turn out to be dud leeds.
    This is just another method PR agencies enhance their “search engine optimisation” capabilities.
    Dont be fooled, its all a bullshit ploy.

  185. bernard
    31 Aug 09
    2:28 pm

  186. Firstly considering the standard of English of most bloggers and commenters, I dispute, for this position you need to have good English.

    But overall I think it is misleading and deceptive.

    As a blogger, I can tell you from personal experience it is rarely true that bloggers would delete a comment if they thought it came from a reputable company.

    Say I wrote an article about EFTPOS. It stated a discussion and someone from CBA bank logged on and said “I am from CBA bank and we now have terrific deals on EFTPOS, and put their details down.”

    I would be thrilled that someone in CBA bank took my article serious enough to comment.

    The only reason a blogger might not publish it, is if they thought the person was being dishonest. In this case, that person clearly is.

  187. Nic Halley
    31 Aug 09
    2:28 pm

  188. admire Geoff for stating his point, whether I agree with it or not. Need less subjective attack and more objective discussion

  189. Mero
    31 Aug 09
    2:34 pm


    Lets all reply back to this Job Ad via Gumtree, and spam the fucker..
    Hahaha paybacks a stinky bitch!

  191. Mero
    31 Aug 09
    2:36 pm


    Open this URL above to the mentioned Job ad – and lets all “spam” the advertiser with our own “suggestions”


  193. Lloyd Grosse
    31 Aug 09
    2:37 pm

  194. PRSA Condemns the use of Disingenuous Editorial Content, Deceptive Commentary on Blogs etc.

  195. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    2:45 pm

  196. @sean – I have to say given what I know I find you using the word dodgy a bit rich to say the least, yes I’m still bitter about the Choice thing!

    However thanks for pointing out the personal attacks aren’t cool, I appreciate it

    Your point is taken about the comment but I don’t see it that way, it’s the nature of the net and all these comments have to live within the confines of both ethical and commercial realities.

  197. George Foreman
    31 Aug 09
    2:52 pm

  198. If you are going to grill Geoff, grill with George Foreman grills.

    Grills every time. Like Mumbrella readers.

  199. Mr Corbett
    31 Aug 09
    2:54 pm

  200. What does Mark Coad think?

    OK..last time with that joke I promise…

  201. Will Hughes
    31 Aug 09
    2:57 pm

  202. Geoffrey – The ‘commercial reality’ of it is that you neither pay for or request permission to post commercial messages on those third party sites. You use fake personas with no apparent link back to the sponsoring brand.

    There’s ways to buy links from people’s sites using established industry programs. Google has a few you might have heard of. If someone wants ads on their site, they can opt in.

    It is, for all intents and purposes, undeniably spam. That is: An unsolicited commercial message.

  203. visa
    31 Aug 09
    3:06 pm

  204. The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Counties Community Health Agency will continue to have a presence in Sturgis, thanks to Sturgis Hospital.

  205. Rob Fraser
    31 Aug 09
    3:11 pm

  206. seems like the industry has spoken Geoffrey… might want to send a “supplied persona” along to social media club to protect yourself.

    this debate is a great example of how something really irrelevant and small-minded gets oxygen just because it’s happening in the whiz bang new social media space. at it’s heart this is a shitty and microscopic idea, no matter where it occurs.

    remember the buzz around fake product users sent into bars a few years ago to start fake conversations around sponsor drinks etc? this is the online version of that, without the free drink

  207. Anna Johnson
    31 Aug 09
    3:13 pm

  208. Using a ‘persona’ i.e. fake person to make any kind of statement may in itself amount to misleading and deceptive conduct under the Trade Practices Act. If you are, by using a fake person, leading people to believe something that isn’t true (i.e. that a real person endorses a particular product or even holds a certain opinion) then it doesn’t really matter whether what they say is justified, etc. The fact that you are using a persona/fake person to say it may well be enough. Anyone wanting to take this approach might want to consult a lawyer familiar with the TPA before embarking on this course. Or, at least, warn their clients to get legal advice. This ain’t legal advice, but I recommend you get it – ’cause if a customer or a competitor of a client catches on and things get ugly, you know who the client is going to blame…

  209. Mark Jones
    31 Aug 09
    3:15 pm

  210. Most incredible thing I’ve seen for a while, Mr Emerson.

    Telling people you are about to behave unethically in the hope it will clear you of guilt in the future when you do behave unethically – wow, that’s bold. It’s stunningly ignorant to think preemptive admissions of guilt excuse an ethical violation.

    So let me get this right: if I tell you I’m about to lie about you in public, does that make my lie less of a lie?

    There are no shades of spam, unless of course it’s a Monty Python skit. Either way you look at it, the argument is hilarious.

  211. mumbrella
    31 Aug 09
    3:22 pm

  212. Sam at 12.35pm,

    I can think of a couple of somewhat disparate examples where the cover-up was what brought people down. Watergate, or more recently the scandal involving fake blood capsules involving Harlequins rugby club in the UK.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  213. Mark McCoad (wearing fake ginger beard)
    31 Aug 09
    3:23 pm

  214. I’m not sure about this story, but I reckon OMD are a damned fine media agency. That is the real question here isn’t it?

  215. Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond
    31 Aug 09
    3:27 pm

  216. @ Geoffrey ~ Feel free to discuss our new product ‘Trusted Competitor Suppressant’ with me with me at

  217. Solomon
    31 Aug 09
    3:53 pm

  218. Oh for the good old days when the good folks at home lapped up our every message and trusted our every word. I’m off to North Korea.

  219. Con Frantzeskos
    31 Aug 09
    4:03 pm

  220. I’m so surprised that people can still be using these sort of tactics, when they’re not only wrong, but will result in the client’s product being rejected.

    I’m a big fan of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Ethics Code, which very clearly describes the Honesty ROI, which not just an ethical standpoint, but one that, believe it or not, WORKS and BUILDS TRUST!

    As per the WOMMA Code:

    Honesty of Relationship
    1. How will we ensure social media representatives disclose their relationship and participation in this marketing program?

    Honest of Opinion
    2. What measures are in place to ensure we are not influencing social media participants to say anything other than their own honest and genuine opinion?

    Honest of Identity
    3. Does this program mislead the public in any way that could damage the reputation of our company?

    They’re available in detail here (AND THEY WORK!):

    Anything less is shifty, erodes trust and ultimately will not work… Aussies (I dare suggest more than any other country) can smell bullshit and communications opacity from a mile away.

  221. AdGrunt
    31 Aug 09
    4:44 pm


    I just wish they’d know if it’s Principal or Principle.

    Their company name, html headers and copyrights differ in spelling. Homonyms or not, it makes their already tawdry web presence that little bit more 419.

    To me, this suggests they have neither principles or an effective principal.

    Their trusted avatar idea has a faecal odour btw.

  223. Kimota
    31 Aug 09
    5:01 pm

  224. “…in my mind it’s an SEO exercise for robots. It’s NOT a social campaign and we aren’t building community, so the lack of authenticity doesn’t bother me.”

    And there’s the rub. Any strategy designed for robots and not people is doomed. The robots are supposed to make things better for us people. Strategies that try to cut past the people and get straight to the robots inevitably find either the people turn against them or the robots get smarter at avoiding them (paid links, hidden text and other blackhat tactics that no longer work nearly as well?) The blogs and communities where these comments are, are about the people and not robots.

    I could put my car in my living room and say my decision to do so was because it’s about not owning a garage and keeping my car dry, not anything to do with the people trying to watch my telly. It would certainly keep my car dry. Wouldn’t stop it being a stupid thing to do. If you want to target robots, target robots. If you want to target social, be social (and abide by the rules of social behaviour – like authenticity). If you can’t target robots without targeting social – then you have a car – living room decision. I leave my car on the street – it gets wet, but it’s better that than have no friends coming over to share my living room.

  225. Rachael Lonergan
    31 Aug 09
    5:02 pm

  226. Remember a few years ago, Sydney was plagued by charity fundraisers who’d been trained to ‘befriend’ people on the street before going in for the kill (i.e. asking for a donation)? Not only was the practice offensive and sleazy, but based on a robust survey of one (i.e. me…sorry John Grono!), it caused a negative change to brand perceptions and generated a lot of distrust of certain organisations. I haven’t seen any of these types around Sydney for a long time because I guess they discovered that pretending to be someone you’re not, when you have a hidden commercial agenda, doesn’t work. We don’t like being played for fools. Being ‘found out’ for stealth marketing in a social media environment is putting your client at an enormous risk of backlash.

  227. Stephen Collins
    31 Aug 09
    5:15 pm

  228. So, Geoff, given the weight of opinion from your industry peers, will you now advise the client this is a bad idea and withdraw it?

  229. Rachael Lonergan
    31 Aug 09
    5:15 pm

  230. Also, raising an eyebrow as I note that Gumtree is apparently the best place to recruit a ‘select team of social search consultants’.

  231. John Grono
    31 Aug 09
    5:39 pm

  232. I love it Rachael! Given that it was qualitative opinion-based research, and not strict market quantification …. I’ll let you off. (I have been known to use a sample of one myself … but I had to severely chastise myself!)

    One wonders does this fall into the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” bucket?

  233. David
    31 Aug 09
    5:52 pm

  234. @Rachael i agree, no need for seek or leaders in recruitment such as LaVolta…. its gumtree all the way for selling old tvs, giving away couches and hiring your next CEO…

  235. Il Jung
    31 Aug 09
    6:00 pm

  236. Easy way to recruit cheap stay-at-home mums who can spam the odd forum between changing nappies.

  237. David
    31 Aug 09
    6:05 pm

  238. but its not spam :)-

  239. bernard
    31 Aug 09
    6:12 pm

  240. I think it is spam. Checkout what the wikipedia has to say about it here.

  241. MsUnreliable
    31 Aug 09
    7:47 pm

  242. Geoff – if you believe in the products and services you intend to promote, there is no legitimate reason to create personas in order to ‘provide relevant links’. You would Allow your trusted staff to speak as themselves in order hire to promote products you believe in, and you’d ensure full diclosure in the process to ensure that you actually earn and retain the trust of your potential clients. What you have detailed however is nothing short of lying by ommission, and very few consumers like to discover they have been deceived.

  243. K. Nob
    31 Aug 09
    7:51 pm

  244. this article is complete toss, it could have been made a lot nicer if it was written in Microsfot Word which i REALLY love!

  245. MsUnreliable
    31 Aug 09
    7:56 pm

  246. Minus hire. I’d blame the occasional typo on my phone, but I don’t want to generate a ‘relevant link’ about a product with good spellchecking…oh wait.

  247. Isaac
    31 Aug 09
    7:57 pm

  248. But can’t currently sell in certain areas…

  249. Isaac
    31 Aug 09
    8:02 pm

  250. Last post replying to Mr Nob in case that wasn’t obvious.

    There is no doubt that what is being discussed is essentially drive-by spam. I get this sort of junk on my sites all the time, it’s not appreciated and it’s deleted as soon as it’s found. It’s the sort of thing that destroys the comments at a site like TechCrunch and is thankfully kept from a site like Hacker News.

    As someone has already said, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

  251. Geoffrey Emerson
    31 Aug 09
    10:12 pm

  252. So Geoffrey Emerson wouldn’t mind if I posted this under his name? I’m simply adopting a “supplied persona”…

  253. Ravi
    31 Aug 09
    10:54 pm

  254. I’ve heard that Ravi is ‘nice’. Maybe even ‘terrific’.

    I was told that some bloke down at the pub even said that Ravi was ‘pretty ok’.

    Some even say that he’s ‘fab’.

    They say that old people really like Ravi and that children and small harmless animals trust him – and how could they be wrong about things like that?

    I’ve also heard the rumor that Ravi was ‘a swell fellow’ – but that could just be talk.

    Other’s have said that Ravi would never, ever, never post comments from a fake avatar or persona on a blog or in the comments, especially for the sake of self publicity or raising his profile in the digital community.

    And that’s true– he’s evidently that kind of guy, or at least that’s what they say.

    This post about Ravi was written by Ravi….Now that I think about it, this disclosure does tend to undermine the credibility of this post. Geoff, will you take me on as a client please?

  255. Seo Specialist Birmingham
    1 Sep 09
    1:38 am

  256. In the world of the interent it seams that all is fair game, however it doesnt seam to add to the usablity and the wider web comunity. Still I was under the impression that this has been going on for a long time in the US.

    I once checked all the hosting forums for a good cheap classic asp hosting, all the major forums suggested a particular company. I placed an order with that company and they were rubbish! After more research it seamed that they had employed people to big them up on the forums, now if they use there name of a fake names makes no difference to me….

  257. Bret Treasure
    1 Sep 09
    2:35 am

  258. Comment #13; absolutely wicked. Loved it.

  259. Paddy Douneen
    1 Sep 09
    6:46 am

  260. Isn’t using “supplied personas” similar to creating fake followers on twitter? I seem to remember a well known Sydney breakfast radio duo came in for a fair bit of flack for this dubious practice earlier in the year, and look what happened to them…..Is this the slippery slope or is this practitioner already comfortable in his own marketing hell?

  261. Tony Richardson
    1 Sep 09
    7:51 am

  262. Try describing ‘supplied persona’ to your mum. She’ll tell you that’s another word for a lie.

  263. Greg Smith
    1 Sep 09
    8:47 am

  264. Tony, Richardson said it perfectly. I wouldn’t give you a zac for this mob, who will probably go out and make a fortune, sad to say. The name says it all.

  265. Geoffrey Emerson
    1 Sep 09
    8:52 am

  266. I was at Social Media Club last night and I did answer questions about the product, I will also be printing a full rebuttal in Mumbrella latter in the week.


    Geoffrey Emerson
    MD – P2

  267. Isaac
    1 Sep 09
    8:59 am

  268. Maybe Sanford Wallace can write the feature/rebuttal after that?

  269. Gnoll110
    1 Sep 09
    9:46 am

  270. Ohhhh, looking forward to Geoffrey’s rebuttal.

    Will it be a Gordon Gecko ‘greed is good’ speech.

    It could be a ‘black is white and white is black’ speech that PM’s Keating, Howard and Rudd are so good at.

    Sure to be lots of Newspeak and Doublethink in this one.

  271. Rog
    1 Sep 09
    10:51 am

  272. This pretty much sums it up really – The Social Media Guru

  273. Cheerio
    1 Sep 09
    10:54 am

  274. I’m here at the end of this train wreck, looking at the steaming pile of rubble and wondering “WTF?”

    Way to go digital fraternity – man, you guys really set a shining example of how to rip each other apart. I applaud the comments of those who have made genuine attempts to be constructive and I recognise this is a highly contentious issue but I really have to wonder at those who lord themselves as having ‘right’ on their side, who claim to have some greater claim over ‘ethics’ than other who have gone about systematically ripping up an individual – Geoff Emerson has been called a liar, a fraud and his business targeted with some really strong and hostile comments – because why? Because he has attempted to innovate a new product and bring it to market. He has identified what that product is, he has been transparent about how the product works and he has been prepared to stand by the business case for a product that operates in this way.

    So in good typical Australian fashion – let’s rip the tall poppy down, ‘quick, kick him hard, before he can get his feet under himself’. It’s disgusting the way we turn on innovators in our own community – shame on you all.

    It’s a NEW PRODUCT people – it’s not perfect, it’s got flaws.. It needs to be polished up and some of the rough ethical edges taken off it – sure, but Geoff Emerson is attempting to innovate and he should be applauded for that aspect of what he is bringing to market.

    The fact is there is a need – Geoff has identified a niche and is filling it. As a small business person, I can tell you from my perspective the whole notion of how to get out there and make the most of the vastness that is web is pretty daunting. I can not possibly employ enough staff to monitor all the chatter and yes – if I spot chatter that is relevant to my business, I want to affect it – that is called SALES OPPORTUNITY.

    I think that what Geoff is offering is exactly that and is in essence the online equivalent of a cold calling contact centre. Do you really think that everyone you speak to in a contact centre works for the company they represent? Hands up anyone who has dealt with Vodafones contact centres over the years – guess what – not a ONE of them was likely a Vodafone employee – they were more likely employeed by UCMS – is that FRAUD? No – it’s simply a method of force multiplying and that is what Geoff offers with his product.

    I applaud the open debate on disclosure. I believe the market will make up its own mind. I deplore the aggression with which the debate is being voiced because I think it makes our whole industry stink when we rip and tear into each other like this.


  275. Cheerio
    1 Sep 09
    10:56 am

  276. DISCLOSURE: I know Geoff Emerson because i have engaged him and I know people who have engaged him and have always seen solid results from working with him. Geoff is in my professional opinion a genuine person who is making serious attempts at innovating products and services that will make online marketing feasible and affordable for the average small business.

  277. Ben Shepherd
    1 Sep 09
    11:22 am

  278. The real winner here is undoubtedly Mumbrella’s page impression count

  279. John Grono
    1 Sep 09
    11:27 am

  280. Why Ben … has he turned Auto-Refresh on, or started using invisible frames (hehehe)?

  281. Smithee
    1 Sep 09
    12:23 pm

  282. lol@cheerio – A beautiful post that places you so perfectly in the deep, deep amoral hole of marketing. Look up and you may see a tiny blue pinprick of light: that’s the real world.

  283. Rae
    1 Sep 09
    12:31 pm

  284. Without entering into a conversation about the ethics of “surreptitiously”, or the decline of PR professional standards in the social media domains…

    Would the job-poster accept a candidate who submitted a 100% falsified resume that looked fairly authentic?
    Apparently it’s not lies and rubbish, it’s “adding value”.

  285. AdGrunt
    1 Sep 09
    12:41 pm

  286. Good lord, Cheerio.

    That is possibly the most absurd defence of a sham I’ve ever seen.

    Geoff has been called a spammer, because by all definitions of the word, he is.

    It isn’t being recognised as innovation, because it’s not. It’s spam.

    It has flaws, mainly being that it’s spam, which is at best unethical and at worst illegal.

    His niche is empty because no credible or ethical marketer would touch spam with a 10 metre pole.

    When UCMS call me and tell me they’re Vodafone, they identify themselves as authorised Voda reps. I can also limit their calls entirely by joining the Do Not Call register. With this spam, neither is true.

    We are ripping into it, because at its heart it exemplifies all that is wrong about charlatan marketers. The clear deceit in the project casts a long shadow over all of us and our industry image. Guess what – we don’t like being associated with spammers.

    Out of curiosity (and of course to give you some free publicity your business craves) what is your product?

  287. Nathan
    1 Sep 09
    1:10 pm

  288. In all seriousness, I’m sick of late-30-something+ year olds harping onto the world what is right and wrong – when it’s just an outdated opinion.

    Marketers always underestimate consumers’ BS detectors.

    Online is used as a research mechanism to qualify and narrow decisions.

    Very quickly does blogspam get recognised.

    Late-30-something+ year olds need to realise that all the PR in the world means craptacular these days. You actually have to have a good product/service.

  289. Gnoll110
    1 Sep 09
    1:29 pm

  290. @Cheerio

    That’s a very Sen. Graham “Richo” Richardson ‘whatever it takes’ approch to things. Sound like your part of the ‘greed is good’ brigade?

    It’s one thing to succeed and be a well regarded ‘pillar of society’ and another to be a hated ‘robber baron’. How you behave is ultimately what determines that.

    ‘fake persona’ is a symptom of the principles and mind set that lead to robber baronhood.

    Why don’t you post your name? Afraid of guilt by association?

  291. Cheerio
    1 Sep 09
    2:04 pm

  292. A stranger stops another stranger on the street and asks for directions to a particular cafe, and he’s offered some advice on how to get there. If someone asks a question on a forum, it’s the same kind of thing only there might be 100 people who will offer directions. As long as I reach my destination, do I care that the guy who gave me the best directions was the guy that owned the cafe?

    I don’t have any issue with real people drawing my attention to information that might be relevant to me, even if they are being paid to do it. It’s a bit like being at the pub and having a chat with your mates and somebody taps you on the shoulder and says “look, couldn’t help but overhear, and I thought you might be interested to know…” sometimes, we are vested when we do that kind of thing, sometimes we are not.

    If online is an extension of society, then why is it such a stretch to have someone come and in essence, effect the same kind of conversation with me online? If it’s a real person and not an automated bot – if that real person is actually spending time, monitoring the media/chatter and can provide information that is in context – why not?

    @adgrunt – not that I see the relevance but we’ve developed a web platform for member driven organisations that has a number of applications but to address your inference upfront – no, I have not engaged Geoff to use Trusted Avatar product for this or any other product as it happens.

    @smithee Irrespective of whether you agree with the product or not, whether you have issues with the nature of the product or not is not the point. The point is that the level of personal attack and the vitriol that gets launched by people that claim themselves to be ‘more professional’ than another is just unnecessary. Geoff has been called more than a spammer on this site. I’m not interested in accepting that as some kind of ‘real world’ I should wake up to.

  293. Webmaster
    1 Sep 09
    2:11 pm

  294. spam rules forums and its something you are careful as to which advice you take. This “fake avatar”t was a solution that was featured by mUmBRELLA and i feel Geoff understood that their would be some comments, supported by comment post #14.

    If it is a question around they didnt want anyone to say anything about it, they would keep the product quite, i think while some of the comments are a little negative and personal, it all provides valuable feedback.

    I guess the concept of using something like GumTree to hire/recruit staff cannot end well if you are pitching at the moral ground. Also as for a great place and job description this could have been approached better…

  295. Geoffrey Emerson
    1 Sep 09
    2:25 pm

  296. @webmaster

    Tim got a hold of the story through me posting it on twitter, I have never hidden my intentions or lied about what I am doing. I was at SMC last night and spoke directly to my detractors.

    The reason I used gumtree is I was looking for young bright people that are junior enough to be commercially viable but smart enough to do the work, and it worked a tret it was a perfect location for the ad.

    As stated before will be posting a rebuttal later in the week.

  297. AdGrunt
    1 Sep 09
    2:30 pm

  298. So Cheerio, your previous disclosure was a bit ambiguous, but onto the main event.

    Your analogy is poor and avoids the ugly part of disclosure and deception.

    This is the nub of the problem and what moves an ad or sponsored link into spam / unethical territory.

    Without disclosure, there is duplicity both with the user and the site owner.

    You’re being a parasite by not paying the site owner to spruik your goods. You’re being a spammer by deceiving the users into trusting you without disclosing your commercial motives.

    I’m frankly amazed and appalled that this ethical issue seems obscure to you.

    Read Cheryl’s link (way, way) up there and give your moral compass a reset.

  299. David
    1 Sep 09
    2:32 pm

  300. @Geoffrey

    See that was how easy it was to become someone else, with the simple swap of a name/email addresss I can be claimed to be a webmaster who knows something about webdesign….

    If you were looking for smart people platforms such as Facebook offer much better tracking,demographics and you wont be competing against multiple Google ads featuring “seeklearning ads”

    Look forward to the rebuttal, hopefully people will stop with the person attacks, outside the offense people have to spam, that’s something any marketer has to be careful not to over step the line no matter the intentions or medium.

  301. Cheerio
    1 Sep 09
    3:02 pm

  302. @adgrunt so because I have a different point of view, I am amoral – yeah, I love your logic because when you debate that way, you can only ever win right?

    But seriously – I am super, super happy that I have you looking out for me as a consumer. I just don’t know what I would do with out you coming up to that nice bloke on the street who was kindly offering me directions and stopping him from doing so because you think there would be a better way for him to convey the same information.

  303. Isaac
    1 Sep 09
    3:18 pm

  304. Perhaps a better comparison would be a specific venue (community group, for example) rather than a public street. These posts would be occurring on private or community sites.

  305. AdGrunt
    1 Sep 09
    3:37 pm

  306. Cheerio,

    Nice attempt at a strawman fallacy with a twist of ad hominem. Dolt.

    Your “amorality” is in the support an “amoral” product, not because your view differs from mine. The amorality of the product is underlined by its illegality in some countries and clear unethical view in most others. Links to support this are legion in this thread. Please read them.

    You conveniently fail to respond to the fairly serious assertions that the product is parasitic, unethical and spam. Is this because it is indefensible?

    Why haven’t you provided any support for this being a moral, ethical product?
    Is it because it doesn’t exist?

    On the other hand, why is there so much legislation and ethical guidance specifically around this grubby activity and its purpose?

    Your analogy is shooting you in the foot as well.

    What you describe in it are the tactics some less well considered religions and conmen use to prey on the vulnerable and uneducated. Which is kinda where you’re at, isn’t it.

  307. Gavin Heron
    1 Sep 09
    3:40 pm


  309. Geoffrey Emerson
    1 Sep 09
    3:49 pm

  310. UNDO UNDO!

  311. Isaac
    1 Sep 09
    3:50 pm

  312. ;)

  313. Geoffrey Emerson
    1 Sep 09
    3:52 pm

  314. @Triple Zero

    Nice bit of link bait there mate, ride the wave :)

  315. David
    1 Sep 09
    4:01 pm

  316. I want to dislike this, because I always hoped that social media would remain, well, social and open. However I really can’t see it as any more than an evolution, so we probably should debate how to use it, rather than whether it’s right or wrong.

  317. Cheryl Gledhill
    1 Sep 09
    6:04 pm

  318. Geoffrey, I just saw a blog comment that made me think of this thread.

    Have a look at the third comment by Sara on http://engineerswithoutfears.b.....tware.html (and no, I’m not trying to drive traffic to my site).

    Do you see this as something of value and adding to the conversation?

  319. Geoffrey Emerson
    1 Sep 09
    6:31 pm

  320. @Cheryl

    I consider that spam as it doesn’t reference the article, isn’t in context and adds no value.

    This is precisely NOT the type of link that Trusted Avatar generates.

    Thanks for offering me an excellent example of what I DON’T do.



  321. Epskee
    1 Sep 09
    7:22 pm

  322. “but as a business it’s often not commercially viable to live by letter of the law.”

    I beg your bloody pardon? You don’t have to obey the law because it doesn’t increase your bottom line?

    And btw, SEO is SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION. I dont believe a CONVERSATION is a search engine, is it? Therefore this cannot be a SEO product.

    This is spam with a pretty little bow tied on it. And the only people it will fool are those who will be fooled by any form of advertising.

    Oh, and the job for it is advertised on Gumtree? Hmmm, well when it’s placed on such a reputable forum as THAT for jobseakers, what more can you expect? For FREE i assume?

    *thinks of the adage about paying peanuts, getting monkeys…..*

  323. Smithee
    2 Sep 09
    12:32 am

  324. @Tim,

    Is Mumbrella really intending to lend its credibility to Emerson by allowing him to spruik his scheme in an article on this site ? Isn’t his attitude and plans already abundantly clear ?

    While I enjoy the robust debates at Mumbrella, I think this is a dubious editorial decision. Will you be inviting porn czars to have their say next ? Or perhaps botnet viagra emailers ? How about a feature on marketing cheap Rolex or Russian brides ?

  325. Gumption
    2 Sep 09
    12:39 am

  326. At the risk of muddying the philosophical waters here a bit…I’m gonna ask a dumb question. Isn’t the majority of advertising unsolicited? I mean, I don’t have the choice of whether the ads appear on my TV screen. I don’t have a choice as to whether I get them splashed all over my web page or on the side of a bus or the back of a loo door for that matter. Some of it I can control. I can turn off the TV, radio and filter the ads online but in general, I am assaulted from all sides by unsolicited commercial messages.
    I’m not sure why community/social environments are going to be any different. Are we being a bit naive (or even sanctimonious?) to think that forums and so on can be or should be quarantined? As with everything else, doesn’t the consumer ultimately decide? If a spammer drops in an out of context and obviously daft link offer like the example @Cheryl gave (great eg btw, really funny!) then the majority of punters are gonna go ‘fek orf, I don’t like it” andit will get ignored and the approach will in general produce a poor result.
    But – just as with advertising on the TV/side of a bus/in a magazine, every now and then, you’re gonna see one that catches your eye and go “uh huh, think I’ll check that out…” and undertake whichever call to action it might be – buying the product, ringing the number, registering your email address or…following a link that’s been suggested.

    I mean I know that most of the products that are being sold to me don’t do what they say they will, they won’t make me younger, more attractive, more successful, have whiter teeth and more hair or whatever – I know the marketing industry gets paid to sell me a notion, a promise that the products can’t always keep but I don’t feel defrauded by that..I just accept it as part of the punt you take as a consumer when you accept any form of recommendation from an otherwise unknown element – whether it is a person, an organisation, a brand or a stranger/avatar online.

    Maybe I’m just an average schmo. Maybe I don’t get all the deep and meaningful arguments that the more educated ranks of the marketing industry seem to get in to on this site. I accept that Spam = Bad. But just because Spam has been bad, does it been that ALL ‘spam’ will always be ‘bad’? Will spam, like advertising and marketing itself, not evolve to hopefully weed out the ‘bad’ and replace with ‘of use in certain situations’ – much like all marketing and advertising really…

  327. Isaac
    2 Sep 09
    12:56 am

  328. In each of those cases, the advertising is presented by the owner of the conduit or one of their agents. The TV company, the venue owner, the bus company, the web site producer.

  329. Will Hughes
    2 Sep 09
    1:10 am

  330. @Gumption: Legitimate advertising is actually solicited. Maybe not you the reader, but the owner of the website, bus, TV channel, Newspaper etc has solicited and given consent for the advertisement to run.

    Spam however is NOT solicited by the owner/operator of the site, nor was consent implied or given.

    Some forums and websites do permit companies to promote their services and products without prior approval – but usually within some sort of framework (eg: must disclose the relationship between the poster and the company). That counts as consent.

    If someone is posting comments on a forum providing opinions on a product or service, and that person is paid to give such opinions (or has some other relationship with the brand) – then they need to disclose that.

    Most of the time if you make a relevant comment, and disclose your involvement – it’s not going to be an issue.

    Example of what (might) be okay for someone to post:

    “Hi, I noticed you’re talking about product X and how you like A, B, and C about it.

    I work for the company that makes product Z and we’ve got a pretty strong offering around A, B, and C too – plus D, E, and F which you might find useful.

    If you’d like me to get you some more info, drop me a reply”.

    This approach, while it’s an unsolicited commercial message, is honest about it – and declares the authors involvement with the product they’re promoting. Ofcourse, if the site had some very clear ‘No Advertising’ message, and you still posted it – be prepared for some backlash.

    By contrast, the picture I get of what Geoff’s asking his staff to write would be more along the lines of:
    “Hi, have you checked out product Y? It’s really awesome – check it out!

  331. mumbrella
    2 Sep 09
    8:11 am

  332. Hi Smithee,

    Thanks for your question.

    I’m certainly happy to look at a guest posting from Geoff – and have invited him to put one together.

    But that doesn’t mean that an advertisement for his service will appear. If it runs, it will be a discussion around the principles (and principals) .

    But I don’t only run guest postings from people that I agree with. The main factor is whether they will drive or inform the conversation, and trigger a relevant debate.

    For what it’s worth, my estimate is that a little less than half of submitted guest postings to Mumbrella get run.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  333. Geoffrey Emerson
    2 Sep 09
    8:14 am

  334. @everyone

    Due to personal reasons I was not able to work on th rebuttal last night so it won’t be in today’s news letter I will however be posting in Friday’s news letter so please stay tuned.


    Geoffrey Emerson
    MD – P2

  335. Free spell check from Hotfog
    2 Sep 09
    8:53 am

  336. Principals not pinciples. In your latest comment.

  337. Tony Richardson
    2 Sep 09
    9:18 am

  338. Tim,

    Is this a record number of responses?

    It seems to have sparked huge debate.

  339. mumbrella
    2 Sep 09
    9:34 am

  340. Ta, Hotfog.

    And Tony, it’s certianly close to that. As this debate is less than three days old, I’m sure it’s going to be.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  341. Gumption
    2 Sep 09
    10:07 am

  342. @willhughes @isaac = thanks for taking the time to point out those differences. I hadn’t considered the role of the conduit in soliciting the advertising and I agree it is a valid distinction – although it makes very little difference to the consumer experience at the end of the day. The whole debate has given me a great idea so thanks to everyone!!!

  343. observer
    2 Sep 09
    1:13 pm

  344. The whole idea hinges on “contributions” from people being paid to “join in”. If they weren’t being paid, if they weren’t pushing a product, they wouldn’t be there at all. So, although you’re clearly ok with it, I think you’ll find most people think this is spam. That means you aren’t building trust; and online right now trust is everything.

  345. MsUnreliable
    2 Sep 09
    8:14 pm

  346. Cheerio, I couldn’t agree less with your analogy of ‘asking for directions’. It’s nothing like asking for directions to a particular cafe, then being given the most efficient directions by the cafe owner. It’s more like travelling in a foreign country, hopping into a taxi and discussing with your friend which cafe you want to go to, only to have the driver interrupt and tell you both that he knows the way to the most popular cafe in the area, then being dumped at some hole in the outskirts only to find out later that your driver has in fact received a hefty comission for his ‘recommendation’. If he happened to mention from the outset that his brother is the owner of the cafe, or that he’d receive a kicback for his recommendation, you’d have the presence of mind to weigh up his recommendation and more than likely decline it, but without that disclosure, you are simply being taken for a ride. In more ways than one.

  347. Tony Richardson
    2 Sep 09
    9:42 pm

  348. Perfect analogy MsUreliable.

  349. Terri WInter / top3
    3 Sep 09
    12:14 am

  350. this is all very disappointing really, we were very excited to find a way through through twitter to let our customers know about new products arriving in real time – you can’t send emails every day, but some people are disappointed when they miss out on something when they find a out once a month and we sell out. WIN WIN. Honesty, transparency… OPTING IN.
    It is disappointing to think the entire social network will be undermined with such devious approached to “connecting”.
    It is sad to think the entire approach could implode due to underhanded use. When the internet started it need google so you could syphon stuff, look for stuff and locate what you are after, now we need a way to syphon the twitters and underhanded bloggers. I agree with Miss Unreliable: perfect example.

  351. Sam Deleise
    3 Sep 09
    3:41 pm

  352. @MsUnreliable: Your analogy is dramatic – sitting harmoniously with most of these posts. You must indeed have no backbone if, when put into said analogy, you would ‘be swept away’ (kidnapped?) by a taxi driver. Unless of course you or others find it normal practice to IRRESISTABLY, IMPULSIVELY click on links with OCD force when you see them, against your will?

    Its sounding like the case, so I am suitably impressed youve had the awareness to have strung these words together to make your comment, and not ended up in some Ukraine website crying at the computer because youre being ‘made to’ buy some horrendous thingy-me-bob, as a result of those horrid underlined web addresses that taunt you.

    Links in blogs and forums? I ignore them if they dont give me anything! But hey, that’s me and my adult, functioning, decision making brain.

  353. Il Jung
    3 Sep 09
    3:48 pm

  354. The question to ask is: Is this OK if everyone is suddenly doing it. The answer then is No. No community is going to want every business in Australia throwing their hat in the ring every time something relevant is mentioned.

    It astounds me that those approving of this concept cannot comprehend the issue at its core. The responses tackle the analogies but ignore the industry codes and new laws overseas, for example.

    Run a social/community-oriented site for a couple of years and then reevaluate this concept – you will rightfully call it spam.

  355. Fake Geoffrey Emerson
    3 Sep 09
    4:14 pm

  356. A US company has been fined $300,000 for posting false reviews on message boards online.


  357. AdGrunt
    3 Sep 09
    5:56 pm

  358. Sam,
    Quit the ad hominems and if you take an analogy literally, then you’re going to look a dolt.
    Also have the intellect and courtesy to read the thread, noting the numerous references to this activity variously as grubby, unethical, deceptive, parasitic and moreover in many first world countries, illegal.

  359. David
    3 Sep 09
    6:01 pm

  360. Damn i think after my spam filter started blocking this entry updates, i think its time to unsubscribe, its been fun until the next time…

  361. SEO Specialist
    4 Sep 09
    4:10 am

  362. It defiantly devalues internet creditability but it was always going to happen. Still one mans spam is another mans…err annoying advert!

  363. Geoffrey Emerson
    4 Sep 09
    2:38 pm

  364. Hi,

    I have spoken to Tim and going to supply him a guest post for inclusion in Monday’s news letter. It’s of course up to Tim to run it or not, I hope that the new debate will be more constructive.


    Geoffrey Emerson
    MD – P2

  365. Il Jung
    4 Sep 09
    2:43 pm

  366. More constructive than “people overwhelmingly think that what you’re proposing is a bad idea and your staff should absolutely disclose their involvement at a bare minimum and avoid drive-bys on forums where it wouldn’t be appreciated by the owner”?

  367. Geoffrey Emerson
    4 Sep 09
    5:01 pm

  368. Yes mate, precisely more constructive than that!

  369. David Jackmanson
    4 Sep 09
    5:41 pm

  370. “Constructive” doesn’t mean “agreeing with me”.

    Despite the irrelevant personal attacks on Mr Emerson in this discussion, Il Jung’s summary:

    “people overwhelmingly think that what you’re proposing is a bad idea and your staff should absolutely disclose their involvement at a bare minimum and avoid drive-bys on forums where it wouldn’t be appreciated by the owner”

    is a fair (IMO), non-abusive way of stating the biggest problem with Mr Emerson’s proposal.

    My constructive proposal is that if Mr Emerson persists with this product, I will tell any bloggers or comment moderators I know about it, and spread the story online. I’m guessing that most people who value having real opinions in their comment boxes would be hostile to the idea, and will be on the alert. If you agree with me, you should help spread the word too.

    It’s not “constructive” to help spammers get away with it.

  371. Sheila (@stinginthetail)
    4 Sep 09
    6:35 pm

  372. At first i was quite humpty over this one, but by the time i’d giggled over Leslie, and read et al, i reached this conclusion. Yes, it’s unethical, because you’re trying to trick people with a false recommendation. I personally would be put off the brand. Badly.

    However, people do this already, they just pretend not to. I am put off them too. We get them adding us on Twitter all the time. I have people post on my blog NOW purely in the hope it will give them hits – most of them get caught by Akismet the anti spam thingie that comes with wordpress *says to both those companies, to please put the cheque in the mail for the plug*.

    Go to any popular blog, smell the desperation in the comments section where people try to oh-so-casually impress. Sometimes they just post “this post reminded me of one of mine” or “you sound like you could use my product” and put in a link. (Not that all such posts are misleading adverts, when genuine, they’re often extremely helpful.) Any blog owner who leaves spam emails on their site just to make their comments section look good deserves to lose readers. While i remember, would like to thank Tim @Mumbrella for this opportunity (usual fee, usual place, Tim.)

    *thinks* oh, wait, this is a popular blog… me posting here is bound to get me some hits… omg, i think i’m being unethical. Squee! This ROCKS, i can get a job in advertising or PR! At last! *skips off*

  373. MsUnreliable
    6 Sep 09
    1:14 pm

  374. Easy there Sam Deleise, I certainly don’t think I’m the one with a taste for drama, and as much as I appreciate my intellect being called into question, the leaps you have made from my analogy really don’t follow any rational basis.

    My analogy was merely pointing out that it’s nothing like someone politely jumping into a conversation to help based on their own experience, it’s someone jumping into a conversation to sell a product based on what they’re told to sell, not whether or not they agree with what they’re selling, or even whether they have first hand experience with it for that matter. My analogy also happens to be based on some fairly underhanded tactics that are used across the world to take advantage of tourists and locals alike – it’s not appreciated whereever it occurs because it’s nothing short of lying by ommission.

  375. Geoffrey Emerson
    6 Sep 09
    1:26 pm

  376. @David, you are well within your rights to do what you want and I hope that tomorrows guest post goes a long way to assuage everyone’s complaints.

    @shelia, I liked your post had a sense of humour to it (might have to check out your blog).

  377. Jim Stewart
    7 Sep 09
    10:22 pm

  378. GRRRR!
    It’s “Black hat but it’s not spam”? That’s like saying I’m prostitute and a virgin. You can’t be both.
    If it walks like a duck….

    This is very dumb short term online marketing strategy. Any SEO company with their client’s long term online reputation at stake would realise that. Obviously there are some new people entering the space where a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.

    This is extremely sloppy digi PR as @Karalee points out.

    Ever heard of rel=”nofollow” It’s for comment spammers. If you want to know how SEO is done for the long term watch my show this week. This naive, ham fisted, amatuer, blunt instrument of comment spam really gets under my skin.

  379. Jim Stewart
    8 Sep 09
    10:44 am

  380. I would also add that “Link baiting” is not what you are trying to define it as. Link baiting is about creating good content that people want to link to. It makes absolutely no sense in your comment spam context.

  381. Jim Stewart
    9 Sep 09
    10:25 am

  382. This week’s SEO video explaining why comment spam is a very dumb idea

  383. Brian
    11 Sep 09
    4:53 am

  384. Spam is spam. Dressing it up as being some how honest, while lying about it is bad enough.

    What you are doing is selling ad space on boards and blogs (By advertising a product there in return for money), whithout paying the owners for the advertising.
    You are trying to make it sound like you are doing something that doesn’t cause harm when what you are doing harms blogs and forums in two ways.
    1. By not paying for advertising you are efectivly stealing from the Board/Forum operators. In the same way that pirating software is considered stealing.
    2. By having people who aren’t experts in the field under discussion faking their knowledge you deminish the quality of the advice avaliable on that site or forum. This can adversly impact the popularity of the site which in turn can cost the owner through lost traffic, reputation and ad revenue

    If you value a board or forum as a source of customers for the clients then you should be paying for ad space on that website, rather than stealing it by stealth.

    By doing this you are going to be in violation of a great many sites usage agreements and thus should if the world is just face legal challange in the courts.

    Prepare to be banned everywhere you go.

  385. Viveka Weiley
    14 Sep 09
    11:28 am

  386. If these people are pretending to be “personas” in order to make money, isn’t that deception? And more to the point, isn’t it gaining a financial advantage by deception? Which IIRC is the legal definition of fraud. I mean, yes it’s unethical, but to me this also looks illegal.

  387. Jim Stewart
    14 Sep 09
    1:36 pm

  388. Exactly Viveka – & it has nil SEO value.


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