BCM admits ‘handful’ of staff left 5-star reviews on government education app they built

Astroturfing: BCM staff left 5-star reviews of the Learning Potential app

Astroturfing: BCM staff left 5-star reviews of the Learning Potential app

Ad agency BCM has admitted “a handful” of staff have left glowing reviews for a government education app they created on the Apple and Google app stores.

Kevin Moreland, owner of the Brisbane-based independent confirmed “six or seven” of the agency’s 65 staff had left positive reviews for the Learning Potential app in the Google Play and App Store.

But he stressed they did so without the “encouragement or knowledge” of The Department of Education which commissioned the $1.1m project.

“Of the many reviews on the App Store only a handful are from BCM. Further, the average rating the app achieved across both the Apple app store and Google Play is virtually identical to the average rating with or without the BCM reviews,” Moreland told Mumbrella.

“The BCM staff who have left reviews did so in a private capacity, without any encouragement or knowledge of The Department of Education and Training.”

Mumbrella has found at least six staff members from BCM who have left five star reviews across the two stores. In both Google Play and the App Store it is rated 3.5 out of five by users, including several one and two star reviews complaining of technical issues and a lack of targeted content.

The process of leaving positive commentary or reviews on your own work is commonly known as ‘astroturfing’. The Communications Council’s code of ethics calls on agencies to “Compete Fairly”:

Be honest in commenting on competitors and our industry. No dirty tricks in new business. No misrepresentation of the capabilities of your business.”

One staffer dubbed the app “Incredibly useful” in a five star review adding: “This was easy to use and navigate. A great way to get hints and tips for every age group.”

Another posted: “Great tips that are easy to browse and put into action!”.

BCM was also active on Google Play responding to one star and negative feedback from people about broken links and the app crashing.BCM Partnership responses to app crashes

Moreland told Mumbrella whilst the agency had not encouraged staff to leave feedback, it had been an “unintended consequence from people who love their work”. He added that staff had been told not to leave ratings on apps they build in the future.

The Department of Education which commissioned the app has been approached for comment.

James Hutchinson, an account director at PR firm Sling & Stone told Mumbrella astroturfing can lead to reputational problems down the line for agencies.

“Astroturfing is never a good idea, either morally or practically.” he added. “On an app store, these reviews are tied to a work or personal email address and often your online identity.

“We leave digital breadcrumbs everywhere so the chance this kind of thing can backfire has increased dramatically and, when it does, everyone involved loses goodwill with clients and potential future customers.”

Dan Monheit

Dan Monheit

Dan Monheit, founder of Hard Hat Digital was more philosophical, saying “agencies boosting ratings makes no difference in the long run”.

“In reality, the value in customer reviews is derived from their volume, rather than the content of any one, two or handful of reviews. And therein lies their beauty: as consumers, we get to make a more informed decision based on what hundreds or thousands of people have said, rather than just one salesperson looking for a commission.

“If the app’s great, the agency’s reviews aren’t needed. If it sucks, they won’t help. The old adage of ‘good advertising for a bad product just makes it fail faster’ couldn’t be more true. Amazon has built one hell of a business on this.

“Google/Apple have attempted to clean this up by allowing reviews and ratings to apply to specific versions of an app, rather than the app as a whole. This gives developers a chance to improve things they may have missed in early releases while also diminishing the effect of rating boosting behaviour.
“Regardless of the effectiveness, there are still plenty of incentives for people to do this stuff, whether it’s client KPIs or the knowledge that a new app with lots of positive ratings is more likely to be featured, which prompts further downloads.”

Alex Hayes



Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.