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Ethics in Social Media and Online Marketing

Recently I have been asked by a few people my opinion on a certain “link bait” event that happened. To save myself repeating the same answer, here it is.

The story goes something like this. Writer creates fictitious story, gets it to the front page of Digg, which leads to mentions in tabloid newspapers and Fox News.

Apart from the “fictitious” aspect, this would be considered by anyone a major victory. One count puts it at 1500 fresh inbound links. Unfortunately it is the truth/fiction aspect that has people up in arms. Variously the story is being called “fraud”, “hoax” and “satire”. People are getting emotive which is often dangerous.

I am not going to pass judgment because I do not know the intentions or brief behind the campaign and I do not want to know. The writer still has my respect, after all these are the sorts of link bait results we dream of if you ignore the story itself and the backlash for a moment!

Would I create a false story to gain attention? No. Do I think it is wrong to plant a false story? Yes and no. Yes because as I said, I wouldn’t do it myself, and no because, well, tabloids and Fox News are also partly to blame (hello, fact-check anyone?) and are not exactly well known for being pristine purveyors of the absolute truth are they?

Clients should have been fully aware of what was planned and they ought to be thrilled at the links they have garnered, which in many cases will have lasting benefits (regardless of what Google are saying right now), much longer than the fallout will last.

If this had been put out by a PR company nobody would bat an eyelid. Stunts, fakes and spoofs are seeded into the media all the time. Richard Branson is a master, he once landed a fake UFO to media acclaim. April 1st sees the news made useless as you do not know what to believe. As on April 2nd, this story now has a message saying the story was made up.

I have watched and read highly serious and untrue things said with a straight face by politicians that were far more damaging and longer lasting. I’m sure you can think of a few. Who cares really in the scheme of things about this, really?

So to answer the questions, I would not have played it the same way but at the same time I don’t think there has been any real harm done. If people are questioning what they read a little more now, then good I say.

That’s my opinion, what is yours?

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Comments

  1. Chris,
    I fully share your opinion. I wouldn’t do it myself – but on the other hand it is astonishing what people are ready to believe. Here in Germany in the eighties we had a very known magazine called “Der Stern” which was proud to publish a so-called diary written by Adolf Hitler – and had to learn afterwards that the whole thing was a hoax! They paid a lot of money for this made-up thing.

  2. Chris,
    I fully share your opinion. I wouldn’t do it myself – but on the other hand it is astonishing what people are ready to believe. Here in Germany in the eighties we had a very known magazine called “Der Stern” which was proud to publish a so-called diary written by Adolf Hitler – and had to learn afterwards that the whole thing was a hoax! They paid a lot of money for this made-up thing.

  3. Who cares? I do. I can’t comment on the “hoax” about which you wrote; however, I’ve also recently read a tweet agreeing with an article about it being perfectly okay with him to download unpaid for music, and I feel compelled to respond to this nonchalance.

    These are complicated issues, yes, but even if I appear a simpleton, I’m going to say anyway that I want artists to be paid for their work, and I want straightforward sources of information (as much as is possible). If people want to pull publicity stunts, okay, but they lose credibility with me, and they go into the category of circus promoters.

    These practices are more entertainment distraction, which harms us in the long run by diluting our attentiveness. I value veracity more than bookmark/click potential (which, as a consumer I believe is very misunderstood anyway), and I hope people won’t allow themselves to be lulled into accepting junk just because they have more thrown at them than they can handle.

    And at the other end of the cable, I hope people will consider how, in the long run, they really want their reputations measured.

  4. Who cares? I do. I can’t comment on the “hoax” about which you wrote; however, I’ve also recently read a tweet agreeing with an article about it being perfectly okay with him to download unpaid for music, and I feel compelled to respond to this nonchalance.

    These are complicated issues, yes, but even if I appear a simpleton, I’m going to say anyway that I want artists to be paid for their work, and I want straightforward sources of information (as much as is possible). If people want to pull publicity stunts, okay, but they lose credibility with me, and they go into the category of circus promoters.

    These practices are more entertainment distraction, which harms us in the long run by diluting our attentiveness. I value veracity more than bookmark/click potential (which, as a consumer I believe is very misunderstood anyway), and I hope people won’t allow themselves to be lulled into accepting junk just because they have more thrown at them than they can handle.

    And at the other end of the cable, I hope people will consider how, in the long run, they really want their reputations measured.

  5. It all boils down to the media not checking their facts (as you point out). Fiction is written every day, and in this case, the media reported it as fact.

  6. It all boils down to the media not checking their facts (as you point out). Fiction is written every day, and in this case, the media reported it as fact.

  7. Chris;

    Ok, so what is the actual story that went viral??

    Am I missing the link or something??

    Mike

  8. Chris;

    Ok, so what is the actual story that went viral??

    Am I missing the link or something??

    Mike

  9. just google “link bait fox news”

  10. just google “link bait fox news”

  11. I think, that all is fair in love and linkbait. Ok so it was fictional, but then alot of material online is, and if readers and the media *want* to believe, well then it is their own fault for not accurately checking the facts. Bottom line, everyone loves a juicy story, fictional or not.

  12. I think, that all is fair in love and linkbait. Ok so it was fictional, but then alot of material online is, and if readers and the media *want* to believe, well then it is their own fault for not accurately checking the facts. Bottom line, everyone loves a juicy story, fictional or not.

  13. Most of society is a bunch of rubber neck media/celebrity gossip loving….o.k. let me stop. Paul’s right people love a good story.
    Personally I want the links from people who were helped or educated by the post that I wrote.

  14. Most of society is a bunch of rubber neck media/celebrity gossip loving….o.k. let me stop. Paul’s right people love a good story.
    Personally I want the links from people who were helped or educated by the post that I wrote.

  15. Richard Branson did wha?! Well, he claims his pilots are going to the moon so he’s getting a jump on the whole space exploration thing. Ha!

    People will do anything to get attention. I think netd above pointed out a pertinent idea: that our attention is getting diluted. Who are we to trust anymore?

    I don’t trust people who do these types of things. It ruins their credibility. Don’t you talk about trust in some of your posts?

    People try to manipulate and play the system any way they can. Some people think this is great when you can play Bonnie and Clyde and get away with it. But, you have to draw the line somewhere, and you do have to judge people. It’s what society is for.

    Sure, it’s thrilling. But you need a moral code to live by. That’s why I don’t watch Fox News.

  16. Richard Branson did wha?! Well, he claims his pilots are going to the moon so he’s getting a jump on the whole space exploration thing. Ha!

    People will do anything to get attention. I think netd above pointed out a pertinent idea: that our attention is getting diluted. Who are we to trust anymore?

    I don’t trust people who do these types of things. It ruins their credibility. Don’t you talk about trust in some of your posts?

    People try to manipulate and play the system any way they can. Some people think this is great when you can play Bonnie and Clyde and get away with it. But, you have to draw the line somewhere, and you do have to judge people. It’s what society is for.

    Sure, it’s thrilling. But you need a moral code to live by. That’s why I don’t watch Fox News.

  17. I have more or less the same opinion as you do, Chris. The only thing I wonder about is how this stunt will affect the credibility of the site that used this promotion. The site in question is generally thought of as a reliable source of factual information.

    Putting up this fake story, and passing it off as true (despite the absurdity of the story, which should have alerted people to the fact that it was false) on a site known for being a source of credible information may have done permanent damage to the site’s reputation. If nothing else, it will be a long time before the media trusts anything coming from this site.

    That said, I still think it was a brilliant piece of marketing, and the news media should have done their jobs and checked their facts before running the story. I just wonder what negative side effects will come of this.

    (Note: I’ve intentionally left out the name of the site involved, as well as the author of the article, since Chris opted not to mention it in his post. If it’s OK with Chris, I can provide a link to the original story for anyone who hasn’t read it.)

  18. I have more or less the same opinion as you do, Chris. The only thing I wonder about is how this stunt will affect the credibility of the site that used this promotion. The site in question is generally thought of as a reliable source of factual information.

    Putting up this fake story, and passing it off as true (despite the absurdity of the story, which should have alerted people to the fact that it was false) on a site known for being a source of credible information may have done permanent damage to the site’s reputation. If nothing else, it will be a long time before the media trusts anything coming from this site.

    That said, I still think it was a brilliant piece of marketing, and the news media should have done their jobs and checked their facts before running the story. I just wonder what negative side effects will come of this.

    (Note: I’ve intentionally left out the name of the site involved, as well as the author of the article, since Chris opted not to mention it in his post. If it’s OK with Chris, I can provide a link to the original story for anyone who hasn’t read it.)

  19. I just got off the phone to a PR consultant who’s putting together a proposal for my company and I’m now thinking of calling her back & telling her not to bother…all I need is this post and I’m set! lol

    It’s a shame though that media outlets like Fox don’t employ the resource of ‘critical thinking’ that all we web users employ on a daily basis to help us wade through the information that’s presented online as fact.

  20. I just got off the phone to a PR consultant who’s putting together a proposal for my company and I’m now thinking of calling her back & telling her not to bother…all I need is this post and I’m set! lol

    It’s a shame though that media outlets like Fox don’t employ the resource of ‘critical thinking’ that all we web users employ on a daily basis to help us wade through the information that’s presented online as fact.

  21. i’m sure many more bogus posts have been circulated for some time now. it’s unfortunate that the draw of quick clicks will entice some to write bogus articles. but it is the established media that allows themselves (and us) to be conned. they fail to check on stories and continue to reduce their staffs.

  22. i’m sure many more bogus posts have been circulated for some time now. it’s unfortunate that the draw of quick clicks will entice some to write bogus articles. but it is the established media that allows themselves (and us) to be conned. they fail to check on stories and continue to reduce their staffs.

  23. I do standup comedy part-time and I would feel ok about making up a story like this to get people to a comedy-type site. I also have some affiliate marketing sites and I would never do something like that to get people there. I guess I’m saying it would depend on the site I was baiting to. I remember my Mom and Dad getting invited to have dessert with friends back in the 70s and when they got there they were blasted with an Amway pitch. They were pissed. That site may have won a few hits now but their future marketing may be shot.

  24. I do standup comedy part-time and I would feel ok about making up a story like this to get people to a comedy-type site. I also have some affiliate marketing sites and I would never do something like that to get people there. I guess I’m saying it would depend on the site I was baiting to. I remember my Mom and Dad getting invited to have dessert with friends back in the 70s and when they got there they were blasted with an Amway pitch. They were pissed. That site may have won a few hits now but their future marketing may be shot.

  25. @Ulla – I heard about that, it was quite famous wasn’t it?

    @netd – Yes, reputation is a big issue, but also I wouldn’t want to give people the idea that something is ok providing you don’t get caught.

    @David – And sometimes they are the SOURCE of the fiction …

    @Mike – as @Lisa rightly says, you can Google it, I just don’t want to single out any one story or person any more than has been already

    @Paul – That’s a good point, people wanted to believe it

    @Catherine – My choice would be to write the truth, at least as I see it, but there is a lot of stuff to clean up before we get too hot about one linkbait story

    @Ellen – We are bombarded with partial truths at best, and we have seen over and over Digg and co communities do not let the truth get in the way of a good story. The scary thing for me is TV is just the same but given way more credence.

    @Adam – I think the vast majority of people who do not run in our circles will not even know.

    @LA – I think they use the short cut of “if someone else is running this story then they must have checked facts”, which means once you get into one you have a good chance of running in the rest.

    @rob – The main reason to keep professional journalists is because they have long held practices and trust, so it is worrying for the profession indeed that this has broken down. Not one journo tried to find the individuals involved?

    @cashslacker – Yeah, the old bait and switch is as old as humanity I bet!

  26. @Ulla – I heard about that, it was quite famous wasn’t it?

    @netd – Yes, reputation is a big issue, but also I wouldn’t want to give people the idea that something is ok providing you don’t get caught.

    @David – And sometimes they are the SOURCE of the fiction …

    @Mike – as @Lisa rightly says, you can Google it, I just don’t want to single out any one story or person any more than has been already

    @Paul – That’s a good point, people wanted to believe it

    @Catherine – My choice would be to write the truth, at least as I see it, but there is a lot of stuff to clean up before we get too hot about one linkbait story

    @Ellen – We are bombarded with partial truths at best, and we have seen over and over Digg and co communities do not let the truth get in the way of a good story. The scary thing for me is TV is just the same but given way more credence.

    @Adam – I think the vast majority of people who do not run in our circles will not even know.

    @LA – I think they use the short cut of “if someone else is running this story then they must have checked facts”, which means once you get into one you have a good chance of running in the rest.

    @rob – The main reason to keep professional journalists is because they have long held practices and trust, so it is worrying for the profession indeed that this has broken down. Not one journo tried to find the individuals involved?

    @cashslacker – Yeah, the old bait and switch is as old as humanity I bet!