SPCR
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This Site's Policy Towards 'Viral Marketing'
http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=29161
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Author:  Rory Buszka [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 3:57 pm ]
Post subject:  This Site's Policy Towards 'Viral Marketing'

With the recent increase in the number of companies conducting 'viral marketing' campaigns on web forums, I feel it's appropriate to ask about this site's policy towards this so-called 'viral marketing', and open the topic up for public discussion. Addendum: This is also referred to as 'guerilla marketing'. Strangely enough, the Terms of Use statement (that a new member sees when they begin the registration process) says nothing about these new, clandestine marketing campaigns that are multiplying in number and taking up residence on more and more of the most trusted online forums. I hope SPCR staff will comment here on SPCR's policy towards viral marketing and how members found to be involved in viral marketing will be dealt with, if at all, or to re-iterate that policy.

What do I mean by this? 'Viral marketing' employs individuals who are paid or otherwise compensated (often with free stuff) to enter an online forum, develop a favorable ethos as a knowledgable and reasonable (and thus trustworthy) individual, and then slip in recommendations of a particular company's products, services, or web sites.

My Position: So-Called 'Viral Marketing' Is Stealing.
Web sites like this have paid advertising banners for a reason -- the care and maintenance of a site like SPCR costs money, yet the owners of the site wish for it to remain a free service. So, for a fee, site and forum owners allow companies and online marketing firms to place advertisements in prominent locations within the forum. You should be seeing three such banners at the top of this page. Clicks on these banners generate additional revenue for the site. By contrast, viral marketers usually pay nothing for the space their thinly veiled advertisements occupy, and are in return handsomely compensated for their efforts. Some viral marketers (hired by a firm called AEG) who were recently identified on AnandTech.com's forums were found to have received NVidia video accelerator cards in return for giving favorable recommendations of NVidia products to other members of the forum. This practice constitutes 'stealing' because as I just mentioned, these advertisers pay nothing to place their messages on web sites, often alongside legitimate paid banner or text ads. But what really burns me up about this is that these viral marketers are corrupting online forums as a source of trustworthy information in making purchasing decisions. Marketing firms that hire individuals into these so-called viral marketing schemes instruct those individuals to masquerade as 'experts' on the subject of the product they have been hired to represent. Because of this, new forum members who haven't been around for a while won't know the difference between a biased member and an unbiased member. The internet forum has played an instrumental role for myself in my own buying decisions, and it OUTRAGES me that marketing is even infiltrating the content of posts on online forums in such a despiccable way. Who can you trust anymore?

Why a poll?
I'm deliberately opening a can of worms here so that would-be viral marketers will know the position of the population of this forum on the subject. Please make your opinion heard. On one side of the argument, viral marketing is stealing, and has corruptive effects that impair the function of an online community. On the other side of the argument, it could be argued that on a public forum, people are free to post whatever they feel like posting and people should know well enough to take online forum posts with a grain of salt. I'm also kind of hoping for an "angry mob" effect as a deterrent to would-be guerilla or viral marketers thinking of setting up shop on this forum. (note - I'm not asking for some sort of witch hunt, just a public outcry against these practices.)

If you've discovered a typo or some factual error with this post, please drop me a line and let me know. WRT NVidia, AEG, and the recent AnandTech situation, I'm only reporting what I have read in this AnandTech thread. Addendum: Here's a ProSoundWeb thread that I found that also addresses this type of marketing, apparently also referred to as "Guerilla Marketing" -- link. Don't know how useful it will be, but it's relevant and offers a chilling account of a guerilla marketing scheme. Also - you'll notice I'm editing this post like crazy whenever I think of something appropriate to add. I've edited it four times now.

Author:  Rusty075 [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 4:12 pm ]
Post subject: 

Actually I'd say SPCR is a couple of years ahead of the curve on Viral Marketing.

Atop the Announcements forum are two stickied threads, one which details the policy on vendors and corporate rep's who want to post in the forums. And a second that details the repercussions of us finding a company that is engaged in such activities here.

Author:  Elixer [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 4:40 pm ]
Post subject: 

In the case of SilentX the tactic backfired. Many SPCRers now refuse to buy any of their products reguardless of how good they are. Almost everytime you see someone put in a comment about a SilentX fan being quiet someone pipes in about the stuff pulled here. Especially on this site, anyone caught pulling that kind of crap will have their product boycotted by a lot of people. I really feel that SPCR has one of the best online forum communities. I don't think I've ever seen someone make personal attacks on anyone else here, and that really says a lot about this site.

Author:  RachelG [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 4:42 pm ]
Post subject: 

I entirely agree with your opinion about viral marketing, but I don't think your poll is valid. the whole point about viral marketing is that the victim thinks they are receiving unbiased advice. That is several orders of magnitude more useful to the vendor than any amount of direct advertising, so telling vendors to buy ad space is not the point.

Any website/forum worth its salt is absolutely not going to stand for viral marketing - if they can spot it, that is. The whole Peter Kim scandal (which was commented on much more frequently when I first joined SPCR) shows SPCR's absolute intolerance of such marketing methods; but it also shows how difficult it can be to quickly spot such people.

Author:  JazzJackRabbit [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 4:55 pm ]
Post subject: 

Well, I don't have anything against companies advertising their products, be it via adspace or the forums. They are perfectly entitled to do it however they want to wherever they want to, and yes, even via public forums. The issue however, as RachelG mentioned, is not whether they are paying for it or not (if they can find a free or next to free method to advertise their products who's to say they are doing anything wrong?). The issue is that unexperienced user thinks he is receiving unbiased advice, when in reality it may be an outright lie. For example someone may come to the forum and claim that enermax is way quiter than seasonic, and people who have never owned both will believe it. Or for example write a bunch of technical PR which will confuse user into thinking that their product is that much better than the competition.

In any case, my position is that vendors can be allowed to advertise on the forums, however they should make it explicitly clear that they are affiliated with a particular company, for example have a sig that states "this person is an employee or on a payroll from company X".

Author:  Le_Gritche [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 5:54 pm ]
Post subject: 

Rusty075 wrote:
Actually I'd say SPCR is a couple of years ahead of the curve on Viral Marketing.

Atop the Announcements forum are two stickied threads, one which details the policy on vendors and corporate rep's who want to post in the forums. [...]

I never read this thread before today, but it's a very good policy, IF it is respected by viral marketers.

Sadly I'm afraid viral marketing is kind of supposed to be anonymous, or rather undisclosed. That's the heart of the problem.
Vendors posting in forum with their belonging to the company disclosed in their name are to be encouraged. But that's not viral marketing, that's good ol' being a good businessman, keeping in touch with your potential customers.
Viral marketing was supposed to be giving free products to influential people (cool sport stars, urban fashion leaders...) whose choices would be mimicked by a lot of people.
With Nvidia it seems that they hired a PR company (a usefull fuse in case you got exposed) that in turn gave free products and maybe money to Joe Unknown. Joe Unknown was then supposed to build a good reputation.
The problem being that the good reputation was not a prerequisite. So instead of having someone knowledgeable and respected about something, you get a posting bot.

People getting free products and/or money compensation are indeed lying if they post anything about the company or a competitor without disclosing these ties.
Besides by choosing random guys to be your viral marketers is just a proof you want people you can mold rather than people with an established respected experience.

Maybe it's just that readers were getting smarter, so boggus reviews by puppet websites were ineffective, they needed to spin the facts in a place people would trust to abuse our critical sense.

Author:  Rory Buszka [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 6:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

Well, it is intended that all the advertising on here is to be paid. Companies want to put their ads all over the place but don't want to pay for the ad space, so that makes guerilla marketing all the more attractive. The bottom line is that, whatever the reason companies attempt it for, it has the net effect of obtaining advertising space that the company didn't pay for. It's not the worst of guerilla marketing's effects, but I figured it would be one of the ones that people would be best able to relate to (since stealing is generally considered wrong).

The problem is indeed separating the marketing guerillas from the fanboys.

Author:  Erssa [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 8:07 pm ]
Post subject: 

Viral marketing is unfortunate, but imo people who look information from the internet should have some sort of criticism in the information they read, especially to the info they recieve from forums. Not everything is true in the internet and just like in the real world, most people are idiots (spcr's an exception) and some outright liars.
Net is full of fanboys recommending the products they own, just because they blindly believe the outrageous lies of the manufacturer, I guess we have all seen threads where someone says SilenX is best because it is the most silent fan and it still moves more air then the rest etc.

Then there's the whole point of subjectivety of information. On some overclocking forums people might swear on PCP&C and Thermaltake BT, however here we have a different point of view to computing. PCP&P is probably considered overpriced and too loud and Thermaltake is genarally free target for bashing. My point in all of this being, that the information in the net is subjective and people should treat it that way, not like it's the word of god.

I think I remember seeing a thread in SPCR forums where MikeC and other SPCR mods are accused of "viral marketing" for Antec. And I think I have seen claims where SPCR has been called the official marketing campaing for Nexus. Still I think most of us can recognice, if somebody indeed would be virally marketing. There's only so much lies a person can say for a product before it starts to stink.

I hold people responsible for the stuff they choose to believe in. No excuses for being stupid and naive.

Author:  BrytaPlanka [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 10:55 am ]
Post subject: 

Huh, it isnt silent? I baught 2 of them some years ago when I read in many forums that they were good.. I have not baught any other 120 mm fans to try agaist, since I didnt think it would make much diffrence when I already had some "silent" fans... It was more silent then the other fans I had, im still using them but are not very impressed by them, do they suck compared to other silent fans?

Author:  Beyonder [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 2:16 pm ]
Post subject: 

I'd answer the poll, but there really needs to be a third option:

Poll with third option wrote:
No! Pay for the ad space like everyone else!

Yes, but those members should have to declare their affiliation with the company in question.

Yes, it's a public forum and people can post what they like.


I don't mind people who work for NVidia/ATI/SilentX/xxx posting their opinions on their products, as long as it's clearly marked that they are affiliated with the company they're promoting. I do have a big problem with employees/affiliates of these companies posting under the guise of being just another member.

Author:  Reachable [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 3:24 pm ]
Post subject: 

This forum carries a heavy "weight of truth" because it's been a cooperative effort by many astute people, concentrated in a particular realm of interest, and highly earnest in what it's trying to accomplish.

Anybody attempting to pollute this will eventually, and most likely quickly, be washed away.

But that's not to say the threat should be ignored. This has all the hallmarks of organized crime -- including cruelty.

But you don't need to label it -- blatant dishonesty should never be tolerated -- anywhere.

Author:  AZBrandon [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 4:45 pm ]
Post subject: 

Erssa wrote:
Net is full of fanboys recommending the products they own, just because they blindly believe the outrageous lies of the manufacturer, I guess we have all seen threads where someone says SilenX is best because it is the most silent fan and it still moves more air then the rest etc.

I was just going to mention the fanboy effect myself. I think that's one reason why SPCR above other sites is a little easier to identify a viral marketer, since most folks here don't really have any alegiances, they just use whatever works and are totally open to any other options that may work well. Sites with fanboys that just hype whatever they own would be much harder to pick out a talented marketer.

Author:  BigA [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 6:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Should viral marketing be allowed?

I am opposed to any type of "viral marketing" in the SPCR forums. I read forums to learn what works for other people. Hopefully, the people on the SPCR forums are all engaged in an honest exchange of ideas. Perhaps in some instances our ideas are "honestly biased". If so, I can live with that, however, I would receive much less enjoyment from reading the SPCR forums if I had to filter out the hucksters. Modified rules in which touts were required to identify themselves would still be a pain, since I would need to check the bottom of each message for a disclaimer before reading the rest of the message.

Note that AntecRep has a presence on the SPCR forums. While AntecRep probably justifies time spent on SPCR as a marketing expense, I do not believe that AntecRep's involvement on SPCR qualifies as "viral marketing" for the following reasons:

* AntecRep does not actively push Antec products

* AntecRep works with SPCR users to resolve problems

* AntecRep forwards SPCR member feedback to Antec. Antec in some cases uses this feedback to improve Antec products. If Antec wants to improve their products by listening to their customers, I'm all for that.

Accordingly, AntecRep's approach can be summarized as:
1 Don't Sell (other than providing review samples)
2 Support Users
3 Improve Products
4 One company "rep" / full disclosure

While this might technically count as marketing, if other manufacturers wanted to engage with SPCR on these terms, I believe this would be a positive development.

Author:  Rory Buszka [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 7:57 pm ]
Post subject: 

My point is that the people who are covert marketing for a brand's products DO NOT identify themselves as being affiliated with a company or having some financial interest in the success of a company or its marketing efforts. That's why I didn't include a third option in my poll - the very idea of guerilla or viral marketing agents is that they are covert. It's already site policy to allow companies to have representatives on these forums as long as they identify themselves and indicate their affiliation.

Author:  mathias [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 8:09 pm ]
Post subject: 

Rory Buszka wrote:
That's why I didn't include a third option in my poll - the very idea of guerilla or viral marketing agents is that they are covert. It's already site policy to allow companies to have representatives on these forums as long as they identify themselves and indicate their affiliation.


But, companies that wanted to do some extra marketing could still behave poorly without being covert. For example, a company could have multiple representitives(perhaps one for each subsidiarry and supplier) who agressively promoted their products at every opportunity.

Author:  Le_Gritche [ Tue Feb 14, 2006 2:45 pm ]
Post subject: 

Rory Buszka wrote:
It's already site policy to allow companies to have representatives on these forums as long as they identify themselves and indicate their affiliation.

Exactly, but you didn't put that answer in your poll, it's either yes or no.
The problem is the 'no' answer is bundled with only one alternative (paid for ad) when in fact there are other alternatives to viral marketing (like representatives disclosing their affiliation).

Though I understand what you meant; viral marketing cost money like paid ads, but the company are giving money and/or product to the covert forum poster, rather than giving the money to the websites to run some ads. So that's a kind of freeloading.
That would be a forum owner point of view, who would then wish to change who gets the money (but probably also dislike the fact his forum users are being abused)

As forum users, our direct concern is not about who gets the money but about if we get biased or unbiased advices (but probably also dislike the fact the forum owner is being taken advantage of). So my wish is more to change the fact that the ties between a company and a forum poster are not disclosed. That's why the 'No. pay for ads' answer is not exactly satisfactory and is kind of loaded.

Author:  york [ Tue Feb 14, 2006 6:15 pm ]
Post subject: 

Beyonder wrote:
I'd answer the poll, but there really needs to be a third option:

Poll with third option wrote:
No! Pay for the ad space like everyone else!

Yes, but those members should have to declare their affiliation with the company in question.

Yes, it's a public forum and people can post what they like.


I don't mind people who work for NVidia/ATI/SilentX/xxx posting their opinions on their products, as long as it's clearly marked that they are affiliated with the company they're promoting. I do have a big problem with employees/affiliates of these companies posting under the guise of being just another member.

That's about how I feel about it too. A company rep on a forum is a plus when you can ask them about their products and get a relatively straight answer and call them on it, a rep hiding under a false identity begins as a lie what is to stop them from continuing that lie about their product. Bleh

Author:  Rory Buszka [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 8:48 pm ]
Post subject: 

Even if an affiliate of a company is posting marketing stuff (as in, some computer hardware reseller coming on randomly and saying "Check out our new special on Antec NeoHE Power Supplies! We promiss they won't suck anymore!"; this is different from simply handling customer service issues), they aren't paying anything to have their ad displayed on SPCR. If we're going to see advertising of any sort (excepting genuine word of mouth) then the people posting the ads should have to pay for it. It's nice of SPCR to donate space for the Dealers, Vendors, and Classifieds section of the forum. But what I'm getting at is that the customer service reps on this board are in another category entirely from those who get paid to post thinly-veiled marketing hype under the guise of true expertise and objective analysis.

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