Blog - Written by on Thursday, December 10, 2009 19:58

Why Game Social Media?

by David Armano

Contrary to popular belief, social media is not naturally more resistant to marketing tricks. It can be gamed. On Twitter, services exist to boost your follower count and give the impression that you’ve got a vast high-quality network. Bloggers can write articles rich with links that draw the attention of others who would hopefully link back the the article. You can run behind-the-scenes campaigns to get people to provide positive reviews for your products or services as if they were just some happy customer rather than a hired hand. Or you can hire a small army of part time college students to Digg your content. Social media is just another social system and any such system, real world or online, can be gamed.

But I wonder why anyone would want to do this? Word of mouth marketing works in both directions on social media. For example, a few years ago clever marketers created a viral campaign for the movie Snakes on a Plane in which you could have the voice of Samuel L. Jackson call your friends and play a recorded message. The gimmick worked and Snakes became a highly anticipated movie.

But then the movie was released, and it was bad. Negative word of mouth spread just as quickly as the marketing campaign had. The movie never delivered on the buzz generated by the campaign. The same social system that was gamed via clever marketing was used to quickly turn the movie into a flop.

The litmus test that I often use when coming into contact with people, products or companies that display some kind of impressive stat or endorsement is to ask myself if anyone I trust has ever talked about this person, this product, this company or whatever it is being hyped. And if so, was what I heard favorable? Sometimes it comes down to the question: “If you’re so great, why haven’t I heard of you before?” Everyone and everything deserves a chance but it’s only if you’ve heard of the person, the product, or the company from someone you know that you’ll believe they have credibility.

Online in some ways is more game-able than offline because you don’t pay to play as much as you do via traditional media. You have to earn attention within social spheres, and there’s a cost associated with that. That cost is trust. No one online has any reason to trust what anyone else says. Marketers may find the shortcuts of gaming the system appealing, but in the end they will backfire. Why not devote those resources to making something outstanding in the first place rather than trying to cheaply trick people into thinking it’s outstanding? You’ll be better off than playing the game.


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