On Manufactured Influence

Dan Howe:

Why do people fake their online influence? Dan Howe, who once experimented with follower gaming, explains.
Faking influence in order to alter public behaviour is a very old marketing tactic. As far back as the 1930s, it was routine for promoters to hire good looking young people to wait outside concert halls for lead operatic sopranos, both encouraging actual theatre goers to join the mob for autographs and to stage a good shot for the press.

Similar activity persists today, with shops like Abercrombie & Fitch purposefully maintaining a queue out front in order to keep up the appearance of popularity and companies like HP turning the popular kids on US campuses in to paid brand ambassadors.

While it is generally accepted practice, openly discussed and debated in the media and among marketers, when it comes to applying the same principles online, you tend to get awkward silence from industry professionals.

Last year, PR Week broke a story about Covert PR, a firm apparently offering the services of “posters” to submit online comments to mainstream media websites to “help sway and nudge the debate” in favour of its clients.