message board rent-a-friends talk up brand

Sockmonkey When giving workshops about how to start an online community, I often suggest that sites "seed" their online discussions before public launch. There’s nothing wrong with doing a bit of seeding. When users arrive immediately following launch it ensures that your community is being used, that the first users have discussions to get involved in, and that users have behaviour to model their own participation upon. Opening an online community to the public without conversations is a bit like opening a new nightclub without music, design, or people – and as anyone who has ever arrived at a nightclub before anyone else, it’s not exactly the way to entice people to come back. So the idea of seeding, as advocated by myself and other online community managers I know, is to invite friends, family, and other potentially interested parties to participate if they want to. That way you get users you can trust to help you start the community whilst, at the same time, not damaging your credibility with the public.

Thankfully, I’ve never personally sunk to the level of community owners pretending to be punters although I know it happens and have seen it happen. Pretending to be a user whilst interacting with other users is deceitful and potentially harmful, not just to the trust a user has in you and your brand, but potentially harmful to them as a person. Imagine building a relationship with someone, thinking that they’re your friend, then realising that the person had actually been "pretending" all along and is in fact a paid employee of the website. Not a nice feeling, is it?

That was part of the issue with the whole Autumn Marzec date bait story a few months back. Now it’s alleged that technology company, Nvidia, has been caught paying "message board sock puppets" to befriend message board users and then talk up the brand. The story, spotted on by Boing Boing is that:

Nvidia stands accused of hiring online actors to create dozens of personae in online forums, where they won gamers’ trust by talking about subjects unrelated to Nvidia’s products, and then splurged in an orgy of sock-puppet boosterism of Nvidia’s stuff.

(sock monkey image from here)


  1. Paying someone is ridiculous but I think the point is when you stop being yourself and when, instead, you are just the company’s “avatar”. The latter has, as you say, a destructive potential for both the company and the employee. However this depends on how the individual who is in the community behaves: If s/he is someone who, despite having a pretermined agenda, is committed to be an active member of the community, doesn’t push the message and is open to criticisms, then I have no problem with it. The moment when they wear a mask and lie is all over.

  2. At the moment I have a friend moderating the site for me, so I feel obligated to introduce new topics continually. I would love to have someone take some of the burden of introducing topics, but as you point out, it’s false, and personally, I think it would do immense harm to relationships with users.
    I enjoy coming to and reading this site; it has helped me tremendously in managing my small community. Thank you.

  3. Scumbags are everywhere… but they concentrate in corporate orange juice bars (corporations) and unfortunately… online. Avoid scumbags, deal with small business… the American way.

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