The Facebook “Shocker”

September 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

Louis: I'm shocked--shocked! Rick: I thought this was the beginning of a beautiful Facebook friendship.

Louis: I'm shocked--shocked! Rick: I thought this was the beginning of a beautiful Facebook friendship.

Cue Capt. Renault from “Casablanca.” Many are shocked–shocked!–that Facebook friends are now for sale, thanks to Brisbane-based uSocial. Industry and general media (from AdAge to the Christian Science Monitor) have been flush with stories about the audacious Aussies who will sell you friends, fans, or Twitter followers for a set price that works out to mere pennies per pal.

uSocial has already stirred Web unrest with its earlier campaign to juice rankings on Digg, the social news Web site that allows visitors to rate articles and content on the Web. Digg issued a cease-and-desist against uSocial, echoing Facebook’s denouncement of its latest service to attract friends and fans to clients’ Facebook pages. In all instances, uSocial’s CEO Leon Hill has responded defiantly, which means the company has to be eating up this latest brouhaha and the resultant coverage.

Deirdre Breakenridge, co-author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and president of PFS Marketwyse, gave me her take on uSocial’s Facebook services:

I’m still a firm believer that you can’t buy your friends. The real value of the social economy is in the social capital gained through our deep connections and relationships. In Web communities, less is more and customers are appreciative of those brands that listen and approach them to engage meaningfully, as opposed to those that buy friends to ‘sell’ them inappropriately.

uSocial is promising clients that the deliberate process of social media can be circumvented or at least accelerated. To many, this flies in the face of the premise of social media, the “meaningful engagement” that Deirdre emphasizes. Leon Hill asserts that his company merely searches Facebook for people who might be interested in befriending a client and makes the overture. At first glance, this seems more benign than his Digg manipulations that quickly boosted clients’ content rankings, attracting more visitors who would then hopefully continue the Digg spike on their own.

uSocial is simply a highly visible constituent of the army of “experts” who find ways to bend and break the rules on the Web. Search engine optimization is one such Web activity that can swing from judicious (White Hat) to unethical (Black Hat). Examples of white hat: frequency of keywords in well-written content; link popularity as other sites create inbound links. Examples of black hat: keyword stuffing, loading keywords in micro or invisible fonts; link farms, sites that artificially boost incoming links.

The “shocker” of uSocial’s Facebook program is that anyone treats it as a shock. The Web and marketing overall are full of short-cut artists. It may be comforting to think of social media as a safe haven from such manipulation, such marketing “tricks.” Capt. Renault would know better.

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Entry filed under: Social Media, Web Content. Tags: , , , , , , .

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