#52 – How Amazon, retailers & consumers should deal with fake reviews!

#52 – How Amazon, retailers & consumers should deal with fake reviews!

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Fake reviews? Whether you’re the marketplace, the retailer, or the consumer, we share reputation management advice!

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

  • Despite taking previous action, Amazon is still facing an intricate scheme of fake 5-star reviews.

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Thank you for joining us. We actually just have one story this week. We almost didn’t do the podcast because we couldn’t find a number of stories, but there was one that Buzzfeed released, and it was about Amazon. If you haven’t seen it, you can click on our notes and read it. It’s a pretty lengthy story, so I’m going to give you like a one-line summary.

Despite Amazon previously banning fake reviews because they gave out free products, Amazon is still facing an underground marketplace for retailers where companies are basically offering payment and incentives in exchange for five-star reviews. These are still continually showing up on Amazon, and it’s helping these companies to ship products that maybe don’t necessarily deserve five-star reviews, but they’re getting a ton of them. This has been known for many years. It’s kind of like astroturfing, which is a play on being an opposite of grassroots. Instead of organically growing your review profile grassroots-style, this is astroturfing because you’re basically paying for something that’s artificial. It was kind of shocking to read through that article there and just see how comprehensive this is and just the networks they’re using and the processes they’re using to do all of this.

Erin Jones:                  It’s amazing. I think we’ve discussed this before, but if they put half of that effort into just building that grassroots-positive business, I would really like to see the difference in where they would be because I feel like a lot of these companies spend a lot of time trying to game the system to what end.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Yeah, no, I totally agree with you. It’s like it’s getting to the point now, instead of investing in the product, in PR, in influencer outreach, in what, all the other things, social media and customer feedback and engagement and surveys and things like that, they’re basically looking at this and saying, “Hey, we’ll just throw a few dollars at individuals, and we’ll just get some fake five-star reviews, which is our ultimate goal.”

They’re using networks such as Reddit where you can go in and you can bid to get particular product for free, and then you also get like two or three bucks as well so you can then turn around and sell that product back on eBay or Amazon Marketplace maybe. Yeah, they’ve really, I don’t know, they’re kind of going about this the wrong way.

I’ve actually seen this. This is kind of interesting. I actually, I buy many products on Amazon and I look at the reviews, and I actually went through something where I saw this in action because I bought this, it’s a reversible belt. It’s black on one side, brown on the other. I needed something like that for a trip I was going on. It had amazing five-star reviews, but when I got it, it was cheap pleather. I mean like really plasticy feeling and really badly done. I just felt compelled to go leave a review of I think two stars because nobody else was bringing this up. It really made me realize what was going on.

What I thought we would do today is break down the story into three different perspectives from a reputation point of view. We’re going to talk about how this affects Amazon and other marketplaces. We’re going to talk about some reputation tips for retailers, and then we’ll finish off with consumers, so how you can dig through them and also how you can protect yourself. Sound good, Erin?

Erin Jones:                  Sounds wonderful.

Andy Beal:                  All right. For Amazon, the biggest thing that jumped out to me, they’ve already taken action, but I really think that they should probably build an algorithm to try and analyze the context of these reviews. Instead of just looking at, hey, this is a, seeing a review that says, “Great product, worth the price, fantastic,” whatever it is, whatever the minimum word count is, they should build an algorithm that looks for cliché terms and looks for authenticity in the actual review, build something that’s looking for, to check boxes to say this review is actually legitimate, but Erin, what do you think?

Erin Jones:                  I agree with that. I think another level they could go with that is to look at the actual reviewers and see if they’re … I would guess that some of these reviewers are leaving the exact same review for every product that they’re reviewing if they’re in a hurry. See if the content in their reviews is duplicated, and then maybe actually take a closer look at the actual reviewers.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, because other marketplaces do something similar to that, like for example, Yelp. If you go and look at Yelp reviews, especially if you’re building a profile where you just go out and you leave one or two really positive reviews, and that’s all you’re doing, those reviews generally don’t get shown up. They get hidden because Yelp’s got an algorithm that tries to detect how authentic it is basically by looking at how many friends you’ve got, how many reviews you leave, what’s the mixture of stars that you leave, all kinds of things that they keep to themselves. Yeah, I think looking at the authenticity of the reviewer is a great system. Even if we just don’t do it ourselves where you can go and just click it yourself, I think Amazon needs to do something where they can order these by, and not just order the actual review that shows up, but maybe even filter out the stars that show up in the overall profile.

Erin Jones:                  I agree. I think they’ve made some effort. You can see which purchases have been verified to have been purchased through Amazon, but they definitely need to be doing more. I tend to trust verified purchases more, but I think some of these retailers with what they’re doing to game the system go so far as to pay people to buy the product from Amazon, so-

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  … it’s really hard to know. One thing I tend to look at, and this might be jumping towards what the consumers can analyze, but looking at what content is in the review, that’s another thing that Amazon could look at. Instead of just saying, “Five stars. Love this product. Its perfect,” show those reviews that say what does someone love about it, what does someone hate about it, like the most useful option that they have there, and put a little bit more weight on how useful the content of the review is in addition to it not being duplicated all over the reviewer’s profile.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. There are also monitoring companies out there now that specialize in analyzing reviews on Amazon and then giving you their thoughts based percentage-wise on how likely these reviews are legitimate. You can punch in a product, and they’ll look at the review profile and tell you the chances that this is all automated. If Amazon doesn’t do something like that, then … I guess they got other projects to work on, but they buy so many companies. You think if they don’t actually want to research it and build it themselves, they can at least buy one of these companies that’s out there doing that.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. If anyone has the resources to do it, it’s Amazon.

Andy Beal:                  All right, well, let’s talk about the retailers then. What are some of your tips for other retailers that are selling products or selling services that are trying to build good reviews so that they do so in a legitimate way and product their reputation.

Erin Jones:                  I think that this is … Oh, we could talk about this for days. I think the first thing that brands should do is ask. Send a follow-up email when someone purchases something or even put a little note in the box. I know Amazon has some tricky rules about that, but just ask people for a review. You need to be careful about how you do that, but the easier you make the process for the end user, the more quickly it’s going to get done and the more authentically it will be done.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. I’m same as you, especially when I buy cheaper products that are in the $10-30 range. There’s always some little business card or little note in there that basically suggests if I’ve got five-star review to share, then they’d love for me to share on Amazon, and if there’s anything, the negative that I’d like to share, they give me a telephone number or an email to reach out to them, which I think is generally okay. I mean, like you said, look to get feedback. The key thing is to not offer to give away a product for free if you’ll agree to give five stars.

Now, I think there’s an opportunity to give away some kind of discount code or something like that. I’ve seen where it’s like you buy one product, and if you give a review, then you get a coupon for another product, but I think one of the key things is to do so without trying to just get a five-star product, so you’re basically trying to get reviews. You’re asking for reviews, and hopefully, people will give mostly positive reviews, but there’ll be some in there that mixed, and that won’t give you a more organic reputation because it will give consumers something to look at that doesn’t look suspicious.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, and statistically, people are a lot more willing to trust a brand that does have a mixed mag of reviews than all five-star reviews or even all on-star reviews. Being authentic, again, I feel like we always circle back to being authentic, but being authentic with your audience and letting them know, “Hey, you wouldn’t only be doing us a favor, but you would also be letting any potential customers know what you think about us, what we could do better,” sometimes asking that really generates positive feedback. I’ve seen brands say, “Tell us what we could do better here,” and people come back and say, “Wow, I didn’t expect that. That was really refreshing, and you’re amazing,” but I also think brands need to be ready. If someone does provide some constructive criticism, you need to be ready to act on it.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. It’s a great idea to consider, hey, look how easy it is for us to get feedback now. Everything’s online. It’s easy to get to from your mobile device. Twenty years ago, we’d have to send out surveys and ask people to fill them out and offer a chance to win a $20 gift card in return, and it would take weeks. We’d have to go through all this manually. Here, you’ve now, and now you’ve got this online process where people can just leave feedback within a couple of minutes and give a few stars for different aspects of your product. There’s a great way to get this feedback so that, yeah, not only you’re increasing potentially your reputation with the number of reviews, but you’re getting feedback on the product, how well it works, any flaws that it has, how it competes against your competitors.

Erin Jones:                  Right. For those people that I know are shaking their heads right now that are afraid to ask for feedback because it may be negative, I’ve even seen email marketing software where that you can send an email saying, “Are you happy with your product?” There’s a yes button and a no button, and if you click on the yes button, it goes straight to their Amazon review page. If you click on no, it goes back to the brand’s customer service center-

Andy Beal:                  Yeah-

Erin Jones:                  … so-

Andy Beal:                  … get five stars. Is that …. They do that right?

Erin Jones:                  They do. I think it’s great. It gives the brand one more chance to make things right. It’s not directing people away from feedback. It’s getting them directly back in contact with you so that you can resolve the situation and then possibly convert them into a happy customer.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. That reminds me, a few years ago, I built the small company GuestComment where we had iPad kiosk for people to leave guest reviews of hotels, and we did a similar kind of process where it’s, “Hey, please enter in your information. Give us a review. We’ll give you a coupon for a free cocktail.” If it was four or five stars, we would encourage them to share that online, and if it was three or less, we would not only thank them for the feedback, but we would send them an immediate alert to the general manager of that hotel so that they could try and figure out and intervene and resolve any issues before the guest even leaves the property and gets home and uses TripAdvisor. Yeah, having some kind of trigger built in is a great thing for retailers.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, and everybody should be using a system like that. Think of how many crisises could be averted just by someone walking out into the lobby and saying, “Hey, I heard you’re not having a great time. How can I make this right?”

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  That’s all people want.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, exactly. That really … Honestly, most negative reviews, most negative things, whether it’s a star review or a blog post or whatever it may be, generally happens because they feel so frustrated that there was nobody active enough to resolve the situation while they were either engaged or they just bought their product, whatever it is, and so they then turn to online channels, whatever’s the most popular.

That kind of, again, is another piece of advice. You should be focusing on your centers of influence to try and figure out where is it these customers are going to head to. That’s where you want to focus, but as Erin said, you need to try and get to them and resolve it before they even have a chance to get to TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Angie’s List, or whatever it may be.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, and to piggyback on your center of influence comment, don’t overwhelm people with choices of places to review. If you send out an email with 15 different review links, that’s the quickest way for me to get to the delete button. It’s overwhelming I don’t have time to leave 15 reviews. Give me one or two, and I’ll make it happen.

Andy Beal:                  Absolutely. All right, so let’s move on then. Let’s finish up with some reputation advice for consumers, and this is both for them making purchases and also to protect themselves. Some tips that we’re going to share, I’ve got one or two. I buy a lot of products online. Here’s something I would definitely recommend. That is, check the reviews that are left and look at the timestamp for the reviews, especially if it’s on Amazon. If you see a ton of reviews that are all within a day or two, then that should raise a red flag because that indicates that maybe these people were all given a free product or an incentive around the same week or two, and they all came on and just kind of, they just came on and left these reviews very quickly. Yes, it might be five stars, but they’re all left over two weeks, and that’s something that would make me want to delve deeper into the other reviews.

What about you, Erin? What do you have?

Erin Jones:                  I agree. Another thing that I put more trust in is reviews that have specifics. If a review just says, “This is the best. This is amazing. Wonderful product,” that’s not getting a lot of stock from me because it doesn’t look authentic. When people are really specific about what they love when they’re talking about a restaurant, “Oh, the barbacoa tacos are amazing,” or, “Their iced tea is out of this world,” with Amazon, the texture or color of a fabric, things like that, even how the product is packaged, I’m going to view a lot more authentically because they’ve taken the time to talk about their whole experience from getting the product to testing it out.

Even negative reviews. Sometimes, someone doesn’t like something about a product that I love, so if they say, “Oh, I hate the way that this charger plugs into the wall,” that might be something I’m actually looking for. The negative reviews aren’t always going to turn me away from something. For me, the main thing that I put trust in is people that use specifics.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, I would actually agree and add that I like to look at the review profiles right in between, so the people that have left three stars. I read those to see what did they like or what didn’t they like. I try to figure out what’s the commonality between those to see if there’s any real clues of product issues because if it’s all five-star, I don’t necessarily trust them, and if it’s all one-star, and then I don’t trust that either. Maybe they’re a competitor. Maybe they are, I don’t know, it could be any number of reasons to why they’re leaving a one-star review. Maybe they were paid to do so. Who knows.

Three-star reviews are a really good way to find out the legitimate concerns because they’re usually something that you can look at and go, “Oh, well, yeah. They said the battery life is only six hours, but you know what, that’s enough for me. I think I’ll be fine with that.”

Another thing you can do is if you do see a lot of five-star reviews on a product, and then you buy it, and then you disagree, then you can help ensure your authenticity as a reviewer by leaving five stars on products you agree with and leaving one, two, or three stars on products that have been getting glowing reviews so that other people can follow you and say, “Yeah, this person is leaving authentic reviews because when I look at their profile, they’re not just all five stars. I see where they have three-star reviews, two-star reviews.” That will really help you.

Then lastly, just be very careful about being enticed to leave a free review in exchange for money or free products. I know that can sometimes seem like a good deal, but especially if you do a lot of shopping on that particular marketplace, you can risk hurting your own profile, your own reputation with that particular marketplace on Amazon because people can go click and see how you’ve listed it. I think that just be cautious here. Don’t make it a common thing where you just go on Reddit and get paid of all of them, but if you’ve left a three-star review because there was something wrong, and then they correct it and you up it to four stars, maybe you just put that as an edit on your review, but don’t feel like you’re being incentivized to go one way or the other.

Erin Jones:                  I agree. One last thing that people can do, I kind of like to say, shake off the haters and the fanboys and really read what’s in the middle there because those are the people that are probably going to be a little bit more honest and thoughtful in the review process. Typically, nothing is perfect and nothing is absolutely loathsome, so that middle ground is probably where you’re going to get your best information.

Andy Beal:                  Yup, and don’t forget to ask your friends and family. You can go to other marketplaces. You can go to, or you can go to Twitter or Facebook and just say, “Hey, thinking about buying this. What are your thoughts?” Doesn’t have to be so organized and structured. You could also just go to friends and family and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about this. It’s got 3.5 stars. What do you all think?”

All right, well, that’s our tips. Hopefully that’s useful, whether or not you are a marketplace, a retailer, or a consumer. Hopefully there’s something in there you can take along with you. If you have any tips that you’d like to share, head to our Facebook page or just go to andybeal.com and leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to get your thoughts on something that you can add to this or any tips you have for either these companies or for individuals.

Erin, thanks for chiming in. Always a pleasure to chat with you.

Erin Jones:                  Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Andy Beal:                  Thank you all for listening. We really do appreciate. We hope you’ll tune in again next time. Thanks a lot, and bye-bye.

#51 – Tony Robbins’ critical #MeToo mistakes on his way to becoming #ReputationRoadkill

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Andy’s flying solo today, so it’s an abbreviated look at the lessons learned from Tony Robbins #MeToo scandal.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

  • Tony Robbins faced a reputation crisis after challenging the motives of the #MeToo movement.

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Okay, something a little bit different this week. Unfortunately, Erin can’t join us. She has a personal matter to attend to, but I have promised a few of you that I would jump in and talk about Tony Robbins. So, this is going to be a mini-podcast, a mini-episode this week.

For those of you not aware, Tony Robbins is … you know, he’s our figurative reputation roadkill. There’s a video showing him saying that women use the MeToo movement to gain significance, and that many Hollywood executives he coaches are now refusing to hire attractive women, believing the risk is too great. And this video from a few weeks back has circulated, and Tony Robbins has had a lot of reputation issues because of this. He’s had to apologize. And this has definitely been a serious crisis for the author, the personality, the life coach, whatever you want to call him.

You know, looking at this, I just wanted to kind of help us to learn from this, and it’s something that I am aware of as being an expert. And that is, when you become an expert on a topic, when you become a leader in your industry, you become susceptible to arrogance and hubris. You start talking in absolutes. You think that you know everything, not just on your expert matter, your subject matter, but on related things, too.

So when this subject came up with Tony, you can tell that this kind of overlapped a little into what he thought was his lane, if you like, as a life coach, and you know, he wanted to demonstrate that he was an expert. I kind of get the feeling, though, that he just didn’t understand it. And if you look at his apology, he admits he’s got a lot to learn.

So, in hindsight, he shouldn’t have talked about this in absolutes, by saying that these women were trying to gain significance. Which, if you look at the MeToo movement, that’s not really what it’s about. This is why I have not really commented on this movement, about how it’s affecting reputations, because it’s clear that there are a lot of evil men out there doing evil things to women, and these women are coming forward, and they’re brave to do so. That’s all I know, so that’s all I’m going to say about the topic. And perhaps that’s what Tony should have said.

The other thing is, when you become like this larger than life personality, people want to attack you. You become a target for criticism. If this had been just an everyday person making a comment about this, it would have gotten a little bit of attention. But because he is this big mega-star that’s, you know, probably … I don’t know if he’s a billionaire, but he’s certainly made hundreds of millions of dollars … there are people that are out there that are ready to attack him, and listening to his words closely.

So, the other thing I wanted to talk about as well, is his apology. Now, his apology did check all the right boxes. He didn’t do the, “I’m sorry if people felt offended,” that kind of stuff. It seemed like a sincere apology. But what I didn’t care for is that he didn’t make the apology until a number of days later, and he had seen the damage his original comments were making to his reputation, to his brand. He should have let his conscience lead him to apologize, not the pressure from social media.

The longer you wait, the more fuel is added to this fire. The more … really insincere it can appear. Even when you say all the right things, if it takes days for you to apologize, it comes across that you’re only apologizing because you’re trying to clean things up, and you’re trying to make it all go away. I think there’s definitely a strong part of that with Tony Robbins’ apology. It took him days to respond.

He should have known early on that he had made a mistake. Honestly, saying that women are going to hurt themselves because now they’re not going to get hired because men are fearful of hiring attractive women. Oh my gosh, the moment the words left his mouth, he should have apologized. That’s not something you sit on and wait. So clearly, there’s an aspect here of waiting for this to see how this pans out, and he waited too long.

He’s definitely going to recover from this, but there’s going to be scar tissue. You know, he’s still going to sell lots of books, he’s still going to sell out the audiences, but there will always be this question hanging over him. It’ll probably make his Wikipedia profile, it’ll probably show in the top 20 of Google, and there’ll be something there that lingers and it’s going to hurt him.

So what can we learn from this? Because there is some takeaways here. Now, again, these are not absolutes, right? So if I had Erin here, she would chime in as well. This is why we have two people on this show normally, because I don’t ever want to think I have all the answers. But I think it’s safe to say that if you get feedback from your customers, your stakeholders, your friends even, that you are wrong, or maybe that your product is poor, or that you’ve lost a step in terms of the service you provide, just because you are top of your game, don’t assume they are wrong.

Just because you’ve had previous success does not mean that you are impervious to making mistakes. You’ve got to listen to that feedback early, and take a hard, honest look at yourself and say, “Okay, enough people are saying this. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe we do need to improve our service. Maybe we do need to make our products better. Or maybe I need to rethink the comments that I’ve made. Maybe I was wrong with what I said.”

The other thing as well, is certainly when it comes to online, don’t talk about topics that you don’t understand. Stay in your lane. Especially if you’re the leader of your company, or a spokesperson for your company, it’s going to be really hard for you to separate your personal opinion with your expert opinion, and so when you start making these statements about things that are not your expertise, then you run the risk of saying something that you don’t know. You know, you kind of don’t have all the facts, you misrepresent something … I don’t know, you just kind of drift out of your lane, and you can come under fire.

There are plenty of topics that I don’t cover. We don’t talk a lot about politics, we don’t talk a lot about social issues, because I don’t understand them enough. If I was to take on a client with a reputation issue like that, I would spend weeks researching the topic before I even consulted and worked with the client on how best to address the situation, or to talk to it. So, making an ad lib, off the cuff comment is potentially going to be damaging to you.

There you go, just a quick episode this week. We’d love to get your thoughts on what you think Tony Robbins did wrong, if there’s anything I’ve missed, what you think he can do now to repair his reputation, whether you agree with my comments or not. Again, I always try to come at this from an understanding that I don’t have all the answers, but hey, let’s discuss it.

Go to our Facebook page, Facebook.com/andybealORM. And then andybeal.com, just go to any blog post and leave us a comment. Erin hopefully will be back with us next time, and we hope you’ll join us then. Thanks a lot, and bye-bye.

#50 – Tesla’s reputation recall, the Ripple effect, and do consumers want political brands?

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A packed show this week. We dress down Tesla and talk up Ripple. We also discuss what consumers want brands to take a stance on.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Welcome to what we hope’s going to be another good show. In fact, this is our 50th, so yay us for making it halfway to 100. Good show this week, and we’re going to start off with a story about Tesla. Now, I don’t know if you know, but there’s been a product recall. Tesla’s announced that they’re recalling 123,000 Model S cars, because a fault with the power steering.

Now, it’s a proactive move by Tesla. There’s no major issues. It’s not like cars are crashing en masse or anything like that. And it only affects the power steering, so you can still drive it, but it’d be like driving an old school car from ’70s or ’80s where you just can’t move the steering wheel too easily, so not a huge deal.

However, I tweeted it out, and I used my normal hashtag, #ReputationRoadkill, because this is what I think a negative for Tesla’s reputation. Well, somebody called me out on the tweet, and I’m going to read you the tweet. I’m not going to tell you their name, you can go find it if you want. And I’m not saying this to embarrass them, I think they have a fair point, but here’s what they tweeted me.

They said, “Geeze, I don’t recall you saying the same for the Ford recall a couple of weeks ago when 1.2 million steering wheels were at risk of coming off while driving. Ford’s recall was a lot bigger deal. The recent ‘Pile on’ attack of Tesla is really not fair.” Now, first of all, I didn’t see the Ford story, or otherwise I would have tweeted it out, so it’s not like I’m playing favorites here.

But two things jumped out to me. One, it’s interesting that Tesla has a lot of brand evangelists that love everything that Tesla does, and Elon Musk does, and it’s good to see them coming to the defense of Tesla, ’cause Tesla didn’t reply to me. It was just I’m assuming somebody who’s a fan of Tesla. And two, with all the hype that comes from this higher expectation of quality, almost feels like Tesla has failed to live up to that expectation here, and so I think in my opinion, it seems fair to hold them to a higher standard.

But Erin, you’re a fan of both Ford and Tesla, so I’m going to be interested to hear what you think about this. Should we hold Tesla to a higher standard, or is this just part of what car manufacturers do?

Erin Jones:                  You know, funnily enough, to get started, I found the tweet amusing, ’cause you do have a reputation for being the founder of online reputation management. It seems like people look to you to call out the fault of every brand that should have their attention. I think we’re going to have to get a Kickstarter campaign set up for a warehouse of assistants to find all of these stories for you.

But back to your original question, I do think that hyped brands have a greater social responsibility, or a greater responsibility to put out a great product. It feels like Tesla is the new Apple of the current generation, and whether it’s fair or not, the public makes this happen. The brand’s personality and what they’re putting out really dictates what people expect from them, and Tesla has set themselves to a higher standard, and as a result, the public holding them to a higher standard.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. I mean, Elon Musk is definitely the grandmaster of pulling the strings of hype, and talking great things, announcing great products, but if you look at Tesla’s track record, they actually have a record of missing the mark in a number of ways. This is not their first recall, and I saw they’re in the news again today for not being able to ramp up production of the new car that they’ve got coming. It’s almost like you live by the hype sword, or you die by the hype sword.

And in my opinion, if they want to maintain this Apple-esque reputation, they can’t afford to have these misses, these issues. You’re right, when we see Apple have problems, whether it’s antennas or batteries or screens, that really stands out and will hurt them a whole lot more than if it’s LG that has a problem with a phone or a tablet. I think that we hold Tesla to that same high standard, they have that same fan base as well, which is going to come to the defense of the brand, which is great.

But I think that you’ve almost got this … I hate to use the word uber, ’cause I’m crossing definitions here, but you’ve got this uber reputation here, this super reputation, and I think along with that, we should hold them to a much higher standard.

Erin Jones:                  I agree, and I think that there might be a little bit of schadenfreude associated with this as well, where we really want them to do well, but then we also want to see that they’re not completely infallible. When they do make a mistake, people talk about it because there’s a little bit of gratification in seeing the mighty stumble. I go back and forth, you mentioned I am a fan of both companies. I have had a Tesla on order since 2016, haven’t even chosen a paint color yet, and just when-

Andy Beal:                  You have plenty of time.

Erin Jones:                  Right? Just when I start getting really frustrated, though, they send a car into space with rockets that can land. You feel kind of bad complaining about things, when they’re doing these really phenomenal, innovative things that we’ve been told repeatedly are impossible.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, and you’re part of a movement, right? You’ve bought into this movement, this revolutionary technology, you’re going to be one of the people not on the cutting edge, you’re going to be on the lunatic fringe of car technology, right? So it’s really exciting, you’re a part of that, you don’t want anything to dent that. You’re an evangelist, and it’s almost like apologetics. In Christianity there’s apologetics, which is basically defending the bible, and in reputation, we have it’s almost like apologetics here.

But the issue that I have is how long can Tesla maintain this? Because they’ve built their brand and their buzz based on these amazing electric cars, but 2018, and next few years, every car manufacturer’s got electric cars, and we’re going to see some really sexy electric cars coming from other places. So, if that’s all Tesla’s got to hold onto, and then not meeting the hype, so if they’re just, if all they’ve got is, “Hey, we make really cool electric cars,” but on the flip side of that there’s recalls and they miss deadlines and all that kind of stuff, then they’re going to lose that advantage, because hey guess what? Ford and Chevy and Jaguar, they’re all making really cool electric cars, and they have recalls and missed deadlines too.

So now you’re on a level playing field Tesla. What else you got? And maybe that’s why they’re sending cars into space and building these batteries and all this kind of stuff, ’cause they’ve realized that, “Hey, everybody is catching up when it comes to electric car technology.”

Erin Jones:                  And I think that they should probably take a look at Apple. We’re talking about Apple and Tesla being similar. When Apple came out with the iPhone, it was new and innovative, and sexy, and amazing, and then they stalled out on their innovations and other brands did catch up, and other brands had less expensive phones with other options that Apple didn’t provide.

I think that Tesla’s following that same path, so they’re really going to have to impress us pretty soon, or people are going to stop paying attention and stop putting them on that pedestal.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, and there’s another angle there that we can explore another time, and that is I strongly believe, I’m an Apple fan, but I strongly believe the quality and the focus of Apple has dropped off since Steve Jobs passed away, ’cause Steve was synonymous with Apple. The reputations went hand-in-hand, and I think Tesla certainly needs to be careful that their reputation goes hand-in-hand with the brilliance of Elon Musk, and so they need to make sure that that stays in place, and that they pay attention to both. But that’s probably a story for another time, ’cause we need to move on.

Okay, so Tesla is known for Elon Musk and for these electric cars that are really fast, really sexy, and Ripple wants to be known for something else. Honestly, I’ve only heard of Ripple once or twice prior to this story coming out, but Erin’s going to fill us in on the details.

Erin Jones:                  I am. You know, speaking of Ripple, it’s a cryptocurrency, I probably can’t speak to this completely intelligently, so let me move forward a little bit, but crypto hasn’t traditionally had the most wonderful reputation, and along with that, public education isn’t typically known as being flush with funding.

So, this past week, actually on my birthday, woohoo, DonorsChoose, which is a crowdfunding website that teachers and educators can use to raise money for classroom needs and educational experiences, last week they were given an amazing gift. Ripple fulfilled every teacher donation request on the DonorsChoose website.

Andy Beal:                  Wow.

Erin Jones:                  What that means is that they donated 29 million dollars to fulfill wishlists, so 30,000 public school teachers in states all over the nation are receiving books, school supplies, technology, field trips, and any other resources that they may have requested. I’ve seen notes from teachers that asked for a rug for their classroom and it was fulfilled. That’s really, really neat, and they did so through participating in DonorsChoose’s hashtag, #bestschoolday.

It’s an event that was kicked off about two years ago by comedian Stephen Colbert. He announced that he was going to pay for every school project request in his home state of South Carolina, so Ripple upped the ante this year on their third year, and fulfilled every request. A couple of different … Oh, sorry.

Andy Beal:                  Carry on.

Erin Jones:                  I was just going to say, this is really neat because they haven’t traditionally had the best reputation, being in the crypto space, and with the markets horribly abysmal, where they’re at right now. I don’t know if this was an effort to change their image, or if they just wanted to make a great gesture, but what an amazing way to get people’s attention.

Andy Beal:                  It was, and I think I read that there’s an estimated one million public school students who will benefit from this, and I’m a big fan of anything that helps with teachers and teacher pay. I think that our first responders, our military, and our teachers don’t get paid anywhere near enough. We are going to suffer from that going forward as a country. Okay, end rant there.

But here’s my question, though. You are right in that this is positive for a cryptocurrency, because they are like second, third, fourth place behind the giants, and we’ve talked about on this show how Bitcoin’s reputation, when you talk about Bitcoin, really the thing you talk about is how volatile it is in terms of its valuation, right?

So, this is a chance for Ripple to be known for something else out of the gate, but I’m just having a hard time believing that 29 million dollars spent on teachers was the way to go for Ripple to have a long lasting benefit to its reputation. Because I just checked Google just a minute ago, and there’s no mention of this on the first two pages of the web results at all.

It’s not carrying any reputation weight there, so yeah, it’s a real feelgood story, really tremendous kudos to them for doing that, a lot of people are going to benefit from this, but I just don’t know if this is something they’re going to look back on and say, “Hey, this is really what sparked us. This is what we can point to that says that this is the day where Ripple got a fantastic reputation and jumped ahead of the competition.” Do you see something different?

Erin Jones:                  This is something we’ve talked about in the past, and I think what happened here is millions of people who have never heard of Ripple now know that Ripple exists. This was not the grand gesture. I think this was the serve that’s going to allow them to propel themselves into everyday life, if they take it.

Andy Beal:                  Also, they’ve got to back it up now, right? It’s one thing to do a good act. Any company can do a good act. Hey, if even United Airlines or Wells Fargo could go out and donate a ton of money to a worthwhile cause, but are they going to demonstrate? Is Ripple going to demonstrate that they have a brand alignment now with this kind of altruistic support of education? How are they going to carry this forward and not let it just be a one-off act?

I’m having a hard time seeing that if you’re going to invest 29 million dollars, I don’t see the correlation between fulfilling teacher requests, which is admirable and very well needed, and I appreciate them doing that, but then as a cryptocurrency, where do they take that?

Erin Jones:                  I agree. That’s something, it’s actually a point for our next story that I wanted to make, but I think that they’re going to have to really play this well, otherwise it’s going to be 29 million dollars here and gone.

Andy Beal:                  Right. Well, let’s dive into our next story ’cause you’re right, I was tempted to dive into it, so let’s bring it up, ’cause it really does play in well. We don’t do things by chance on this show, so Sprout Social surveyed more than 1000 US consumers to better understand how people want brands to communicate their position and engage in conversations on political and social issues.

There’s a lot of stats here we’re going to talk about in a moment, but one of the things that jumped out is that it is important, especially if you take a stance on something that matches your core beliefs, or matches what it is that your brand’s doing. Let’s tie that back into Ripple. I just don’t see how investing in funding teachers ties into a cryptocurrency, and I think that’s where they’re going to have a hard time, I don’t want to say cashing in on the goodwill, but it’s like planting a seed that doesn’t match the harvest you’re hoping to get.

If you plant tomato seeds and you’re all about growing oranges, then I just don’t see how it’s going to help you. I think that’s what ties into this survey is it’s one thing to do something really good and to take a stance on something, a social issue, but you’ve got to pick and choose where they are. That’s what comes out of this survey. What else jumped out to you from this survey? ‘Cause there’s a lot of good stats in this, lot of good statistics.

Erin Jones:                  What really surprised me is that people overwhelmingly do want their brands to have a social conscious, but they want the brands to know that that stance is not going to sway them as a consumer. It was a little bit contradictory to me.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, ’cause 66% of consumers say it’s important for brands to take a public stand on a social and political issue, yet 66, the same number, say their minds are rarely changed by that brand’s opinion. Along with that, 44%, I am reading these ’cause this is a lot of numbers, 44% would buy more if they agreed with your stance, but 53% would spend less if they don’t agree.

There’s more risk than reward. They want you to take a stance, but if they don’t agree, you’re not going to change their mind, and they’re more likely to boycott from you than to buy from you, so you’re really taking a risk, unless you pick a stance that is shown to affect your customers and their interests, or their employees.

For example, 58% said that all companies should be vocal on human rights issues, because that affects everybody, but only 33% said the same about immigration, because that doesn’t affect everybody, and they don’t want you to make that your cross to bare or your hill to die on. You’ve got to be really careful here, and we’ve talked about this. Politics is generally not the issue to take, ’cause you’re going to alienate.

But then again, if you can find a good social issue that matches, whether it’s the environment, or whether it’s human rights, or whatever it may be, if it matches what it is you’re offering, and what it is you sell, then you can walk that fine line between alienation and winning over a whole lot of new customers.

Erin Jones:                  I almost feel like Ripple read this post before they made their donation. Their press release said all the right words. “Our students are going to be the next technological leaders of our culture, and we want to provide great education so that we can have great developers in the future for our products.” They did this, taking a stand and tying it back to what they do. I’m just not sure about the longevity there.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Now, if they can show, if the leaders of the company can show the education, what they said in their statement, was not just spin and fluff in order to get as much hype, if they can show that they actually have a heart for education and students and teachers, and they can keep this going through the life of the company’s brand, then I think it’s a great move.

But if they just wanted to jump on something, if they were sitting around a table and going, “Hey, this is getting popular, Colbert’s behind it. Hey, let’s go ahead and just fund this. This will get some good publicity,” but then they don’t follow through on anything again on that topic, then I think it’s a waste of 29 million.

Erin Jones:                  Right, and the study does say that education was one of the safest places to take a stand with 45% of people supporting it, and only 21% of people thinking it’s not a place that a brand should take a stand. If we’re using this study as a litmus test, they may be in good shape. I think that one thing that they need to be careful about is [inaudible 00:19:43], but another thing that we’ve talked about in the past is they’re going to have to be really able to make sure that their cause doesn’t outweigh the actual message of their brand and what they do-

Andy Beal:                  True.

Erin Jones:                  … which goes back again, to what we were discussing earlier. If what you’re talking about matches the message of your brand, they can propel each other equally, but if it doesn’t level out, then I think that’s where brands are going to see problems.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, ’cause we’ve seen plenty of companies spend millions of dollars on feelgood Super Bowl ads, and we remember the ad, but we don’t remember the company. We don’t remember their product, ’cause the two don’t go hand-in-hand, there’s no synergy there, so it ends up just being a waste of money.

I thought this was also interesting in the study. We talked about political, I just want to share this stat with everybody. 82% of Liberals feel brands are credible if they take a stand, but only 46% of Conservatives feel the same way. Boy, we could spend an entire show dissecting that, but we’ll just leave it that you should know in general, the political persuasion of your audience, of your stakeholders, because if they lean more Liberal, they’re really going to applaud you for taking this stand. If they tend to be more Conservative, then maybe not so much.

Erin Jones:                  You know, I think that’s a really interesting statistic, and a little bit dangerous territory to look at, but the other thing associated is brands should also know how vocal their audience is going to be on specific issues that they take on.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. All right. We’re out of time. It’s definitely good to take a stance on something, but you don’t have to do it at a big global level. You can do it on a small, help a small non-profit, or small group. Don’t think this’ll only work if you can find 29 million dollars. Start small, build your brand locally. If you have any questions, or would like to dive into any of these topics in more detail, feel free to go to our Facebook page. AndyBealORM, or go to AndyBeal.com. Leave us a comment on any blog post. Erin, as always, pleasure chatting with you.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you so much for having me.

Andy Beal:                  And thank you guys for listening to our 50th episode of Reputation Rainmakers. We hope you’ll enjoy us again next time. Thanks a lot, and bye bye.

#49 – The Facebook Reputation Roadkill Mega Edition: data breach, privacy, regulation, politics, #deletefacebook, and our advice

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Hold on to your apps folks, because we have an entire show on the topic of Facebook’s recent “data breach.”

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

  • We canceled all other talking points for this week to focus on Facebook. We discuss the data breach, the backlash, the stock price, the politics, the privacy, and if Facebook can recover its reputation.

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal: All right, guys. As you would probably expect, there’s really only one topic to talk about this week, so we’re going to dedicate the entire show to Facebook. For the one or two of you that have no clue what’s going on at Facebook, or perhaps you’ve heard about it and you’re still not quite sure, here’s just a brief summary of what’s happened with Facebook over the last week. Basically, it has been revealed that, via an app for a personality test, a company called Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain, at a later date, was able to obtain the user data of 50 million Facebook users, and allegedly used that data to help with some presidential campaign stuff on Facebook for Donald Trump.

This has turned into a huge issue for Facebook. Now first of all, it’s important to note that technically this is not a data breach, but a trust breach. The data was obtained originally all above board via APIs and systems that Facebook has in place for app creators to create these apps and get information. How it got in the hands of Cambridge Analytica is a little bit of a gray area, but that’s also a little bit of a red herring, because it doesn’t really matter how Cambridge Analytica got hold of the data, whether they created the app or if they got it at a later date. They still got data. They still obtained the data from someone that legitimately and legally obtained it from you, because we all like to complete these personality tests and give permissions to these apps. That’s where we are right now. Now there’s a huge backlash with a hashtag called #DeleteFacebook, isn’t there, Erin?

Erin Jones: There is. I have to say, I am siding with Facebook on this one today. I actually went in and looked at-

Andy Beal: You know this is not a Cage Match question. You don’t have to pick a side.

Erin Jones: I do.

Andy Beal: Okay, go on. Carry on.

Erin Jones: I do. Now first of all, I think Cambridge Analytica in itself could be a series of podcasts. The more I dig into this company, I’m fascinated and a little bit terrified by some of the methods that they use to extract information. One thing I had read was that they set up this quiz to get some information, and somehow along the process, Facebook makes them agree to delete all of the information that they gather by a certain date. They were supposed to do that, and they didn’t. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, but just out of curiosity, I went and looked to see how many apps I had given access to my own Facebook profile.

I’m pretty well-educated in this arena, and I’m pretty careful about what information I share, and there were at least 50 apps that had access to my profile. Some of them were things that I … FarmVille, I didn’t use FarmVille, but as an example, people who played that game a decade ago, it probably still has access to their profile. Where does the responsibility lie here? Is it with the end user, or is it with the app creator, or is it with Facebook? Should they shut these off after a certain amount of time?

Andy Beal: Well, they’re going to now. They’ve announced it. As part of the changes they’re going to make, if you’ve not accessed an app in three months, they’re going to shut down their permissions. But it’s an interesting point you bring up because there are so many people, and I’ve done it to some degree myself, that give permission to these apps, and we don’t give a second thought as to what permissions we’re giving. Now, it’s one thing to say, “Hey, I want to give you permission to allow me to log in to your service by using my Facebook login,” which is all pretty much protected. A lot of software, a lot of online services, do that.

But there’s a lot of things that I see where people are like, they want to find out which celebrity they look like or which … Probably in this case, you could also say that all those apps where it was like, “Okay, who should you vote for in the presidential election?” and next thing you know, you’re so eager to find out who you should vote for or which celebrity you look like, you don’t read that you’re giving them access to your date of birth, your email, your friends list, all these things.

Yeah, we’ve got to take some kind of responsibility here. If you’ve not already heard this expression, then pay attention. That is, if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product. We don’t pay for Facebook. Therefore, we are the product. Whether that is somebody using an app to get information about us, or somebody is spending money on advertising to get their products in front of us, or Facebook using our information, we are the product.

Erin Jones: Absolutely. I think that it’s really naïve to think that someone spent hours and money building an app that will tell us what color potato we are or which X-Men character we’re going to be for no reason at all other than to make us happy. Looking at what the end goal of some of these apps, especially like you said the who should I vote for apps, and I’ve been guilty. Curiosity gets the best of us. If they’ve got a great marketing team, they’re going to get a lot of feedback and interaction with these apps, but we need to be careful about what we’re sharing. A friend of ours, Carrie Hill, her daughter set up a Facebook page as kind of a test and used a different name than her real first name, and within months, was receiving email to the first name of her Facebook profile and not her real name.

Andy Beal: Wow.

Erin Jones: This information is getting out. It’s just a matter of how willing are we to share it, and who are we going to hold responsible when it gets out? I think some of that responsibility has to be put on our own shoulders.

Andy Beal: Right. Everything you’ve read about Facebook, all the issues they’ve had with privacy and all this kind of stuff over the years, you should assume that anything you put on Facebook is at some point going to make it into the public. I’m even very careful about what information I share on the direct messaging, because you never know how that might get breached. Some of the things you can do, when you do get asked to give permission, first of all you’ve definitely got to explicitly give it, but look for where it says that they have the ability to post to your wall.

You can make changes to say, hey, okay, if I have to give them the option to post to my wall, you can make the change to say that only you will ever see that. If they ever go ahead and post something without your permission, it won’t be an ad for Viagra that you didn’t give permission for, and then everybody on your friends list is seeing it. Only you would see it. There are some protections you can do. Fortunately, Facebook hopefully is going to finally come out with some updates that’s going to protect us as users, but that doesn’t necessarily protect us from Facebook itself. We still got to assume that Facebook is just a privacy leak.

Erin Jones: Right. I think Facebook’s in a tough spot here, because this is going to be at the expense of the happiness of some of their advertisers. That’s where their money comes from, and that’s where their stock grows. Then you’re circling back to users being unhappy, because their stock is dropping, or they don’t have as much money for new development. There has to be a happy medium somewhere. If we want this free platform, we have to agree to how we’re going to pay for it.

Andy Beal: Yeah. Facebook’s stock is … Their market cap is down 60 billion just since the scandal broke. That is not, I repeat, that is not because of the potential for users to stop using Facebook. It’s as important as email, really, these days. Now, if you’ve never used Facebook, you’re probably not even listening to this podcast, so you’re kind of a different segment. Can you imagine not using Facebook? I only know one person that successfully quit Facebook for more than a couple months, and even he’s thinking about coming back. It’s that important.

The stock price is not because of the potential to lose users. They’re not going to lose users. The stock price drop is because the impact this could have on their ability to earn revenue. As you’ve said, Erin, advertisers are not going to have their access to that information. App creators are not going to be as motivated anymore. Facebook’s going to lose that ability to earn that revenue. Then in addition to that, what potential government regulation is going to happen? Because there’s already calls for Zuckerberg to answer questions on Capitol Hill. The distraction from that, combined with the loss of earning, that’s what’s causing Facebook to lose some of its market cap.

Erin Jones: Right. My concern here is, where does Facebook’s responsibility lie, and where does the end user’s responsibility lie? Because we all always complain and talk about how we want this freedom to use the platform however we want. We don’t want to be censored. We want to be able to do what we want. But we also are trying to trust companies to be ethical in their dealings, and that’s not always going to happen. A lot of us, especially Americans, are kind of blind to the fact that things aren’t always done the same way with the same rules in other countries as they are here, or even with some of the companies here. How much do we want to give so that we can take what we want? We need to be responsible for the information that’s being fed our way and kind of own it from … There’s got to be some responsibility on the user’s end here for me.

Andy Beal: Yeah. Would this even be a big deal if it wasn’t connected with the presidential campaign, right? Because imagine if this was somebody had collected 50 million profile data in order to influence you to watch American Idol on ABC.

Erin Jones: And who says they haven’t?

Andy Beal: Well, exactly, right? They’re failing, but it’s like we-

Erin Jones: That’s another topic for another day.

Andy Beal: Yeah, exactly. We’re getting manipulated all the time, and we probably don’t care. We’re giving valuable information all the time. The number of people I see that actually have their full date of birth in their Facebook profile, you’re just giving hackers one step closer. Then I’ve seen where people will create apps where they’ll target you. Then in part of that, they’ll ask you what street did you grow up on, or which town did your parents meet? What was the name of your first pet? You see those quizzes that go out where people answer all these questions. It’s like, do you not realize this is most security questions that banks and financial institutions ask, and you’re just giving them away in a quiz because you think it’s cute?

I really don’t think … and I’m kind of really ranting here. I can hear my own voice. Let me see if I can bring it down an octave. I really don’t think that people either realize or they even care, and I think that this is getting whipped up by the media because, let’s face it, your credit card number wasn’t stolen. Your date of birth wasn’t stolen. Your Social Security number wasn’t stolen. You weren’t coerced into doing something nefarious. You just might have seen an ad or a story about something to do with the presidential election. I mean, this is not a huge deal, except that the media knows, if they can jump on this bandwagon, and then maybe … Oh, let’s start. It’s like heaven forbid if they find out that there’s a Russian executive at Cambridge Analytica. They’ll really just have a 24-hour news cycle then.

Erin Jones: For sure. I doubt this is the first presidential campaign that something like this has happened in. We’ve seen dueling magazine covers based on the demographic of the area that it’s being sold in, or different headlines for newspapers based on which part of the country they’re going to be placed in stores in. This is not anything new. I think, just like you said, people are up in a tizzy because the media is making a huge deal about this, and they were able to insert the word Russian into it. I think it’s something that people should be aware of and be careful of, but not just from an election standpoint. Like you said, they play on nostalgia to get you to say what your first car was or what street you grew up on, because people like reminiscing. It feels fun. I’ve probably gotten caught up in some of that myself, and I absolutely know better, but we can do better.

Andy Beal: Yeah. Let’s switch gears a little bit, because it took days before Mark Zuckerberg actually came out and apologized and explained what was going to happen. From a reputation perspective, that was way too long. I agree. You do need to sit down and evaluate what the situation was, the circumstances, the facts. You don’t want to just jump to the wrong conclusion, but that should take hours, maybe 24 hours. It shouldn’t take days. Certainly the facts were clear at the beginning that Facebook, whether it was a breach or just poorly crafted policy for app users, let down its core user base. For that, it should have apologized earlier, and then said, “Now we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to the bottom of this.” Do you agree, Erin, that maybe the apology should have come sooner?

Erin Jones: I absolutely agree. I think when you’re dealing with multiples of billions of dollars, if you’re smart, you’ve got responses crafted to a lot of these potential situations at the ready. I’m really curious to see what they were sitting back. Were they waiting for it, hoping it would blow over, or were they really scrambling to come up with a response here?

Andy Beal: I think they were looking to see whether they could just shirk all responsibility. They wanted to see, is there any way we can put this fully on the shoulders of a third party? If you read through Zuckerberg’s Facebook response, which I’ve read it twice and still didn’t see an actual apology in it, I know he’s apologized in other channels, but I read his Facebook response, didn’t see just a sincere apology. You see the facts laid out, but you definitely see a lot of, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, mitigating circumstances where they’re trying to explain away that it wasn’t fully Facebook.

They were probably spending these days trying to figure out how they could pass off some of the blame, if not all of the blame, and how they can craft this so that they can come out unscathed, as opposed to just, “Hey, we’re sorry. We screwed up. This is what we’re going to do.” I think that’s where they spent so much time was it just feels to me that they were trying to be very careful with their wording here to avoid this stock crash, to avoid political oversight. I think it kind of backfired on them, because I’ve always said, in the absence of an official word from the company, the void is going to be filled by everybody else with speculation and discussion.

Erin Jones: I couldn’t agree more, and especially when that discussion is going to happen on the very platform that you created. Why wouldn’t you take a minute and make your best apology live on the platform that you created where the conversation is happening? Facebook and Twitter and some of these social media sites have changed the way that news has been disseminated in this world, and this would have been a great time for him to say, “Before I go to the news outlets, I’m going to let you hear it here first.”

Andy Beal: Yeah, absolutely. But again, you got to think, where is the priority? Who is the customer for Facebook? It’s advertisers. It’s investors. It’s the media. It’s politicians. We’re the last to know, because we’re the last rung on the ladder. We’re at the bottom of the food chain, right? We’re not the important part. He knows he’s got billions of people using his platform, and if he loses … Heck, if they lose a million people that actually follow through with the Delete Facebook campaign, then that’s a drop in the bucket. That’s why we were the last to know. Going forward, Facebook really needs to demonstrate that it can be trusted, because if the users don’t leave, it could face more government regulation, which is probably more scary to it than the users leaving.

Erin Jones: Absolutely. Can I just shake my old lady cane on my porch for a second, and say that deleting Facebook is not making you a warrior for social justice? Facebook is, for the most part, pretty self-serving. Most users, it’s a … I don’t want to say a narcissism thing, but we’re communicating with our friends and family. We’re sharing information. We’re posting photos. You deleting your Facebook page is not paving the way for social change. First of all, I think that that hashtag is a little bit ridiculous, and I feel like it makes me sound like a cranky old lady, but I rolled my eyes when I saw it.

Second of all, I feel like this would be a really good avenue for some great opportunity to figure out what people want to get out of Facebook and sit back. They jumped in. It was really fun and kitschy in the beginning, and it’s grown into this massive machine. Now’s a good time to take a step back and figure out if you’re sharing what you should be sharing, maybe tighten down your account a little bit, and really look at what you’re putting out there.

Andy Beal: Yeah, no, I’m an old lady with a cane too, but I think the cool kids would say it’s time to get woke, right? It’s time to realize how your data is being used, how you’re being used. Continue to use Facebook, but just be a little bit more careful. At least be aware that you don’t have this level of privacy that you think you have. Even if somebody were just to take a screenshot of something … In fact, I had someone contact me the other day where the person had a reputation issue that their young daughter was suffering from an issue, not because of anything they posted publicly, because somebody had taken a screenshot of something they had posted privately and then they put it publicly.

It’s time to kind of realize that, look, Facebook is a great tool, but there is no privacy. You are not the customer. You are a very small cog in a big wheel. Understand that, and continue to use Facebook knowing that that is the case. It doesn’t mean stop posting or whatever, but just be careful. Okay, maybe I don’t want to post that picture of my children if I’m worried about their identity. Maybe I don’t want to discuss my vacation plans or all that kind of stuff. Just think twice as to where your limits are. Be your own privacy regulator, if you like, as to how far do I want to go? Regardless of what Facebook tells me they’re going to protect me from, how far am I willing to go? Let that be the bar that is set, not some kind of imaginary bar that you think Facebook has set.

Erin Jones: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think that it’s fair or reasonable to expect someone else to protect our privacy for us. We’ve said this before. You even said it earlier in the podcast today, but it’s worth reiterating. Anything you share online in any platform should be considered public, whether it’s an email, a Facebook post, a private message. Always assume that it can be shared. Text messages can be screenshotted. Private emails, even if at the bottom it says, “This is confidential, and if it wasn’t meant for you, delete it right now,” that’s not going to get you very far. Act accordingly.

Andy Beal: Yeah. Well, we told you we had a packed show today and that we would fill up the 20 minutes talking about Facebook, and hey, we delivered on that. Next time, we’ll get back hopefully to discussing some different topics. We already have a Reputation Cage Match topic in the hopper ready to talk about for next time. We hope you’ve enjoyed this show. If you have any questions or you’d like to make a comment, feel free to go to, ironically, our Facebook page, which is /andybealORM. Don’t private message us, because you never know who might see it. Erin, thank you so much for joining me this week. Always a pleasure chatting with you.

Erin Jones: Thank you for having me and my cane here today.

Andy Beal: All right. Well, we’ll let you get back to sitting on your front porch, and we’ll let our listeners get back to what they were doing. Thanks a lot for tuning in. We thank you for joining us, and hope you’ll catch us again next time. Thanks a lot and bye bye.

#48 – Fake Twitter retweets and Instagram bots! Is it a good idea to pay social media influencers?

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When is a social media influencer not a social media influencer? We discuss…and argue.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Welcome back, and this week’s episode is all about social media influencers. We have a couple of stories that we’re going to kind of work our way through, and then we’ll get to another reputation cage match because you guys seemed to enjoy that last week. The first story is about Twitter and it’s cracking down on I guess fake influencers. It’s suspending popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass retweeting, which is known as tweetdecking. Erin, I had never really thought about the concept of tweetdecking. Perhaps you can explain exactly what it is.

Erin Jones:                  The first thing that I thought of when I heard about this is, is tweetdecking the best name we could come up with for this? It’s very awkward and sounds like you’re just one slip away from saying something horribly inappropriate, but TweetDeck is a social media dashboard application. It’s used for managing Twitter accounts and it used to be a third party application but then Twitter acquired it. So it’s kind of their preferred tweet Twitter management application, and what these tweetdeckers are doing is setting up multiple Twitter accounts within one dashboard so that they can really quickly fire off tweets, retweets, whatever they want to make a certain account look like a bigger influencer or make a tweet “go viral”. Another term they were using a lot was virality, which I also thought was dangerously close to sounding something very different from what we’re talking about here.

But basically what these people are doing is going in and just mass producing shares, likes, retweets, content to make these accounts look authentic and look like influencers. They’ve inflated certain accounts to appear to be real influencers on social media.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, because they can get paid good money if they can demonstrate that they’re actually getting an engagement and retweets, so it’s in their interest to make this automated process and get as many retweets as possible. But there are some accounts that have been suspended that had tens of thousands, if not millions of followers. It kind of reminds me of kind of a purge that Instagram did a few years ago. But this is on the back of Twitter already, kind of going through and purging fake followers. A lot of people saw their follow account drop down a few months ago, but it is kind of crazy.

I have actually seen this in action. I’ve been I guess the unintended recipient because I’ve had a tweet that’s mentioned me or mentioned, maybe I was mentioning tracker among other tools and it got retweeted, and then like you see the same tweet from different accounts like almost instantaneously and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s not natural. Someone’s clearly got an account here that is like multiple different usernames and just gaming the system.” I never knew that this existed. I mean you think all the stuff that I see going on you would think I’d be smart enough to know about tweetdecking, but I’ve never heard of it. I guess the concept of it I was aware of, but it just goes to show that whenever there’s some kind of system where people can make money there’s going to be black hat techniques that are going to follow along.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. When I first started reading about it, it felt incredibly juvenile to me. When you’re looking at a product like tracker and you see a 14-year-old girl with a My Little Pony profile image tweeting about it, you question a little bit if they’re really using the product or if they’ve just gotten caught up in a tweet storm.

It would be awesome if these people would use these powers for good and actually share content of value, say something that people want to hear instead of focusing just on getting famous or getting this amplified content, because if you look at content graphs, it shows that when this happens, the content spikes and then it drops off to almost non-existence. It’s pretty obvious, like you said, that this isn’t an authentic case of something going viral or producing value within the content.

I think it’s interesting that people had the foresight to put this together and do something really cool with it. I just wish they would’ve used their powers for good.

Andy Beal:                  And definitely if you have a Twitter account, then don’t get tempted to get pulled into one of these rings of Twitter uses. The promise that I’ll send you money if you help amplify these tweets, it’s not worth risking your reputation. Even if you use fake accounts, it’s still not worth something being traced back to you. Then if you’re a brand, it’s absolutely vital that if your team or your agency is going to put together some kind of influencer marketing campaign, that they vet these accounts to make sure that they’re not bots.

That leads us into our second story because The New York Times had an article, which we’re going to put in the show notes, that basically looked at the massive amount of robots, of bots that are pervasive on Instagram. And so there’s a market for Instagram users that will basically sell posts. You send them a private message, and yeah, they’ll post whatever it is you’re trying to sell and they’ll make thousands of dollars usually based on the number of follower numbers. All of those followers tend to be fake and they tend to be bots.

There’s also a growing market for market research, intelligence firms if you like that are trying to figure out ways to identify all of these bots. I don’t know about you Erin, but I see it on Instagram. Instagram’s become a new favorite of mine. I’ve kind of rekindled my love affair with Instagram and I’m using it a lot, but I do see a lot of fake accounts that will comment on what they hope is a relevant post and it’ll say something generic like, “Cool post. Check out my bio right away,” and you just know it’s a bot.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. I find it fascinating that they can spend this much time because you know it takes a lot of time to be doing this all day for what return are they getting. I have a friend whose daughter is actually well on her way to becoming a social media influencer. She’s a local model and she gets thousands of likes and comments on her pictures on Instagram, and I would say a third of them at least are these junk comments that you’re talking about. “Check out the link in my profile. Cool post. Like you. Hot mamma.” Like really? She’s 17. Seriously?

But it’s the same kind of thing. There’s just that lack of authenticity, and from a human side I feel like it’s fairly easy to spot. Some of them are definitely better than others, and I’ve had some that I’ve gotten caught checking the profile to determine if I really think it’s a real person or not. But if people are wondering about this, you can usually tell the article that you referenced for these companies, they mentioned high emoji quantities in their comments, terrible grammar, a teen girl photo posting about things that teen girls wouldn’t normally be posting about.

I really like that we’re able to get some more information from these firms that are really doing great research and showing us where we can spot some of these problems, but it also concerns me that people are going to be using these metrics to get better at being deceitful.

Andy Beal:                  One of the things, you really do want to identify the influencers. It’s good to know who’s influential for your product, service, or industry. But one of the things I also look for is to see are they influential in other networks because it’s really hard to gain multiple social networks at once. I always crosscheck to see they’re, look at their Instagram numbers versus Twitter or Facebook or YouTube. Do they have a blog? Do they show up when I google their names? Do they have content that shows up? Can I actually figure out this is a real person, so do they have maybe a LinkedIn account or something of that nature?

You really need to be careful that you are engaging someone that a) is real, but also has real engagement and not just a bunch of bots that either they’ve set up or are benefiting from. You also need to ask your team or your agency to make sure that they’re vetting this because you may find that there’s an agency out there that is under a lot of pressure to increase your engagement, to get you a lot of likes or tweets or whatever it may be, and so they may turn to bots to achieve that, maybe at worst, but at best they may just gloss over doing a thorough investigation to see whether or not the influencers they’re reaching out to and spending money on your behalf are real or not.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, and I think that a lot of this comes back to authenticity. If somebody inflates your follower accounts and you have five posts that get 10 million likes across five posts, versus another company who really does their homework and finds audiences that you connect with and finds influencers within those communities, and you only get 10% of the engagement but it’s real engagement and you end up getting real business from it, I would think the value for me would be far greater in having less likes but more authentic communication and contact.

Andy Beal:                  Absolutely. There’s some metrics that are throwaway metrics when you compare to actual influence. That’s why I kind of liked Clout a lot in the past because it kind of gives me an idea as to what they’re actually influential about. Because I see people on different social media channels, they’ll put the hashtag that it’s an add or they’ll make it clear it’s an ad, but it’s for something that has nothing to do why I am following them. So it’s really cheesy and it really just makes me cringe that this person is probably making $20 but really devaluing their own reputation as a result.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. Like you said, if it’s something that has to go with their brand, great, I don’t mind looking at it, especially if it’s someone I respect, whether it be professionally or in the entertainment industry endorsing something that relates to them. It’s kind of like we’ve discussed in the past, celebrities talking about politics. Those two worlds don’t collide well for me, so I roll my eyes and move on. If a celebrity wants to tell me about their skin care regimen however, I might be a little bit more interested because I know that that’s something that they value, whether it be personally or professionally.

I feel like a lot of the times what really frustrates me the most is the people who get caught up in these less authentic influencer issues are really small businesses that don’t have a lot of money to work with, so they get talked into this big, “Oh, we’ll get you 20 million likes, and it’ll be great, and it’ll only cost you 19.99,” and then the client or the small business doesn’t understand why they’re getting banned or their posts aren’t being shown because somebody just dragged them through the mud.

Andy Beal:                  On that note, that leads us into the Reputation Cage Match. Sorry, I couldn’t afford a voiceover for that so I just did it on the fly. Last week we did this Reputation Cage Match and it was well received. We thought we’d give it another try. It’s going to be on the topic … Well, the question is, is it a good idea to pay influencers to promote your brand?

The format is we each get two minutes. We each have to argue one side of the coin. So one of us will pick for and one of us will pick against. We’ll give it two minutes of our best effort to argue for or against. The reason being is we want to give you an opportunity to hear the pluses and the minuses of each side. Then after we’ve each had two minutes we’ll have a little bit of a discussion and see if we can figure out who’s the winner. No I did win last week it’s fair to say. Everybody agreed on that. No, not really. I lost badly. However, Erin had to go first last week and I had the benefit of hearing what she had to say, so I’m going to go first this week. Here I go. Here’s my time starting now.

Should you pay influencers to promote your brand? Absolutely not. If your product is not good enough to get used by influencers organically, then don’t shell out money to fake it. I mean it’s the same as astroturfing when you’re paying to get these fake reviews. Take that money and invest it in your product your service. How about actually making a product that these wonderful influencers with thousands or millions of followers are just going to want to tell their audience that they love using without you having to line their pockets?

For me, when I see that someone is promoting a product or a brand, I start switching off. I think to myself, “Well, they’re getting paid to say that. How can I trust whether or not they actually use that product?” Then when I see those same influencers promoting a different company or brand every other week I’m like, “Wait a minute. You don’t have any loyalty.” I’ve actually seen people on for example YouTube that will promote one product from a particular niche one week and then a couple of weeks later, because they’ve got paid more money, all of a sudden this other product is the greatest thing that we should be using and now I really don’t trust them. I’m probably going to ignore it.

Now there’s also the rules that you need to consider for how you even sponsor somebody. You don’t want to get caught up in a situation where the influencer doesn’t do their right disclosure, and next thing you know you’re getting thrown under the bus with them because they didn’t disclose properly or they just kind of didn’t even disclose it at all and now it’s a paid endorsement.

The other thing as well is if you are a known sponsor of an influencer and they get into some kind of trouble, some kind of scandal, people are going to drag you down with them because they’re going to say, “Well, wait a minute. Isn’t that the spokesperson for x, y, z company and they’re in this scandal?” Well, you may find that you’re getting people tweeting to you or commenting because they want to boycott you because you have this paid relationship.

Now that’s not really going to happen so much if they just happen to be a fan of the product that you use and … I’m out of time. But no, don’t pay your influencers. Erin?

Erin Jones:                  All right. Is it a good idea to pay influencers to promote your brand? I say yes. 74% of consumers currently rely on social media to help them make purchasing decisions. And the influencers are already on social media. They’re the ones affecting those decisions. Don’t you want your brand to be one of the ones that people are choosing? Trust in brands is declining and the power of influencers is currently on the rise, so instead of you telling people how great you are, let an influencer do it for you and people are going to believe them more quickly because it feels more authentic.

We’ve been seeing celebrity endorsements our whole lives. How is this different? Does anyone truly believe that Taylor Swift is wearing drug store cosmetics? I highly doubt it. Or Kylie Jenner really, is she really drinking Pepsi? Please. I doubt that that girl has had a carb since 2003.

Microinfluencers on social media are much more authentic, they’re more believable, they promote products and brands that fit their image within their local circles, whether that be local geographically or local on the internet. They find their tribe and they connect with that tribe, so why not capitalize on that?

Many brands and business owners feel that great influencers don’t need compensation. They should just share based on their pure love of that brand. But if you’re already paying for things like advertising and content, why wouldn’t you pay for influencers, especially if they’re going to convert? Business is all about the money after all, right? I’ve seen research stating that for every dollar invested in an influencer brands are getting back about $6.50, and those are some really good returns, and much less expensive than buying followers who may or may not be bots.

You can also almost always see a big increase in your social interactions and traffic to your website, so for me this is a win-win. Personally I only work with clients who I trust or believe in what they’re doing. I often share their social posts or products because I do believe in those things. Is the fact that I’m getting compensated by them going to affect negatively on me if they pay me to do an increase in my posts? I don’t know. Looks like I’m out of time.

Andy Beal:                  First of all, kudos to you. I can tell that you came prepared this week after that, licking your wounds last week. You’ve really researched your numbers and you made some valid arguments. But let me ask you this. Coke. Let’s just take a can of Coke. Who are you going to trust more? Somebody that says that they like Coke because they just like Coke, or somebody says they like Coke because they’re getting paid a million dollars to say that they like Coke?

Erin Jones:                  I agree with you there.

Andy Beal:                  There you go. That sound you, that thought you hear is me dropping my microphone. Here.

Erin Jones:                  Take that mic back up for a second, because what if no one mentions Coke and someone that you like is drinking a Pepsi

Andy Beal:                  Okay.

Erin Jones:                  Whether they got paid or not to hold it, is it better to not be in the picture at all or is it better to say, “Yeah, Coke paid me but I love them”?

Andy Beal:                  Well, you need to create a product that just there are products out there where nobody’s paying anybody. And then it could be somebody that has 10 followers, and as you said earlier in the podcast, they’ve got the right 10 followers and so now they are endorsing a product that nobody’s ever heard of and people are going, “”Well, I trust that person. They don’t sell products for a living. I know they don’t get paid. I’m going to check that out,” and then they tell their friends and they tell their friends. So now you’ve got this natural organic growth of this hype for your brand, as opposed to this astroturfing thing. Kind of like what you see on Amazon. When I look at reviews on Amazon, if I see that it’s a Vine sponsored or whatever they call it, I just don’t even read the review. But if I see it’s a verified purchase, that’s the person I want to hear from.

Erin Jones:                  True, very, very true. However, I still think we can’t all be Apple and we don’t all have 60 years for the world to realize what a great product we have, so sometimes it helps to get a little bit of bump from people who are seen as people being people who matter.

Andy Beal:                  All right. So if I track you right, what you’re saying is this is not astroturfing, this is planting real seeds, but maybe sprinkling a little bit of miracle grow on it, is that what you’re trying to say?

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, yeah, I like that. I think that sounds good.

Andy Beal:                  Well, on that note, we’ll call it a draw. How about that?

Erin Jones:                  All right. I don’t know. I’m going for the hat-trick next week, so …

Andy Beal:                  Darn it. I need to pick a better side on these arguments. All right, guys, if you have a topic you’d like us to discuss or a question for us, then head over to our Facebook page, which is /andybealorm where you will see that all five of our followers are organic. Now I don’t know how many we have, but hopefully it’s more than five. You can also go to andybeal.com, find the latest podcast page, read the show notes there, and leave us a question or suggest a topic for next week. As always, Erin, I appreciate you chatting with me and going head-to-head.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you. I love being given the opportunity to voice my opinion.

Andy Beal:                  Even if you’re not right I appreciate it.

Erin Jones:                  I was waiting for that.

Andy Beal:                  And thank you guys for listening. We hope you enjoyed this show. We do appreciate your feedback, so let us know if you enjoyed this new Reputation Cage Match style. If so, we’ll keep on doing it. If not, we will drop it like a paid influencer and a hot potato. All right, have a good week. Thanks a lot and bye-bye.