A Great Debate on Gaming the System: Social Media Shilling

There’s a good discussion going on Twitter right now about social media shilling, aka “please tweet (blog, lifestream, status update, fan, etc.) this for a client” and the big “what if big agencies did this” en masse. Todd Defren started it off with his post called “Slippery Slope“. Laurel Hart, an adjunct instructor at NYU, asked if it was unethical to impose said coordination across an entire firm. My response is that it’s not unethical for employees to participate in social media on behalf of a client provided they disclose and do it of their own free will. It is unethical if mandated.

Every firm – and I mean EVERY firm – bases its results on numbers. Everyone promises impressions, click throughs, Google rankings, number of fans, followers on Twitter, etc to their clients. And those numbers look great on paper, which is exactly where they belong – ironically left behind on an outdated means of communication. Don’t get me wrong – paper is great and it counts to some people, but gaining 10,000 Facebook fans or reporting 100MM online impressions is bullshit unless there’s an action. And that’s where the debate needs to head. Yes, disclosure is important, but if your employees are users and true evangelists of the product or service then there’s nothing wrong with them talking about it. Same with your agency. Ultimately if you get a mention in a publication, online or offline, and your product or service is garbage the real world (and yes, I mean those who don’t read blogs or tweet or base their existence on online experiences) then you lose influence and credibility . And, you won’t see a real move or change in the numbers that matter — sales.

Another point of contention (as astutely pointed out by my wife when I read the tweet aloud) is that the web is not a level playing field to begin with. ┬áPeople’s entire jobs are based on gaming Google so that their search results turn up higher. It’s called SEO. So given that as a premise, let’s look at why we use Twitter.

I’ll rephrase it this way: Why are we all on Twitter?. I mean REALLY – why are we on there? To connect with bloggers, marketers, students, professors, moms, dads and others who may be interested in talking up what we’re doing. To strike up a business deal. To sell ourselves and connect with brands and people we used to not be able to connect with. Go ahead and say you’re just there to make friends – and I’ll call you a liar. The dirty little secret of Twitter is that it’s a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” game. Whether it’s looking for a job, a “please RT” or making “friends” to pitch down the road, you’re eventually going to have that “ask”. And it’s OK to ask, as long as you’re being transparent about it.