I've been thinking about how special interest groups use “grassroots” efforts to alter public perception on certain issues. B2B marketing often faces difficult issues, such as regulatory change, and can be tempted to fall into these practices only considering the outcome, not the morality. Recently an article, "Turf Wars" by the whole-life health and fitness magazine “Experience Life”, brought to light the reality of how public perception is shaped by media and online channels. But it's not always done with integrity. The article points out the dangers and unconscious trust the public often places on information found online. Astroturfing, the term used to describe these efforts, is essentially when a PR advantage created by using tactics similar in form to cyber bullying. The key learnings from the article are listed below.
Terms to know
- Astroturfing: When PR firms or special interests groups develop what looks to be “grassroots” efforts by public perception, but, in reality, is a movement on social media and other media outlets to make the public think a large majority of supporters believe an issue is a certain way. This strategy began in the tobacco industry where campaigns were developed to convince consumers that, contrary to research, smoking was not harmful.
- Online Trolls: Online commentators with a goal of creating hostile online conversations by making obnoxious remarks and personal insults in online forums. There are different types of trolls, those who do it for fun, those who want to discredit and intimidate their competitors, and those who want to shift public perception (sometimes for pay).
- Persona-Management Software: Software allowing a user to create multiple online personas, or social bots, with a range of different profile details and social media accounts, including generated activity on the accounts. The social bot then can make a single user look like multiple different people, all supporting the same perception. This creates what looks to be an online mob, taking over the conversation of choice, when in reality it is a single user. Companies use this software to enlarge the reach of an astroturf campaign.
The four distinctive characteristics of fake posts
- When deleted, the comment reappears a few minutes later.
- When there is a high volume of very negative, or extremely positive, responses in a story’s comment section.
- The comments are not focused on a specific point, but rather a generic concept.
- A consistent use of name calling and swearing is used, stirring up emotions.
In a nutshell, PR firms and special interests groups are using these schemes and methods to alter the reality of public perception, and unfortunately, we as online users are falling for it. These strategies are allowing them to cyber bully those who stand in their way and to get away with it. An eye opening article, I highly recommend taking the time to read through the article in its entirety. Staying knowledgeable about current trends, as well as new threats, is a must in the business world, and this article gives the background needed to help your company avoid potential danger from online predators.
Image provided by Jason Howie.