Wear the right hat for brand advocacy

A consumer’s recommendation via social media is worth its weight in gold but beware of manipulation. David Cushman, UK managing director of social business consultancy Ninety10 Group and former Bauer digital development chief explains more

If you’ve ever heard the term ’SEO’ bandied about you’re likely familiar with the concept of ’black hat’ and ’white hat’ SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

The good guys wear the white hats – and the bad guys don’t.

Just as I expect a whole industry of ’Twitter follower optimisation’ snake oil salesmen to rock up at brands’ doorsteps any day now, so I am fearful of an emerging new style of peer-to-peer corrupters:

Those who spam your friends in your name.

We saw an example recently on Twitter – albeit (according to the young coder behind Twifficiency) by mistake.

Twifficiency is one of the many borrowers of Twitter’s application programming interface (API) to tell the user something about their personal use of Twitter – their effectiveness/reach/influence/rank whatever…

This particular version rewards the visitor with a percentage score for typing their username into the magic box. The trouble was, Twifficiency then, under the cover of the obfuscating small-print of the Twitter ’allow/deny’ screen, automatically tweeted that score along with a call to action to all your followers to try theirs.

Implicit in this is your recommendation. Which you have neither given nor been asked to give at this stage.

The convention among developers has been to ask users for further approval (above and beyond Twitter’s own “The application would like the ability to access and update your data on Twitter” ) before granting permission to share – often via a tweet which you get to edit, approve and then decide whether or not to share with your peers. White Hat.

White Hat doesn’t hide behind obfuscation.

The black hat get-out clause here is “access and update your data on twitter”.

This, apparently, can be translated as meaning: “Tweet as if you were me, tweet what you like, and whenever.” If you wear a black hat.

If you wear a white one you know that wouldn’t be very nice. You wouldn’t like that to happen to yourself. So you don’t do it to others. Social beings feel this and know this.

Passing yourself off as someone else to gain benefit has another name in law. Fraud. Not nice is it?

Twifficiency is a benign case. But it’s not hard to imagine how less scrupulous developers could exploit the frailties of human nature by making ’you’ tweet no end of scurrilous and self-serving content.

It’s not good enough to lay the blame on the human desire to hear good stuff about yourself, as some have.

Those that blame ego (why do you want to know how popular/influential etc you are, anyway?) are likely the same people who never Google themselves and claim immunity from shared performance anxiety and fear of public speaking. If you meet one be sure to share with them the last of my stash of rocking horse crap.

Now, I don’t want to suggest the talented young developer (one James Cunningham, for the record) did anything more serious than fail in his duty to fellow twitter users.

Twitter is open. Its API is open. Which means the doorways are always open to abuse.

What we have to do in response to this is become ever better at crap detection, at sharing warnings, and at defending the community against those who would more deliberately take advantage.

Let’s start with defining what Black Hat Peer-To-Peer is:

  1. Attempting to pass yourself off as another person, in order to access that other person’s social graph
  2. Hiding behind the small print instead of doing the right thing
  3. Using automation to acquire friends/followers
  4. Automating the process of dumping those friends/followers who don’t follow/friend you back
  5. Sending unsolicited and irrelevant commercial messages to users based on shoddy algorithms (if based on anything at all?!)

…er that’s mine for now – bet you can think of examples, too.


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