Marketing activity so bad it’s quite literally criminal

  • A news article came out through the Bangkok Post (we found it through The Verge) last week about the arrest of three Chinese nationals. The trio had been paid over £10,000 a month to run a ‘clickfarm’. Simply put, a clickfarm is a way to fraudulently boost the number of likes and engagement on a social network through automation and cheap labour.

    This particular clickfarm was run for a single client, who knew exactly what they were doing – they’d asked the trio specifically to build and run the activity for them. This isn’t always the case. Clickfarms like the ones that Wang Dong, Niu Bang and Ni Wenjin were running often have many clients. They’re often pitching at businesses exactly like yours.

    What can you do to make avoid being caught up in potentially criminal marketing activity?

    1. Are you being told there are “lots of things wrong” with your website?

    Although this might not be a statement that’s entirely false, watch out for blanket statements like this. Often those of a more shady persuasion will be sending the same message out to 1000’s of business email addresses, and this can be a red flag.

    On the flip side, if you’re being given specific data points in an email or pitch do try to verify them yourself before you give them too much weight. It’s very easy to say “75% of your pages are set to ‘noindex’ for Google”, but check that’s actually the case before you enter any agreement. Many of these conversations start with false information to boost believability, in the hope that you won’t check before you relinquish yourself of much needed capital.

    2. Are you being guaranteed results?

    Every piece of marketing activity comes with risks. A company which is willing to guarantee results is either stretching the truth beyond reasonable limits, or they’re able to game the system using fake followers or clicks or links which can cause long term damage to the online presence of your business.

    3. Is the company based overseas, with no local contact?

    Although many businesses legitimately operate across borders, this can be a reliable red flag. The businesses out there looking to automate and fake results can do so with unskilled labour. As such they often place themselves in localities where labour is cheap, often with the extra benefit of relaxed legal repercussions of this kind of activity. Personally, among other reasons, I’d prefer not to help fund the continuation of poor working conditions and low wages in those countries.

    Many of the most clichéd sayings in our society exist because they are almost always true. One such cliché applies to cheap, ‘guaranteed’ marketing activity:

    If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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