Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Comfy-Looking Astroturf Hides A Slippery Slope

"Astroturfing" has been around since the 90s, but -- with the health care reform debate raging -- the term currently is littering the media landscape. In July, corporate astroturfing moved front and center, when Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, fined Lifestyle Lift $300,000 for getting employees to post fake testimonials about the cosmetic surgery procedure on various sites and message boards. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that regulators are now investigating blog advertising practices.

AP writer Jennifer Peltz reported that, among other no-nos, an internal corporate email told Lifestyle Lift staffers, "I need you to devote the day to doing more postings on the Web as a satisfied client" ... Another internal message directed a worker to "put your wig and skirt on and tell them about the great experience you had."

From a PR standpoint, social media astroturfing doesn’t appear to have worked out too well for the New Jersey-based company. AG Cuomo said, ““My office has and will continue to be on the forefront in protecting consumers against emerging fraud and deception, including ‘astroturfing,’ on the Internet.”

Jason Cormier posted about an experience one of his clients suffered at the hands of an irate blogger who discovered the client was commenting under a false name. The SocialStudiesBlog cites a number of ways PR folks can be tempted to “seed campaigns.”

The simple message is “Don’t.” It's definitely fake and it could be illegal.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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