The Use of Fake Avatars In Social Media
Creating fake avatars as a way to boost your social media efforts – it’s a topic I’ve tried my best to stay away from tackling. Mostly because I don’t want a riot to break out on the blog. I’d rather those riots take place elsewhere and leave our blog filled with talk of unicorns and puppies and cupcakes. However, it doesn’t look like the debate is dying down.
The topic of fake avatars was one of the most controversial discussed at SMX Advanced’s Give It Up session, it was (arguably) the center of last week’s blogosphere meltdown and now Michael Gray is talking about it again. And what’s our favorite thing to do on a Monday morning? Disagree with Michael! ;)
I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to anyone that I find the idea of using fake avatars a bad marketing decision. If that makes me a social media goody 2 shoes, then at least I’m in good company.
In his post today, Michael Gray mentioned how Barack Obama doesn’t run his own social media campaign even though he’s nearing 50,000 Twitter followers, 400,000+ MySpace friends, and has more YouTube friends that he probably knows what to do with. He also mentions the famed GoogleGuy account and how it was kept alive by a number of different people. Michael makes the argument if it’s okay for Google and the Democratic Party Presidential Nominee to do it, why not SEOs?
Easy. Because it’s completely different.
I think (or at last I’d hope) that the average person has enough common sense to realize that it’s not Barack sitting at his computer approving your Facebook Friend Request and that GoogleGuy is a Google entity, not a person. They should realize that when a person friends Barack on Twitter and he immediately follows you back, that it was probably a bot doing the work. There’s a certain expectation there that Barack’s profile is being backed by a team of supporters and handlers. No one is pretending that it’s really Barack. That’s the difference.
And remember how people mocked Google for its use of the GoogleGuy account? Is that the reaction you want from your customers?
In my opinion, there’s a huge difference between creating a fake avatar and creating a brand ambassador to empower you on the social networks. I think brand ambassadors provide a lot of value to a social community. They give members someone to interact with, reach out to, and support.
For example, I love Bangerang cupcakes aka cupcakes in a jar. I’ve bought them for myself, for friends and even for people I don’t like because that’s how good they are. If the company were to create a Facebook profile using the name Bangerang Jane, I’d follow them in a second. I’d read through their news feed, check out their photos, listening to what they were saying, etc. I’d interact with this avatar because I know what it is. I know that it’s an ambassador for the brand. It’s transparent and I get it.
But if they were to create a fake avatar using the name Katie Cake and pretend that they’re a real person and had Bangerang cupcakes listed among their favorite things, with photos of them eating Bangerang cupcakes, I’d find that deceitful. That person doesn’t exist. I don’t care how “active” in the community you want to make that account, it’s still not a real person. You can’t have genuine interaction with someone that doesn’t exist.
The difference between a manufactured social media profile and a brand ambassador is the faking. I was at SMX Advanced when one of the panelists talked about creating fake avatars to push your brand. He mentioned using interest category listed on StumbleUpon to make the fake people look real. To find pictures of people on Flickr and use them as the profile picture. To give them fake interests because that helps manipulating people into thinking the avatar is a real person.
The intent there is to deceive. If it was about supporting the community, you could go the way of a brand ambassador. Creating fake people is not genuine, it’s not real, and it gives social media a bad name. I have to ask, why go through all that trouble to create something that’s fake when you can create something that’s real and has a heck of a lot more value? Why pretend to be Katie from Illinois who loves Bangerang Cupcakes and talks about them all day when you can just be Bangerang Katie? If the product is good, your supporters will be there. There’s no need to fake it.
I recently had the chance to interview Kendall Allen from Incognito Digital and I asked her about fake avatars and whether she agreed with that approach. In case you missed the interview, here was Kendall’s response:
Yeah, no. In the purist’s spirit of authenticity and brand – I would not favor this fragile stretch to authority. Authority should be based on real roots, history and establishment of true connections. Anything along the lines suggested creates false path and in effect undermines the “social” in social media. It certainly undermines the community flow – one you want to harness, not dupe.
Hear that? You need true connections that don’t undermine the community. At the end of the day, people don’t like to be deceived. And when you create a fake person with fake interests and fake pictures, it is FAKE. That goes against everything social media is supposed to be about.