While surfing the web the other day, I ran across a number of very disturbing conversations all centered on the same subject: people who are shilling their products. For those who aren’t quite sure what “shilling” is, here is the definition from a popular online dictionary:
a person who poses as a customer in order to decoy others into participating
I was amazed at the number of different industries where this has become a problem. I’m not sure if people come up with this sneaky, deceptive tactic all on their own or if some self-ordained online “business gurus” are convincing their customers or site visitors that this is actually a good practice. While I haven’t seen any discussions pertaining to this happening in the crochet industry, since the problem seems to be increasing in other fields, I thought it might be helpful to share why shilling is never a good idea, just in case someone was thinking it might be a good way to increase business or help with SEO (search engine optimization).
Examples of Shilling
Here are just a few of the different types of shilling I’ve seen recently:
1. Someone joining an online community (message board, forum) to promote their own product, but posting as if they are a customer who has just found this wonderful item and wants to let everyone know about it.
2. Someone posting a bad review of a product and inserting information about or a link to their own product, stating how much better it is than the product being reviewed.
3. Someone commenting on a bad review of a product just to plug their own product, while pretending to be just a customer.
4. Someone posting a positive review of their own product, pretending to be a customer.
5. Creating fake bids on auction sites in an effort to increase the selling price artificially.
Why Is Shilling Bad?
1. While it should go without saying, I’ll still point out that shilling is dishonest and deceptive. Surely those are not character traits you wish to portray.
2. You will be found out eventually. Even if you think you’re posting anonymously, you’re probably nowhere near as anonymous as you think you are. Site owners have experience and tools that make it fairly easy for them to recognize shilling when they see it. While they may not announce your actions publicly to their community, they will still know what you’ve done.
Site visitors are also becoming more and more adept at sniffing out shilling attempts. Once certain people become suspicious that something nefarious is happening, they will not stop searching until they’ve found proof of what they’ve suspected. They will search for anything you’ve ever posted, anywhere on the internet. It’s amazing what types of connections can be found. Those people will definitely make a public announcement of what you’ve done.
3. You will get a very negative reputation among professionals and crocheters both. Nobody likes feeling as if they’ve been deceived. It makes people feel hurt. Then they feel angry. When some people get hurt and angry, they decide to strike back, hard.
4. You could become the target of a smear campaign. When you have a group of angry people with a central place to congregate (online communities, Facebook pages and groups, Twitter hashtags, etc.), you could end up being the target of an internet pile-on from people intent on destroying your career and business. Needless to say, you don’t want that to happen!
5. You may be violating the FTC’s endorsement and disclosure guidelines that state: “if there is a connection between the endorser and the seller of the product or service [me: book publisher and amazon in this case], full disclosure is required.” These guidelines apply not just to posts you make on your own website, but to anything you post anywhere on the internet where the average reader would not expect that you have an affiliation with the product or service being discussed.
What to Do Instead of Shilling
1. Post about your products or services on online communities as yourself, as long as you are following the community’s guidelines. Purchase advertising if that is required. If free advertising is allowed, make sure you post in the appropriate areas, in appropriate amounts, at appropriate times.
2. Inserting a plug for your own product in a review of someone else’s product just makes you look desperate and self-serving. Your energies are much better spent finding positive places and ways to promote yourself.
3. Gather testimonials from satisfied customers and post them on your own website.
4. See if you can organize a blog tour of satisfied customers to review your product.
5. Above all else, focus positive energy on your products and your actions.
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Have you ever found that someone you previously respected was discovered shilling their products? How did you feel? How did you react? Share your thoughts with us:
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- Leave a comment on our Crochetville online community discussion