Social Media

My Friend Kelby, Why Online Bots Aren’t So Simple To Spot

By Social Media No Comments

Kelby is a real person, one I have known for years, but online she barely seems to exist. She is one of the vast majority of people, to have never had a personal website, tried to be YouTube famous, published a press release, or even a blog post. Her Facebook Account is set to mostly friends only, and otherwise she has, basically no online footprint.

She is on Twitter, using just her first name on an account with about 10 followers. Her account tweets very few things that are personally identifiable. Honestly, she seemingly exist to retweet Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson. Outside of a couple of photos of her child, Kelby looks indistinguishable from the common idea of a bot. While tools like Botometer do label Kelby a human, many people wouldn’t instantly assume her humanity.

Fake Accounts Are Hard To Spot

By most metrics people look for, like having only a partial photo of her face for a profile pic, having a disproportionately high number of retweets to original tweets, few followers and interactions with just a small handful of accounts, she looks fake. She’s not. She’s part of, if not the majority on twitter, at least a healthy normal subset of users. I’ve been shocked by the number of times I’ve had real conversations with accounts that set off the same “this is a bot” alarm bells as Kelby.

Another friend of mine, Gary Leland has been on the internet since there was an internet. Leland started an ecommerce site back in ’96. If it wasn’t the first online store, it was one of them. Since that time he’s published thousands of hours of video and audio, published at least 15 e-books, and thousands of blog posts on hundreds of websites.

Leland has largely avoided the kind of mainstream media circles that social networks try to use as benchmarks for influence and impersonation risk. He has no shortage of mentions including some of the earliest books about Podcasting. He has the kind of online footprint that really cannot be faked.

Fake Accounts Hurt The Platforms

I have huge sympathy for the teams at social networks who must try to accommodate for both the Kelbys (last name withheld) and the Lelands. Earlier today I wrote about Twitter removing 10,112 state-backed accounts spreading propaganda. It feels important that Twitter remove these accounts, but they may be harder to spot than you think.

While I haven’t sifted through the terabyte and a half of data Twitter shared. One Chinese controlled account had over 300,000 followers. It looked real, at least enough to pass the sniff test. What that account was sharing, how it was accessed, and how other accounts were coordinating with it are likely the connective thread that tipped off the team at Twitter, to it’s being used maliciously.

So Expand Verification

Yesterday, before the Twitter announcement about the removal of over 10k accounts, YouTube changed its rules for verification. The new YouTube rules will seemingly unverify a lot of accounts. I argued that this was a mistake. But not for the reason that many YouTubers were angry about on Twitter.

I don’t care that verification is viewed as a sort of creators reward. I think YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Tinder, and Yo moma (I couldn’t help myself) should all let as many people be verified as want to submit to some kind of process. Last year I wrote that for Twitter expanding verification could slow the spread of fake news.

The connective thread between Kelby and Gary Leland is that they are both real. I’ve met them both, but what’s more you don’t need to take my word for it. They can both prove they are real, and they can do so without showing a list of mainstream media mentions. When I got verified on Twitter, I had to show my ID, and a photo of myself. Twitter used this, and a few other things for identity verification.

Stop Making “Verification” An Endorsement

Unfortunately most of these social sites insist on turning verification into a form of endorsement, by subjectively determining notoriety. I get it, Twitter was, before closing the verification requests, flooded with people wanting the badge. But couldn’t Twitter or any other social network handle verification in a way similar to EV SSL certificates? EV SSL certificates (unlike DV certs) confirm the identity of the website owner, and SSL providers like Comodo process a huge number of these requests each year.

It’s true that government propaganda groups would be able to create accounts the platforms would go on to verify. When you can create government issued IDs, it would be easy to game the system. But that account verification would mean less, because more people would have it. Also, despite government groups being able to fabricate “real” people, trolls, hackers, and non-state propagandist would have a much more challenging time exploiting the platform.

Header Image: “Twitter” by chriscorneschi

Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI. 
 Follow him on his blog.

Why eSports Needs Real Content Marketing

By Advertising, Gaming, Social Media

eSports seems to be coming of age in 2018. Overwatch league claims they beat Thursday night football ratings and Ninja (with the help of Drake) broke the largest concurrent viewer record on with 626,000 viewers. This year eSports is earning a lot of hype; but is the hype keeping consumer attention?

In Dallas, Texas, we’ve seen massive growth in eSports. Four teams made the DFW metroplex their home base this year. But after the inaugural Overwatch League season ends, and the venture capital money runs out in a few years what will happen? Most of the marketing I’ve seen are “flash in the pan” spikes of exposure. Bursts of marketing success often gain attention in the short term and fail to grow a brand outside of their industry. I fear that most of these organizations will die without consistent, and authentic content.

The Dallas Fuel, our local overwatch team, put up a billboard around the corner from their office. They used it to push social media engagements with a contest on Twitter.

Looking at the hashtag on Twitter, it seems they earned a bit of momentary engagement. I’m sure they use other marketing as well, but I haven’t seen much of it. Billboards, even without the added social push, still work. And, gamers are a large enough market segment for outdoor advertising to be effective. But without an ocean of content to drive people to, I’m not sure any long-term impact will come from this ad.

Content Marketing Creates Long-Term Exposure

Optic Gaming does a very good job of creating a content ocean. Putting out a variety of video content across social media from their Podcast to their weekly vlog series called “Vision”.  Ryan Musselman, SVP of Infinite Esports Entertainment (formerly the president of Optic Gaming), said this during a panel discussion regarding content:

“It’s mission critical. It’s a part of their DNA, and it has to be from day 1… we as an organization did not start out in eSports. We started out with content, and we did that on purpose. Because when you build a brand the audience tends to follow… So we built a content company first and then backed into eSports, and that’s why we have a brand that can rival, at least on Twitter, the Dallas Cowboys.”

You can watch the full video here:

Optic famously has the largest social media following in eSports, and they’ve built it by putting out consistent content to their audience. Building a consistent audience has attracted sponsors like Chipotle, and Brisk Ice Tea. From my perspective, it seems Optic is less focused on winning trophies & prize money, and more on partnering with sponsors that will spend millions more then any esports organization can win in a season.

Long-Term Exposure Creates Diehard Fans

Advertising when done correctly creates awareness and drives conversions. However, the diehard fans required for a sport’s league most often come from long-term exposure. Advertising is an inefficient way to create long-term exposure, it’s far better to use advertising to drive people to an ocean of content, and let the content create a lasting affinity.

For Coca-Cola the most recognizable global brand, it’s not just advertising, but the memories of seeing, and consuming an ice cold coke that creates brand affinity. You’re more likely to remember being a kid drinking a coke with a grandparent than the last commercial you watched, but seeing that commercial increases the likelihood you’ll drink a coke today.

The NFL  does advertise, but it’s the nearly 100 years of history that create the massive brand affinity. Literal generations of memories of tuning in to games. Many have/had high school daydreams of one day playing for their favorite team. For eSports to reach the level of the NFL in a digital age (when even teams in the NFL are producing a lot of online content), it will take more than just the games in the league. It’s going to take a lot of content that people want to watch to reach that level of cultural recognition.

Diehard Fans Lead To Advertisers

For eSports, advertising can drive exposure to a new audience, and content can create brand affinity. The already large audience of eSports means the focus should be on improving brand loyalty, making eSports attractive to advertisers. Because right now eSports is undervalued. Last year at VidSummit I asked Garyvee about eSports, his response:

“From a marketing standpoint, I think it’s grossly underpriced attention and brands should spend a fuckload more money on esports.”

On this Garry and I agree. The prescription for eSports is not only to maintain their size but grow, and become more valuable to advertisers. The only path I see for eSports to take a place among existing major sports is with content marketing.

Header Image – creative commons by steelseries

Joshua Wethington was a Managing Director of Push ROI.  

Shameless Self Promotion Turns You into The Emperor With “New Clothes”

By Social Media, Writing & Publishing No Comments

People work, buy, gimmick, and game their way to perceived authority. Buying bot engagement online, or fitness stars using fake weights on Instagram; Are not so different from hiring mourners: or the fake strongman acts that were a staple of old carnivals. A magician’s twist on the strongman gimmick suppressed a revolt in Algeria for the Second French Empire. People can, and sometimes want, to be fooled.

Social media “stars” of today tricking the public aren’t the same as Robert-Houdin tricking the Marabouts out of a revolution. But both distort reality to gain influence over others. On performers deceiving audiences, Penn Jillette put it this way.

“My friend, David Blaine, seems to feel that the audience is supposed to leave a magic performance thinking that they’ve witnessed something supernatural and not just a trick. Penn & Teller proudly do tricks; David might want the audience to think he’s really magic.”

Oh, some fools, oh, they fool themselves

Professionally, not just for performing artist or celebrities, people try to gain influence. For example, naming trade association memberships and awards to land a client. I do it; Push ROI has client testimonials and logos on our home page.

There is nothing wrong with framing one’s work in the best possible way. However, it is easy to join an “everyone accepted” trade association, or win some “for sale to the highest bidder” awards and pretend these are credible. After all, most won’t know the difference and those who do likely want to keep the illusion going. If few people believe something, but a majority pretend a devout faith; is that truth by consensus?

In the pursuit of influencing others, we sometimes distort reality. An A+ rating from the BBB or a chamber of commerce award are not bad things; just not the level of honor the recipients often pretend or even believe them to be.

They’re not fooling me

Many agencies, including ours, are Google Partners. It’s a good thing. Partners must pass several tests, manage a minimum amount of ad spend and get a reasonable performance benchmark in AdWords. Being a partner helps a little in our jobs; we have someone at Google we can contact when AdWords related problems arise, and that is nice.

Still, it sounds better than it is, and I’ve seen agencies exaggerate Google Partnership. Most agencies in the program are competent. However, the badge does not guarantee rockstar performance, and not having partner status isn’t a sign of incompetence. Still, some agencies imply that the partner badge means they can walk on water, or even that being a Google Partner has something to do with SEO (it categorically doesn’t).

You can fool others, but It’s easy to fool yourself too; I can think of four honors, awards or titles I achieved because I felt they were so amazing as to be life and career changing. Sadly, none of these were more than a small resume bullet point, and pretending otherwise won’t help me in the long term. Still, it is often tempting to try to inflate the value of an honor.

And I know it isn’t true

A few friends and I talked about starting our own society for geniuses working to change the world. It would be Triple Nine Society meets Rotary Club. We called our plan, “the Lucille Ball growth hack” because it was overly complicated, but entertaining for a half hour. Using the address of friends employer’s we’d register a domain name, and toss up a splash page, implying that a fortune 100 tech company may be behind this new organization.

We’d print very nice looking invitations and send them to well known, academics, entrepreneurs, journalists, etc. Our, oh so fancy invites would say the recipient was being “considered for membership in a new, blah, blah…” you get the idea. We’d send out 1,000 invitations in one day and see the response. We joked about even asking for CV’s and IQ test results from respondents.

Once we had the first few hundred members, we’d send out press releases for the organization and have a members forum. Obviously, we’d list each member publicly on the site. Eventually, adding ourselves as members: Giving us a credible genius society and a network.

It was only a dinner conversation, we never tried any of it. But I like thinking about what could have happened. Would we end up making a real thing or just distort a lot of people’s reality? Maybe no one would fall for it? I think we could have fooled many people, because they would have an emotional blind spot, wanting this secretive honor to be real. Much like the way some people believe a magician has supernatural powers or some of your friends believe crazy conspiracy theories.

Oh, I know it isn’t true

In this case, even members who figured out we were bogus may not want to say anything. Undoubtedly many of them would have bragged to family, friends, and colleagues if they’d ever been fooled, even a little. The social pressure would make them want to keep up the illusion.

All the complex emotions I outlined in my thought experiment are seen in real life when a photographer creates fake photography contests or some major publication adopts a pay to play model. People do believe, or at least pretend to believe the myth is a reality. The fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes is a story about the distortion of reality, locked down by social pressure; As explained by Steven Pinker, (The entire video is embedded below this post).

“When the little boy said the emperor was naked, he wasn’t telling anyone anything that they didn’t already know. They could see the Emperor naked and on display, but he was changing the state of their knowledge nonetheless; because at that point everyone knew that everyone else knew, that everyone else knew, that everyone else knew, the emperor was naked. That changed their relationship with the Emperor allowing them to challenge him with their laughter.”

Some people fall for metaphorical signs flashing “scam”. People buy training classes after they see a video of a man with 14 cars in which it’s fun to drive his books around. Variations of the Nigerian prince scam still work, and people join cults. But for the most part, when you by into a lie or try to warp other people’s reality, you open yourself up to be mocked when someone points out the obvious.

Header Image – YouTube Screenshot Of Embedded Video

Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI. Follow him on his blog.