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Op/Ed

Fake news, reviews, and now fake people? Oh my!

(OPINION EDITORIAL) You’ve likely heard that reviews and like can now be purchased as easily as you morning paper, but the newest commodity may surprise you.

Man giving out phone number using his phone representing addiction.

Fake likes

By now you’ve likely heard social media “likes,” site reviews and comments can literally be bought and undisclosed sponsored posts on social media are now subject to regulation by the FTC.

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So, you’d think that would be the extent of the fake commodity game, right? Unfortunately, there’s more to come.

Surkus surplus

The Washington Post’s Peter Holley detailed the latest plot to allow some businesses to get the upper hand on their competitors. The new idea comes from a former Groupon employee, Stephen George, who developed an app called Surkus that allows individuals to connect with businesses in a unique way.

Surkus connects individuals with businesses that are willing to pay people to come to their store or event. That’s right, you can now pay people to show up at your event.

Genius marketing tool or absolute madness?

You might be thinking who on Earth would want to pay people to show up at their store or to attend an event? I thought the same thing at first too, but when you think about it a bit more, it’s just a more inventive, possibly more effective, aspect of marketing.

If you open a new business, maybe a restaurant, club, coffee shop, or even bookstore and you want to ensure there’s a line outside the door on opening day, Surkus can help make that happen.

Oftentimes, grand openings are covered by local press and using Surkus can ensure the first impression made is a lasting one. Long lines generate interest and curiosity: what’s going on there? What do they sell? It must be good if people are waiting for it.

What’s it going to cost me?

Businesses pay anywhere between $5 and $100 per person to create a fake crowd, with the average price per person being between $25 and $40. Seem a little high? Stephen George explained, “[Businesses] hire promoters and marketers and PR agencies to connect, but it’s a one-sided interaction that involves blasting out a message to get people engaged, but they don’t necessarily know if that message is being received.”

He also argues that Surkus’ “crowdcasting” model is the answer as the app uses an algorithm to target age, location, style interest, and Facebook Likes (which can be bought, remember?) to select favorable candidates to show up to your next event. The app also employs geolocation technology to ensure the paid attendee stays as long as they’re supposed to; if they leave early it effects their “reputation score” which is also tracked in the app.

What’s the long-term benefit?

I’m not sure there is a long-term benefit to fake crowds. While I can certainly see the advantage of having a prosperous (or at least prosperous-looking) opening, if these individuals are not asked to leave a review or engage with the brand on social media, what long-term benefit does it offer the business? Also, remember when I mentioned that social media moguls are required by the FTC to disclose when a post is sponsored? How is this any different?

You’re basically sponsoring a person to show up.

I’m not sure why this wouldn’t or shouldn’t be subjected to the same rules.

One could argue that businesses have been employing this fake crowdcasting model for eons through the use of coupons, raffles, and moonlight madness sales along with the lure of free food and drink or the chance to win something bright and shiny, as this also makes people show up in droves (hello Black Friday?).

The takeaway

In my opinion, a business needs to know what it’s true target market looks like and buy patronage to fill seats. In rare cases, I can see how this could be used to save face in the event you’re expecting press and people bail at the last minute, this could be a useful tool.

However, using this to make your business look as though it’s flourishing when you’re just getting started could do more harm than good; because even though Surkus members are instructed to keep the fact that they’re being paid to be there under their hats, all it takes is one disgruntled member to tell tale and potentially ruin your business. What will people think about your business if they find out you’re buying fake customers/reviews/comments/Likes?

I believe in dire situations this might be a tool, but for the vast majority of businesses, I fervently believe your money and marketing efforts would be best spent elsewhere.

#DontBuyPatrons

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

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