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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.

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click-to-call technology

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.

Op/Ed

Security of client information is important, so change the process

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, which is bad enough, but is the process for insuring client information safety too old to secure?

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security too old to function

While it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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Op/Ed

How to keep your business partner on your same page during COVID-19

(EDITORIAL) COVID-19 has a lot of people worrying about themselves, their families, and their friends, but one that doesn’t get brought up much is business partner.

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Business partner

In the age of COVID – we are all having conversations about our personal wellness. Story after story, we are encouraged to be reflective about our self-care to ourselves, our families, and our employers.

Our business partners, while being in the same storm as us, are not always in our same boat.

They have unique situations, perspectives, and needs. To maintain that business relationship, you need to start thinking about how you can communicate your situation to them.

This is a critical piece of communication. You should be mindful of this beyond a simple “I’m at home and may be delayed in answering email” kind of message.

Honesty and openness are essential to good business partnership, but you want to craft the right message to assure your business partner and protect yourself. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind for the content of your message:

  • Identity your primary message. What are you trying to do? Why is it essential for them to know? What do they need to know to keep the business afloat, and manage their expectations. You may need to refresh yourself on any existing structural agreements or roles. We often pick business partners for their skills sets in relation to our own – if you’re doing all the numbers and purchasing, explain to them how the current situation will impact your ability to do that.
  • Say “why”. You do not need to dump all the things you have going on to your business partner – but rather explain things in a way that is relevant to them. This will keep your conversation brief and to the point. A good example of this is to say “We normally have morning meetings with clients, but since my kids are being homeschooled in the morning, I need to have them in the afternoon”. This gives a clear explanation of what you need, and why your business partner should care.

Before you get on the meeting:

  • Recognize differences and see where you can compromise and where you cannot compromise. Your health should be number one. This is not the time to endanger your health or radically disrupt the things you do to stay healthy. But also, if there are places where you can adjust or be flexible, be willing to do that. This is useful when you and your business partner are in different time zones or life situations. The situation around us is changing every day – and is different by region, state, or even city. Communicate changes or challenges promptly and with clarity.
  • Set up the conversation. When is the best time? Is it in evening with an informal “Zoom happy hour?” When does your partner prefer communication? Are they morning people? Are they better after a few hours and coffee? Timing is everything. Especially if the conversation is tough.

Number one? Keep communication open. Nothing makes people more anxious than a partner you can’t get in contact with. There are lots of tools and technology we can utilize. Have a regular check in – and communicate frequently. This will keep heads cool and ensure that the relationship you have is protected.

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Op/Ed

The music you’re listening to may dictate your productivity levels

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Whether it’s a podcast, news, or music, most people are listening to *something* while at work – so what listening improves your productivity?

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music for productivity

For some, productivity requires a state of concentration that can only be achieved in silence. But workplaces are seldom so quiet, and truth be told, most of us prefer to have some background music playing while we work. Some people swear they can’t work or study without it.

Personally, I find music helpful for encouraging productivity and creativity. It distracts the part of my brain that would normally be chattering away – the voice in my head worrying, wondering, and daydreaming. I find that music neutralizes this inner voice, freeing up my brain to focus on the task at hand.

More and more research backs up what many of us experience – a state of enhanced calm, focus, and creativity when we listen to music while working. Deep Patel at Entrepreneur.com has a list of the best types of music to serve as the soundtrack to your workday.

Typically, music without lyrics is best for working or studying, since lyrics tend to catch our attention. Research has so consistently shown classical music to boost productivity that the phenomenon has it’s own name – the Mozart effect.

But other forms of wordless music can work as well. Patel recommends cinematic music for making the daily grind feel as “grandiose” as a Hollywood epic. Meanwhile, video game music has been specially designed to help gamers concentrate on game challenges; likewise, it can help keep your office atmosphere energized. Soothing nature sounds, such as flowing water or rainfall, can also help promote a calm but focused state.

Music with lyrics is okay too, as long as it doesn’t turn your office into a karaoke bar. Cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Emma Gray worked with Spotify to identify the characteristics of music that can actually change our brain waves. She found that music between 50 and 80 beats per minute can trigger the brain an “alpha” state that is associated with relaxation and with being struck with inspiration.

Really, any music will do, as long as you like it. Research from the music therapy department at the University of Miami found that workers who listened to their preferred artists and genres had better ideas and finished their tasks more quickly.

What styles of music help you focus during your workday? I myself enjoy the collection of “lo-fi” or “chill-hop” playlists on YouTube. This music has a consistent beat that is engaging without being distracting, and the accompanying video generally features an adorable cartoon character to keep you company.

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