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How to spot a Fakexpert in five quick steps

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How to spot a fake expert

A recent editorial about whether the web is leveling the playing field so much that we no longer value experience and knowledgeable people spurred my own response, after which, I began to think of how professionals can help protect potential customers and clients from going astray.

Not for any altruistic reasons, mind you. I’m a bit lazy, you see, and since most people come to me as a fixer, I thought it might be smart to head the mess off at the pass, resulting in less work for me. See? Pure selfishness. Let’s get you fixed up first, then we’ll get a team of psychiatrists to work on my issues later…

1- They fail the due diligence test

When you find a new place to buy from, it’s critical that you do what is called “due diligence” by some of us silly people on the web who think the term bears any meaning outside our techie circles.

It simply means this: do basic investigation of the person or company you want to buy from. Google the CEO’s name, the name of the company, their book on Amazon if they have one, their KikScore profile, reviews of the product they’re offering, etc. Ask for references to other people who have used the service you are researching.

If a book is available, a perfect positive score is just as suspicious as mostly negative scores. There are very few books that have all five star reviews on Amazon, and so it is with ratings of other items. Mostly five and four star reviews is a possibility, but all fives is probably the work of friends and family.

The more people they claim to have served, the higher the likelihood is that some people should be at least slightly unhappy.

2- Messy “social proof”

Social proof is the presence of positive commentary by people like you who use a certain service or product. Often in the form of testimonials, reviews, statistical “evidence” or case studies, social proof is meant to tell you that other regular people (and occasionally, celebrities or fellow experts) have found the promises made by the product or service you wish to buy to be true.

My favorite example of faulty social proof is in search. Every few years or so, a person who has lucked out in the struggle to maintain search rankings in Google will share the steps they took, and show that they are number one out of x million results.

In some cases, an obedient monkey who is skilled at hitting the enter key can get number one results out of 6 million terms.

The number of terms isn’t actually of material significance until it gets over 50 million, and/or yields consistent, targeted traffic to a website. Some terms with 100 million competing terms are easier to attain than some with only 60 million listings. A seasoned search professional knows this, and will often include independent scores of keyword difficulty, or an average number of visitors who visit a site for a certain term.

In addition, methods that work on one type of site that has a certain set of circumstances, won’t work for another site that’s in a different format, or is not equipped to attract the same kinds of links or visitors. It’s sad, because most small businesses don’t need to rank for a highly competitive term or have more than 200 targeted visitors a day to meet their financial goals. So the hyperbole is unnecessary if the method actually works.

The focus should be on whether the conditions for success have been tested and if so, can be duplicated for long term results.

3- Uneven peer/colleague approval

When a company on the web is good at something, they often form strong alliances with other companies that have a web presence, sometimes even from competitors.

In offline life, you’ll find that great doctors know other great doctors and refer business to each other. They aren’t shy about doing this because, well, it’s good business. A cosmetic dentist in Dallas isn’t threatened by his peer in Atlanta. An excellent brain surgeon at Washington Hospital Center is happy to recommend his cardiovascular colleague when it’s warranted.

Online, if you run into a PR person who has nothing good to say about other PR professionals, marketers, search or social media professionals, you have a reason to be suspicious. These professionals often work in teams together – a professional with no allies is either brand-new and inexperienced, or has some issues they aren’t telling you about.

On the other hand someone who appears on the surface to be great friends with everyone may be suspicious as well – but again, due diligence can ferret the sketchy cases out.

4- They don’t take their own medicine

Would you go to a veterinarian who hates animals? Eat food made by a chef with a weak palate? Shop at a store the employees warn you not to patronize? Use a therapist who hates people? Hire a nanny who has never cared for children? Buy a car from a salesman who has never driven?

For the most part, of course not. It’s laughable to think otherwise. And yet we do it online, all the time.

We hire the social media intern with no experience, even though we aren’t qualified to train them, because it costs less, and how hard could it be? We read publications run by people who aren’t familiar with our field — we just never think to check.

We sometimes even read reviews for movies from people with taste that varies widely from our own, not bothering to find out whether they make the distinction between not liking a certain type of movie or the film itself.

We’re so used to getting high volumes of data from the web that we no longer take the time to be sure we can trust it as information. At least, we did in 2010. Times are changing. We’re starting to realize that every review, evaluation, and expert opinion is not created equal. And the sooner we learn to tell the difference, the better.

5- Talking down others, not proving their results

Here’s one that’s very easy to spot… A remnant of the old age of marketing, everyone from politicians to bad PR representatives think that mudslinging still works to gain clients, if it ever did work in the first place.

And yet, it’s been theorized that the person or company that gets the most attention, positive or negative, who wins the election, is the one who fights the dirtiest? Why? Studies show that we are more likely to pick what is familiar when we have too much information to remember who is best.

What today’s consumer looks for is proof of concept- we want to know if the solution you’re proposing will work for us. If you tell us bad things about your competition, we’ll go check it out. And we may forget why we are there or that we arrived through a detrimental review.

We also want to work with companies focused on what they can do, not on what others can’t.

The takeaway

The rise of social media was hailed for its leveling of the playing field, and suddenly, through blogs and social networks, a small independent contractor had the same means and ability to reach a consumer as a Fortune 500 company – no longer were expensive television and print ads the only means of reaching consumers. Match that level playing field with consumers experiencing information overload and no legitimate means to verify fakexperts’ claims, and thousands of dollars are being spent to fix the digital presences of companies that have been destroyed by fakexperts.

These fakexperts are not hard to spot, but you do have to know how to spot them, lest you or your company waste money on junk services and products.

Tinu Abayomi-Paul is the CEO of Leveraged Promotion and a member of Network Solutions Social web Advisory Board. Her website promotion company specializes in reputation management, and engineering demand generation system for businesses, integrating search, expertise marketing and social media.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Greg Taylor

    February 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    The first thing I look at is the Take Their Own Medicine. Nothing, nothing — makes me crazier that seeing someone sell services that they don't take advantage of. Just a quick generalization, if they call themselves a Rockstar, Guru or (worse yet) a Jedi — run away fast.

    Thanks for the great article.

    • Tinu

      February 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks for the feedback – LOL at Rockstar/Ninja/Guru – it tickles me to see someone call themselves a Ninja especially. The visual pops into my head and from that moment on, I can't take them seriously.

  2. Eric Estate

    February 20, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Just because someone has a twitter account doesn't make them an expert. I really don't beleive there are any true social media experts out there. Why? It's too new. There are lots of people who have good results using social media, but that hardly makes them a true expert.

    • Tinu

      February 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      True, but I don't look for expertise in social media – like you said, it's too new. If we go by most standards, few people are alive today who could have put in the hours to become an expert at more than one of these technologies. 10,000 hours is about 38 hours a week for about five years. So by that standard, for a person to truly be able to claim expertise at just Twitter, they'd have had no time for a life outside it – and what good is Twitter, disconnected from the rest of life? I'd rather work with someone who has duplicatable results that apply to my business, and was an expert in their own right at some more relevant field like PR or sales conversion. Having someone who can put positive results from using these tools in the proper context would be far more valuable.

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Social Media

Deepfakes can destroy any reputation, company, or country

(MEDIA) Deepfakes have been around for a few years now, but they’re being crafted for nefarious purposes beyond the original porn and humor uses.

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Deepfakes — a technology originally used by Reddit perverts who wanted to superimpose their favorite actresses’ faces onto the bodies of porn stars – have come a long way since the original Reddit group was banned.

Deepfakes use artificial intelligence (AI) to create bogus videos by analyzing facial expressions to replace one person’s face and/or voice with another’s.

Using computer technology to synthesize videos isn’t exactly new.

Remember in Forrest Gump, how Tom Hanks kept popping up in the background of footage of important historical events, and got a laugh from President Kennedy? It wasn’t created using AI, but the end result is the same. In other cases, such technology has been used to complete a film when an actor dies during production.

The difference between these examples and that latest deepfake technology is a question of ease and access.

Historically, these altered videos have required a lot of money, patience, and skill. But as computer intelligence has advanced, so too has deepfake technology.

Now the computer does the work instead of the human, making it relatively fast and easy to create a deepfake video. In fact, Stanford created a technology using a standard PC and web cam, as I reported in 2016.

Nowadays, your average Joe can access open source deepfake apps for free. All you need is some images or video of your victim.

While the technology has mostly been used for fun – such as superimposing Nicolas Cage into classic films – deepfakes could and have been used for nefarious purposes.

There is growing concern that deepfakes could be used for political disruption, for example, to smear a politician’s reputation or influence elections.

Legislators in the House and Senate have requested that intelligence agencies report on the issue. The Department of Defense has already commissioned researchers to teach computers to detect deepfakes.

One promising technology developed at the University of Albany analyzes blinking to detect deep fakes, as subjects in the faked videos usually do not blink as often as real humans do. Ironically, in order to teach computers how to detect them, researchers must first create many deepfake videos. It seems that deepfake creators and detectors are locked in a sort of technological arms race.

The falsified videos have the potential to exacerbate the information wars, either by producing false videos, or by calling into question real ones. People are already all too eager to believe conspiracy theories and fake news as it is, and the insurgence of these faked videos could be created to back up these bogus theories.

Others worry that the existence of deepfake videos could cast doubt on actual, factual videos. Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University says that deepfakes could lead to “deep denials” – in other words, “the ability to dispute previously uncontested evidence.”

While there have not yet been any publicly documented cases of attempts to influence politics with deepfake videos, people have already been harmed by the faked videos.

Women have been specifically targeted. Celebrities and civilians alike have reported that their likeness has been used to create fake sex videos.

Deepfakes prove that just because you can achieve an impressive technological feat doesn’t always mean you should.

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Can you legally monitor your employees’ online activities? Kinda

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Are they ways you are monitoring your employees online even legal? Did you know there are illegal methods? Yep.

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Edward Snowden’s infamous info leak in 2013 brought to light the scope of surveillance measures, raising questions about legality of monitoring tactics. However, the breach also opened up broader discussion on best practices for protecting sensitive data.

No company wants to end up with a data breach situation on their hands, but businesses need to be careful when implementing monitoring systems to prevent data loss.

Monitoring your employee’s activity online can be a crucial part of safeguarding proprietary data. However, many legal risks are present when implementing data loss prevention (DLP) methods.

DLP tools like keystroke logging, natural language processing, and network traffic monitoring are all subject to federal and state privacy laws. Before putting any DLP solutions in place, companies need to assess privacy impact and legal risks.

First, identify your monitoring needs. Different laws apply to tracking data in transit versus data at rest. Data in transit is any data moving through a network, like sending an email. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) requires consent for tracking any data in transit.

Data at rest is anything relatively immobile, like information stored in a database or archives. Collecting data at rest can fall under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which typically prohibits unauthorized access or disclosure of electronic communications.

While the SCA does not usually prevent employers from accessing their own systems, monitoring things like Gmail accounts could get messy without proper authorization.

Who you’re tracking matters as well regarding consent and prior notification. If you’re just monitoring your own employees, you may run into disclosure issues. Some states, like Delaware and Connecticut, prohibit employee monitoring without prior notice.

The ECPA also generally prohibits tracking electronic communication, but exceptions are granted for legitimate business purposes so long as consent is obtained.

Monitoring third party communications can get tricky with wiretapping laws. In California and Illinois, all parties must be notified of any tracking. This can involve disclosures on email signatures from outbound employee emails, or a broad notification on the company’s site.

Implied consent comes from third parties continuing communication even with disclaimers present.

If you’re wanting to install DLP software on personal devices used for work, like a company cellphone, you could face a series of fines for not gaining authorization. Incorrect implementation may fall under spyware and computer crime laws.

With any DLP tools and data monitoring, notification and consent are crucial. When planning monitoring, first assess what your privacy needs are, then identify potential risks of implementing any tracking programs.

Define who, where, and why DLP software will apply, and make sure every employee understands the need for tracking. Include consent in employee onboarding, and keep employees updated with changes to your monitoring tactics.

Protecting your company’s data is important, but make sure you’re not unintentionally bending privacy laws with your data loss prevention methods. Regularly check up on your approaches to make sure everything is in compliance with monitoring laws.

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Social Media

How to spot if your SEO, PPC, social media marketing service provider is a con-artist

(BUSINESS) When hiring a professional, did you know there are actual questions you can ask to spot a con-artist? Too often, we trust our guts and go with the gregarious person, but too much is on the line to keep doing that with your business.

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In this day and age the cult of positive thinking and “the law of attraction” are still very much alive and well in the business services industry. Here are a few simple questions that you can ask prospective business service providers to help you gauge if they are the real deal or just caught up in the fad of “say yes to everything,” or “outsource everything” being populated online by countless “thought leaders” and cult gurus.

Lots of people will ask, “What’s the harm of people trying to make something of themselves?”

Well, I’m here to tell you there is a huge harm in taking risks with a client’s money and manipulating people into trusting their “expertise” when they have none.

Business owners: Due diligence is more important than ever these days.

There are whole communities of people helping to prop each-other up as experts in fields they know nothing about while outsourcing their tasks with little or no oversight into the actual work being done on your behalf.

It is nearly impossible for you to tell if this is even going on. Don’t worry. I am here to help you avoid a con-artist.

How? By showing you how to weed out the bad actors by asking really simple questions.

This set of questions is perfect for people who need to distinguish if the expert they are talking is really just an expert in bullshit with a likeable personality.

Why do these questions work? Because people who are into this kind of stuff are rarely hesitant to talk about it when you ask them direct questions. They believe that what they are doing is a good thing and so they are more open to sharing this information with you because they think by you by asking that you are also into similar things.

It is a fun little trick I picked up while learning to do consumer polling and political surveying.

The Questions:

  • Who influences you professionally?
  • Do you follow any “thought leaders” “gurus” or coaches? If so, who?
  • What “school” of thought do you ascribe to in your profession, and where do you learn what you know?
  • Are there any industry standards you do not agree with?
  • How do you apply the services you offer to your own company?
  • Can you please tell me the background of your support staff and can I see their CV’s?
  • Do you outsource or white label any of the work your company does?
  • May we audit your process before buying your services?
  • May we discuss your proposed strategies with others in your industry to ensure quality?
  • Would you be open to speaking with an independent consultant that is knowledgeable about your industry about your proposals?
  • Can you show me examples of your past successful jobs?
  • Do you have any industry accepted certifications and how many hours of study do you do in a year to keep your knowledge up-to-date and current?
  • How many clients have you had in the past?
  • How many clients do you have currently?
  • How many clients are you able to handle at one time?
  • How many other clients do you have that are in the same industry as my company?
  • How long is your onboarding process before we start getting down to actually making changes to help solve the issues my company is facing?
  • Can you explain to me the steps you will take to identify my company’s needs?
  • Have you ever taken a course in NLP or any other similar course of study?
  • Have you ever been a part of a Multi-Level Marketing company?
  • Fun. Right? Well, we aren’t done.

    It is not just enough to ask these questions… you have to pay attention to the answers, as well as the WAY they are answering questions.

    And you also have to RESEARCH the company after you get your answers to make sure they ring true.

    You cannot keep accepting people at face value, not when the risk is to your business, employees, and clients. There is little to no risk for a person who is being dishonest about their capabilities and skill sets. They will walk away with your money, ready to go find another target for a chance meeting that seems amazingly perfect.

    Do not leave your business decisions to chance encounters at networking events. Research before saying yes.

    No matter how likeable or appealing the person you are speaking with is.

    How do you research? Easy. THE INTERNET. Look at the website of the company you are considering working with.

    • Does it look professional? (do not use your website as a standard for professional unless you have had it done by a professional)
    • Can you see a list of their past clients?
    • Do they effectively tell their story as a company or are they just selling?
    • What do their social media profiles look like? Do they have many followers? Are they updated regularly?
    • Do they have any positive reviews on social sites? (Yelp, Facebook, Linkedin, etc)

    You can also do some simple things like running SEO Website Checkers on their websites. There are tons of these online for free and they will give you a pretty good indicator of if they are using best practices on their websites – you can even do this research on their clients’ websites.

    Also, if you know anything about SpyFu, you can run their website through that to see how they are doing their own online marketing (the same can be said for their clients if they are selling this service).

    Facebook also has a cool section that shows you ads that a Page is running. You can find this info connected to their business Page as well as the Pages they manage for their clients as well. None of these things automatically disqualify a potential service provider, but their answers the question of “why” things are the way there are might be very illuminating to you as a business owner.

    This may seem like a lot of work, and it can be if you do not do these things regularly and have them down to a system, but the cost of not doing these things is way too high. A con-artist is born every day, thanks to the internet.

    You have a right as a business owner considering services from a vendor to ask these questions.

    They also have the responsibility as a service provider to answer these questions in a professional manner. Sometimes the way in which they answer the questions is far more important than the actual answer.

    If all of this seems too overwhelming for you to handle, that is okay.

    • You can ask one of your staff in your company to take on this role and responsibility.
    • You can hire someone to come in and help you with these decisions (and you can ask them all the same questions as above before taking their services).
    • You can reach out to other business owners in your network to see if they have recommendations for someone who could help you with things.
    • Heck, you can even call up companies that look like they are doing as well as you want to be doing online and ask them who they are using for their services. Try successful companies in other industries as your competitor won’t likely be interested in sharing their secrets with you…

    What is important is that you are asking questions, researching, and ultimately making sure that you are doing as much as possible to ensure making the best decision for your company.

    Final thoughts:

    “But, Jay, what’s wrong with taking a risk on an up-and-comer?”

    The answer to that is NOTHING. There is nothing wrong with taking a chance on someone. Someone being green doesn’t make them a con-artist.

    The issue I am raising is in the honest portrayal of businesses and their capabilities. It is about honesty.

    I am a huge fan of working with people who are new and passionate about an industry. But I only work with people who are honest with me about who they are, what they can do, and how their processes work.

    I have worked with tons of people who are still learning on the job. It can be quite educational for a business owner as well.

    Just make sure they are being honest about everything up front. You are no obligated to give anyone a chance when it comes to your businesses success, and it’s not right that someone might manipulate you into doing so.

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