Ah, viral marketers, paid forum trolls, corporate shills...we don't talk about them in gaming media often, but here's a little guide in potentially spotting astroturfers, viral marketers or a shill. Keep in mind that this is not a fear-mongering post or setup for those paranoid to use it to point fingers, it's mainly to make you aware of the corporate guerrilla warfare that affects every day gamers like yourself.
Keep one thing in mind: you really don't want to read this and then head to a forum, a chat, a website or a popular discussion site and start pointing fingers at any and everyone who disagrees with you as being a shill. That will put you on the quick list to Ignoreville.
So there's a short list of things to look out for these kind of individuals – individuals who are paid as viral marketers to spin negative news into positive news, change factual information and misdirect the rage, or try to divert discussions onto something else while edging in positivity toward the company or product that may be getting hit hard with negative public feedback.
These jobs are either contractual, freelance or full-time depending on company and the requirements. Usually you'll see the lower-tier viral jobs listed on open job markets, such as the one here on this Freelancer website or at this All Stay At Home portal. There are also eBooks available teaching you the ins and outs of viral marketing in digital social communities. On the higher end of the scale you have companies like Ayzenberg and other marketing feedback mediators to persuade or influence a group's thought process.
So, how can you spot out when these workers – just paid to do their job – are doing their job on you? Well, here's the quick list, but keep in mind that it's not just any singular trait but the collective traits that can help you identify a viral marketer:
Now this is something that any fanboy could be accused of; who doesn't repeatedly defend a game, product, company or brand that they love? On its own, any gamer can be outed for repeatedly showing support. However, someone who goes far out of their way to not only show support for a product, but to repeatedly defend it against all odds could begin to raise some warning bells, especially when the reasons for which a product is being defended or promoted doesn't always make a lot of sense.
Unlike fanboys, a viral marketer has to stay consistent with arguments, trolling or misdirection. You can't work for a company and carry out a job if you're not as consistent as you are skilled in the repetition of persuasion. Consistency is key, and you'll be able to spot this out with someone who not only repeatedly promotes a product (or defends a product) but is also quick to denounce the competition and consistently denounce the competition. Unfortunately, this too is also a common trait amongst fanboys and should not be taken as a singular sign of a viral marketer. It takes a bit more than consistent repetition to raise flags.
Obfuscation and Misdirection
Now we're getting into the proper territory of a viral marketer. Not only will these individuals be consistent and show a repeated sign of favoritism toward a brand/product/company, they'll do it in a way where positive word about the competition is belayed to misdirection. What's more is that if the company in question that the said viral marketer is defending falls to some ill public defamation or derogatory fact, it's the job of the marketer to spin the news in favor of the company, or obfuscate the facts. Someone who repeatedly obfuscates damning facts on a consistent basis is doing what we all know to be as “damage control”. Using spin tactics like a public relations officer to dampen the heat or hijack a topic putting negative weight on a company/product/service they're promoting is a key directive in a marketer's agenda.
Logical Deduction Like A Pro
This here is sometimes one of the few areas where you might be able to spot out a marketer if they show all the previous signs in a discussion; using a lot of logical deduction and philosophical reasoning as if you were in a Socretian rhetoric class. Now, this is certainly not to say that any gamer debating with an ounce of common sense, logical deduction or reasoning is a viral marketer...not by a long shot. However, it points toward the last part of the equation and is vital when considering how the arguments are framed. This rings especially true when the person arguing for/against the product is doing so while muddling the opposing viewpoint with the aforementioned obfuscation and misdirection, with a clear agenda in mind. Someone establishing smooth rhetorical arguments to push an agenda, even if it's factually wrong, is one way to spot out a marketer.
Benefit of the Argument: What's the Endgame?
While each of the previous elements on their own is something you could attribute to any fanboy or fangirl alike, it's this last part here that reels it in and brings it all together, because you would then have to ask yourself: What is the benefit of this argument? What's this individual's endgame in vivaciously supporting this idea to change my opinion? All the previous points in a singular vacuum can be applied to any person showing loyalty to a brand, but it's when the question of the endgame that comes into play that we begin to wonder what the true agenda is. Someone showcasing a dislike for a product within good reason is fine. Someone liking a product for various reasons is fine. However, when someone is using misdirection and confounding points to befuddle those with an opposing view while also doing so in a manner hard to argue against with consistent repetition, you then have to ask, what do they gain out of this? The benefit of the argument for a viral marketer is to sway opposing opinion(s) and not to simply state their opinion.
As mentioned at the top of the article, this is certainly not to turn anyone paranoid against their fellow gamer, but to become slightly more adherent to your own stance without being easily swayed by someone touting an agenda with persuasive and consistent guile.
More likely than not someone you're engaged in a conversation, argument or discussion with who has widely aggressive views that make very little sense is someone probably trolling. However, if the trolling seems agenda-based while being logically coherent and actively trying to “steer” group-think, always be cautious but not fearful.
No one likes being pointed out for being a shill, especially when they're not. The best course of action is to engage and find out why the person is as active-seeking in their defense/offense against a certain product, brand or company as they are. Fanboys will always be fanboys and trolls can easily get called out for their bunk. Viral marketers, however, will have to switch tactics in how they present their view point and that's something to look for.
Also, always ensure that you're viewpoint isn't merely swayed by the marketing aggressor's smoothtalk; be sure to research what you're unsure about to avoid joining a group of gamers in like-minded herd-think. That's how companies get away with doing things like always-on DRM and disc-locked content...all the meanwhile gamers regretfully sit in the corner of shame, contemplating how they jumped in bed with such a bad decision.
1.) Repetition: Someone constantly and repeatedly pushing for an agenda.
2.) Consistency: Someone who stays consistent in pushing for the said agenda.
3.) Misdirection/PR spin: Using word framing to sway negative opinions off their agenda.
4.) Logical deduction: Using rhetorical forms of reasoning to sway opinion like a press rep
5.) Benefit of the argument: What do they gain out using all the aforementioned tactics to push their agenda?