Fake University Facebook Groups :: Marketers Further Dirty the Waters

I found a very interesting series of posts, thanks to Facebookgate from Andrew Carreaga.

Andrew writes about a very interesting sort of scandal uncovered in the post – There’s something going down on Facebook. Pay attention. by Brad J. Ward. That post actually led to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Company Created Official-Looking ‘Class of 2013’ Facebook Groups for Hundreds of Colleges.

It is all about fake Facebook groups like Auburn Class of 2013 and many other Class of 2013 groups. Look at this Google Document / spreadsheet that shows over 400 such fake groups. That may not be a complete list, too. Something to consider. There could be more!

These marketers, seemingly immature and unfamiliar with best practices, are preying upon students seeking to decide upon their college of choice. It may seem innocuous to some, but this is really a bad precedent for all social network marketing practice.

Marketers, hiding their identity, are using the groups for marketing research. One would guess this will lead to pushing sales information to the members. And, those members are likely unaware of what they are getting into.

How sad that marketers just cannot seem to clue in.

I joined and posted in the group for Auburn:

I just posted three links with stories about this group and hundreds of others with “Class of 2013” in their title. They trace back to the same companies … marketing companies. These are not groups that are interested in attending any of these schools. Instead, they are marketers trying to obtain research. That research could lead to them friending you and perhaps sending you information in the future. The information they could send to you might well be spam. They are in the business of selling. I hope this post and the three links will remain. People joining a group should be allowed to have information that allows them know the true intention of the group.

I later added links to real Auburn people that are happy to help students considering attending Auburn.

By the way, there really are good Auburn people on Facebook willing to help you with questions. Friend them. If you want to find true Auburn people, search for “Auburn – Admissions” on Facebook … or use this link to see the search: http://is.gd/cGIX You’ll find 80+ people truly interested in helping you.

The same will likely be true for other schools. Just trying to keep the marketers honest and giving you the real links to trustworthy information.

I did this on my own, of course. I’m not involved with Admissions. But, it seemed like there should be some information in the group that (a) warns the members of the true intentions of the group’s creator and (b) shares links to real Auburn people that are willing to help the potential students.

I am considering posting the following to the forums within the group.

A person claiming to be Justin Gaither, the creator of this group, posted his explanation here: http://is.gd/cs4C

He is “in charge of marketing for Match U.” Match U has no connection to any of these schools.

In response to a controversy about false intentions of this and other groups for marketing’s sake, Jason admits that “Any use of fake accounts is being vacated.”

So, there were fake accounts here and/or elsewhere, Justin?

The full story is at Brad Ward’s blog, SquarePeg.

I add this new topic in hopes of discovering if the members of this group realize that it was created as much for a 3rd party marketer to gain research information (your names & contact information) as much as, if not moreso, the sake of sharing information about colleges you might be interested in attending.

This group does not comply with the ethics policy of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. http://womma.org/ethics/ and http://womma.org/ethics/code/

That code requires that marketers, like Justin, follow these simple principles:

Honesty of Relationship: You say who you’re speaking for
Honesty of Opinion: You say what you believe
Honesty of Identity: You never obscure your identity

If you friend Justin, you’ll see that he does not identify himself as a marketer, nor does he identify his relationship to Match U.

He has violated those two principles of the code of ethics. He has not posted to the group, so I cannot tell you if he is writing what he believes. However, as a graduate of Miami, he is not likely interested in being a member of the Class of 2013. He is likely interested in gaining your contact information or anything else that will help him develop a large network of contacts for future marketing campaigns.

Is this really what Facebook is all about? Would you have joined this group had you known his true relationships and marketing purposes?

I’m thinking the answer to both questions is no.

In my opinion, Justin has two choices. Close all the groups or go into each and fully disclose his purpose for creating the groups. To not do this is to condone unethical practice.

I will note that I have my own problems with WOMMA and their practices, but the three principles stated above are still a sound basis for honest marketing.

I’m thinking that too many marketers still don’t get it and I also worry that many schools are not protecting their brand by failing to monitor Facebook and other social networks.

In response to Andrew’s post, I commented:

Interesting post, as always, Andrew.

I posted the three links to posts in the Auburn group they created – your post, Brad’s and the one from The Chronicle. I also wrote on the wall suggesting that they leave the posts so members may learn about the true intentions of the creators.

It will be interesting to see if they last. I even friended the creator, Justin Gaither.

Monitoring is the key. I fear that still, with all the attention, many PR people are not paying attention to what’s being said about their schools, organizations and businesses online.

This will be a great case study for classes in January.

I will use this as a case study for students. In fact, we’re likely going to go out in search of other such attempts to capitalize on unsuspecting potential students.

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0 thoughts on “Fake University Facebook Groups :: Marketers Further Dirty the Waters

  1. Mark Greenfield

    Robert,

    Excellent analysis on this story. I want to share the following comment I made to Brad’s original post:

    As I try to get my arms around this discussion, a couple of things come to mind. This week I’ve been reading Don Tapscott’s latest book called “grown up digital”. Tapscott is the author of “growing up digital” and “wikinomics”, and has done a tremendous amount of research on the millennial generation. He feels this generation is making a serious mistake, and don’t realize it. They are giving away their personal information on social networks and in doing so are undermining their future privacy. This may come back to haunt them.

    This raises the question of the role colleges should play in educating students about potential privacy issues. How does “in loco parentis” apply in the digital world? That’s a question each college will have to consider. This conversation has been a great starting point.

    Reply
  2. janelle

    This is a really well-presented post. I find it sad that marketing companies would resort to such uncouth tactics. When something like this happens, it makes the rest of us look bad.

    Reply
  3. Nicholas

    If you think you have actually caught onto something by just figuring this out you really need to start using facebook more. None of the student users were fooled by this, as it has been done in the past for years.

    many times the products that are marketed to college freshman are very useful.. and the fact that college admissions staff want to now take control of things im facebook – while locking marketers out is outrageous.

    WHAT A JOKE

    Reply
  4. Robert

    @Mark: The idea of “in loco parentis” with regard to online behaviour is interesting. Given the legality issues are still there, it does not mean that we shouldn’t be educating students about the potential pitfalls. Of course, as is evidenced by the post from Nicholas below, the students (or recent graduates) often think they know all the answers. I’m all for “in loco parentis” – but, I don’t know how it can play a role outside of educational attempts.

    @janelle: Thanks. Yes, it does make the entire practice look bad. In this instance, the practitioner (Justin) is an immature example of someone eager to achieve some goal, regardless of the methods. I doubt Miami teaches such strategies, so Justin is likely more rogue “do anything to make a buck” than “I care about best practices” in his approach.

    @Nicholas: It seems the joke is on you, Nicholas. I don’t see anyone trying to “now take control of things im (sic) facebook.” I see a call for best practices. You do recognize the difference, I hope. Also, your broad brush claim that “None of the student users were fooled by this, as it has been done in the past for years.” doesn’t hold water, Nicholas. Scams that have been running for many generations are still fooling people today. Scams like this one in Facebook – pretend to be an “official” effort – when you’re not, are just a new venue for an old flim-flam.

    I did a little looking around, Nicholas, and found a Nicholas Dobias (from your ndobias @ aol.com email) that is also a recent graduate of Miami (like Justin). Perhaps you are a part of this effort? Doth thou protest too much?

    Reply

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