Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chatter: On moms, talk 'leaders' -- or 'paid shills'?

[Ground zero: The Indianapolis Star launched the original moms site]

Chatter is an occasional peek at your comments. In today's edition, readers are debating the ethics of paying people -- including men -- to spark provocative discussions on the
Moms Like Me websites.

It all began early yesterday, when Anonymous@12:10 a.m. wrote: "Anybody out there in Gannettoidland hear of any shenanigans with their Moms sites? At the paper I work at, two males in the Information Center were directed by management to pose as females in the Moms forums to start conversations to increase traffic. Also, some moms in the community were getting paid a weekly stipend to go on their sites and start conversations. Is false page view generation an actual strategy for all sites?"

Next, Anonymous@1:06 a.m. piped up: "The mommy site at my paper also has paid shills. Please expose this scam."

In Phoenix, Anonymous@9:32 a.m. said: "A couple of people who work on the Moms site were told to set up multiple user IDs and make numerous posts to drive traffic. I don't think *they* were paid (other than their salaries) to post, but I know they paid their friends to set up multiple IDs and post. This was several months ago and management claimed not to be aware of the practice. They said the practice was to stop. Not sure if it actually did."

Take a chill pill, everyone! wrote Anonymous@3:19 p.m. "There's nothing ethically wrong with paying community management staff to foster communication within an online forum,'' they wrote. "The only gray area here is if they actually have men posing as women -- and even that is laughable. Those of you freaking out are grasping at straws -- there's no 'fake traffic' or 'false page view generation' here; the traffic is real, if people want to take part in the conversations. This kind of thing happens all over the Internet and is considered more than normal -- it's often mandatory to get communities started. Lighten up and concentrate on the fact that you might lose your job next week, next month, or next year. Sheesh . . . stop complaining and start solving problems."

Related: The exciting 1,674-word Moms Like Me Privacy Policy makes riveting, late-night reading!

Now, it's your turn. What's the story at your moms site? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

28 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Hey California residents. Anyone willing to make that information request from the Gannett Online Privacy Coordinator? It would be interesting to see what information was given out the past year and to whom.

    Sure with other states had that Shine The Light provision.

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  3. This is all so sleezy that it gives me the creeps. People disguising their identities and gender-switching, posting false information, snooping on other people's conversations, and viral advertising campaigns. This is not the activity one would expect from a company like Gannett.

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  4. Has anyone posted links on the mom sites directing them back to this blog? I think they would be interested to know some of this information.

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  5. Go to the Ripple6 site. Seems like the Moms thing is the poster child for that company.

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  6. There is nothing wrong with having people post to encourage discussions.

    The questionable area is doing it without telling the other posters that they are appointed or paid by the site to do it.

    People like to feel part of a community and are more willing to reply to people they perceive as other independent posters who share their views or disagree. These same posters are leery when they feel "lured" into a conversation by a poser.

    Obviously, this is not lost on the Gannett Web site managers.

    The trick was first used, and is still used widely, by unethical dating sites who use "Ambassadors" or "Online Cupids" to entice pwople to subscribe by making them feel that there are "real" people out there who share their interests.

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  7. "Go to the Ripple6 site. Seems like the Moms thing is the poster child for that company."

    From her bio pic, it looks like Rory Murray should be the poster child. She is hawt!

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  8. our site has paid "forum leaders." They (3) are paid $20/week to facilitate discussions. I do not know if these folks edit public posts.

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  9. I was asked to "foster communication" on the moms page at our site. I refused since I don't have kids, I really dislike kids and I really hate the women who use our mom's site.

    They eventually found someone else to do it. That person has quotas they have to fill and gets small bonuses based on site performance.

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  10. All the mom sites in Gannett do this. This is a surprise???

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  11. If they have nothing to hide, why don't the Moms sites declare they are ghostwriting some of the articles, and have paid staffers massaging the posts? They don't do this because they know what they are doing is unethical and wrong.

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  12. I thought the whole idea of this Moms social networking thing was to allow researchers a look into authentic, real discussion among community members to find out what they're talking about and what's important in their lives. I got that impression by reading the Ripple6 stuff.

    Now, how authentic can a conversaton be if people are getting paid to start or foster discussions? It just doesn't add up to me.

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  13. HEY!

    WE'RE DELIVERING AUDIENCE! NOT CURING CANCER!

    Really, who cares if the bj queen in Cincy is a dude or a chick, whether s/he gets paid to put out, or whether s/he is cutting and pasting all her hot tips from Indy's site?

    A 'conversation' is communication between two people. If you don't think most 'conversations' are based on false pretenses, go out to the bars with the hottest piece of meat you can find. As wingman, pay attention to the content, the veracity, and the deep thinking in those conversations....

    People don't expect Woodward and Bernstein on MomsLickMe. Whether the person you are blogging with is your neighbor or your editor, the anonymity destroys any expectation of credibility.

    That's why we run bylines in the paper.

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  14. NYT has an article today on the problem advertisers are having with Facebook, which is similar to what GCI is trying to do with Moms:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/business/media/14digi.html
    Note the reference in the article to targeting people on the site, which even the ad person found distateful.

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  15. 5:57 No, the idea is to deliver ads to these Moms. Get a discussion going on diaper rash, and someone drops in a posting about how Tide is great at making baby clothes softer, so less of a rash problem. Or how Elizabeth Arden has this great perfume that covers up the smells. Or how Gerber makes babies happier. Since these people have signed in giving their age and location, you can zone and target ads at certain age groups advertisers want to reach.

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  16. 3:28 PM Pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with Gannett

    "I was asked to "foster communication" on the moms page at our site. I refused since I don't have kids, I really dislike kids and I really hate the women who use our mom's site."

    I really wish I could show up to my now non-Gannett job and not do what was asked of me. I wish I could pick and choose the projects I had to work on but sadly the world doesn't revolve around me. Boo-hoo.

    Everybody is quick to point the finger because they are so worried about saving their own skin. The reality is you all need a healthy dose of reflection. If the job you are asked to do doesn't suit you: LEAVE!

    If you find it objectionable for ethical or moral reasons then put your money where your mouth is and leave. Eventually, you will be a happier person.

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  17. Paying someone to impersonate a real person/user, to increase online traffic, is misleading and obviously violates the (old) Gannett ethics policy. Whether Gannett has an ethics policy (or conscience) any more, is an open question.

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  18. The site I am from also pays "discussion leaders" - whether these folks are men or women is a mystery to me. There is no doubt the manager solicits friends, family and colleagues in the building to assist, as well. Between the sales rep and the manager, there is no telling how many fake/duplicate identities can be made up. Go to your brothers, sisters, go to your moms, then go to the library - 2,4 or 60, all depends on how much time you have, and how hot you are for your bonus.

    When I think about it, too, it seems that it would be all too easy to employ someone for a short time to develop the local sites - then take it back to corporate (like the cookie cutter websites)only send the local managers packing. Up, up goes the stock. I almost see a gamely pattern here.

    I think everyone knows the moms sites are only a temporary distraction until corporate comes up with the next big short term idea.

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  19. Cincy did the same thing (paying community members stipends to stimulate conversation on the site) when Cincymoms.com launched a few years ago.

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  20. Wait, CincyMoms did it a few years ago? I bet corporate was pulling their strings as well.

    Wait, no it wasn't that was an in-market decision based on how you foster an online community.

    Duh

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  21. 7:52 PM
    At first, I thought that too. But not after seeing what Ripple6 has to say. Seems this is alll set up for market research as much as it is for advertising. That's spooky to me.

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  22. I'm a moms site manager. Grow up! What a bunch of ignoramouses and rumor mongers. I CANNOT believe it's even true that men would be asked to pose as women. Certainly would NEVER happen on my site. Remember that ANYONE can post ANYTHING online here on this blog. Gannett employees where I work are not told to post any quota. I can go for days without posting at all. BUT... we ARE required to use, as our username, our real first and last name. Yes, we pay some women in the community a very small stipend to make a VERY small amount of posts. On the old site, we had all of their names, usernames and bios published, letting everyone know that we we pay these people to talk on the site. We gave all the info to Ripple 6 when they transfered to the new URL, but they still haven't put the info on the site. There is nothing wrong with having a handful of people make a couple of paid posts per week. WHY? Because no one posts on a site if they don't get replies. Message boards are like a drug: If you get replies, you go back for more. So the discussion leaders helped us launch the site. Many of the sites have since gotten rid of the paid people. As for the moron who suggested you post a link to this blog on the Moms sites: Do you want to lose your job? Or maybe you're not a Gannett employee. You want to destroy Gannett's moms site based on GROUNDLESS RUMORS??

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  23. "There is nothing wrong with having a handful of people make a couple of paid posts per week. WHY? Because no one posts on a site if they don't get replies."

    Huh? Is the whole idea to have the Moms themselves talking to each other, thus making the replies and feeding the conversations?

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  24. Heywood Jablomee12/14/2008 12:05 PM

    We've been making up comments to stir reader reaction for um, CENTURIES now! We call them editorials or analysis - Ben Franklin's "Join or Die" cartoon, anyone?

    But somehow, paying someone today to write a faceless editorial to engender a community discussion is ok, while giving an anonymous staffer a couple bucks to posit 'what d'ya think about daycare here?' is a mortal sin.

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  25. As a fake mother myself, I am outraged!

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  26. It's pretty obvious to me from reading these comments why Gannett has to keep laying people off. Apparently nobody who works for Gannett papers ever visits other websites to see how those internets really work.

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  27. >Huh? Is the whole idea to have the Moms themselves talking to each other, thus making the replies and feeding the conversations?

    DEAR GENIUS,
    These ARE moms who are discussion leaders. They start a couple of threads each week. That's their ONLY requirement. HOWEVER, they are real moms from the community (not friends or coworkers, and we aim for diversity), and they are--of their own volition--very active on the site. They're asked to make a couple of posts, but end up posting HUNDREDS of comments (UNpaid) each week. They forge friendships with the other moms, join playgroups, and go to meetups--all on their own (because they are real moms with a real interest in the web site).

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  28. I know moms working in the sales department at WUSA in Washington supply most of the posts on that station's mommy site.

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Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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