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Posted by on Dec 21, 2008 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Facebookgate: Companies “Colonize” Facebook for Marketing Exploits

Brad J. Ward, coordinator for electronic communication in Butler University’s admissions office, discovered late last week that dozens hundreds of 2013 Facebook groups had been created or administered by the same handful of people. He posted to his blog, SquaredPeg, There’s something going down on Facebook. Pay attention.

Through Thursday night and into Friday he updated that post as at least 15 of his colleagues used Twitter, Google Docs, LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Flickr and more to uncover what turned out to be a guerrilla marketing campaign gone wild:

We feel we can reasonably confirm that College Prowler is behind the mass creation of ‘Class of 2013? groups on Facebook… Perhaps the most disheartening tidbit we found was a post spread across the US on Craiglist.  Here is an example of a local ad put out for a ‘Facebook Marketing Internship‘.

“Viral Marketing Internship (Spring Semester)
An internship that combines the addicting glory of facebook with viral marketing? It’s true. College Prowler Inc., the Pittsburgh-based publisher of the only complete series of college insiders’ guides written by students, is actively seeking an unpaid viral marketing intern who has a solid understanding of the web, social networking, and interactive marketing.
– Implement Facebook marketing campaigns that will engage high school and college students […]
Hours: 15 hours per week
Salary: Unpaid, internship credit

UNPAID to do the dirty work. What a shame.

At noon Friday Luke Skurman, CEO of College Prowler, left a comment:

Yes, College Prowler has been directly or indirectly involved with the creation of multiple Class of 2013 groups. The original purpose was to use these groups as a way to inform students that they can access a free guide about their new college on our site. No employee or anyone else associated with College Prowler has used these groups to send out messages or wall posts.

Until about an hour ago, I was unaware that College Prowler was working with another company that may have been using fake aliases to create to these groups.

He listed the names of those associated with College Prowler and explained:

From a big picture perspective, having a marketing strategy using social networking sites (like Facebook) is something that is necessary to be effective in our business. We do pride ourselves on being forward thinking and aggressive. In this instance, in its current form, we have crossed the line and to reiterate, we will be removing our administrator privileges from all of these 2013 groups immediately.

Skurman’s comment strikes the right note; he fessed-up and put an end to the practice. It will be interesting to see what Facebook has to say about the situation. Will they take action to keep this kind of thing from happening again or see it as an example of the platform working as it should?

Inside Facebook, an independent blog focusing on Facebook and the Facebook Platform for developers and marketers, hinted this afternoon that the marketers’ position may be that self-regulating works:

As Butler’s Ward discovered, there are a lot of aggressive marketers out there taking advantage of Facebook Groups to reach hundreds or thousands of Facebook users. Groups grow virally through Facebook’s invitation channel, and some groups can even grow into the millions of members in a matter of just a few weeks. However, unfortunately, College Prowler apparently used fake accounts to carry out its marketing tactics, a sure fire way to get shut down (usually by Facebook’s automated systems – but in this case, by the self-regulating social pressure from other Facebook users).

For his part Ward is aware of what’s at stake. And ready to take action:

Think of it: Sitting back for 8-10 months, (even a few years), maybe friending everyone and posing as an incoming student.  Think of the data collection. The opportunities down the road to push affiliate links.  The opportunity to appear to be an ‘Admin’ of Your School Class of 2013. The chance to message alumni down the road.  The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

I’ve said many times, step back and let the student group start on its own.   Today, I change that position.  It seems that we have been gamed, and we need to at least own the admin rights to the group in an effort to protect our incoming students. To end the possibility of them being pushed ads and “buy these sheets for college” stuff this summer.  You know there is a motive behind all of this. And you know it has to do with money.  And you KNOW you’re going to get calls about it when it happens.

Tomorrow I will set up the OFFICIAL Butler Class of 2013 group. Tomorrow we will promote it to our students, and explain to them why the other groups are potential spam.  Tomorrow I will let them know we are not there to moderate them, but merely to provide the safe platform for them to interact and get to know each other.  I encourage you to consider the same.

For most of us, tomorrow is too late already. Luckily my group has 2 students in it.  Most schools are at 300+ students and growing every day.  Make an effort now.

Emphasis his. He set up Butler’s official group Friday morning and drafted an email to all admitted students to notify them of the group “and the tiny role we will play in it.”

See also the Chronicle’s Wired Campus post. I’ll be following developments in this story.