Rule: Say who you are

Penny Arcade, the well-known webcomic, has posted a great strip today about fake forum content posting by companies trying to pump their products. Here’s the post in question:

Black is probably the most stunning EA game ever. The visuals are so stunning for the Xbox. Although I love playing online, Black should definitely be focused on an intense single player experience. Black is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Black #1 shooter of the year for Xbox.

Compare that to another comment that’s clearly written by a real user:

This game is a breakthrough in FPS games. I highly recomend this game. If you like blowing through walls with a shotty and shooting the crap out of everything then you’ll love this game. Besides the outstanding sound and graphics I was blown away by how much debri was flying around every second of the game. The graphic are good I’m not saying they’re the best, but they’re good. Buy this game.

Now let me be perfectly clear – I have no idea if either of those comments are plants or are actual users. Here’s a few of my reasons why I think the first one is a plant by the likes of EA:

  • As the Penny Arcade dudes said the comment is "so relentlessly on message"
  • While the comment tries to sound like it’s written by a 12 year old, it properly capitalizes everything, including the Xbox name itself.
  • The language is clearly "planned", at least to this reader.
  • It just oozes "Marketing Key Message"

So let’s assume that the first comment is, in fact, a plant. The saddest part is that instead of improving buzz, they’re creating negative buzz. Again, assuming this is EA at work, they’ve violated two key rules:

Properly identify yourself: This may seem excessive, but do it –  if you work at a company and you’re posting in a forum (or anywhere publicly), always always tag yourself. Most of the time, you’ll be in one of two modes:

  • I’m an employee of XYZ company"
  • "I’m just another user"

If you’re an employee, posting as an employee, use something like:

Jake McKee
Community Liaison
LEGO Community Team

Sometimes, you can work for a gaming company and like talking about games away from work. Even though I work at LEGO, I was a fan first and then got the job. If I want to post like "just another user", I can do that with a footer like this:

Jake McKee
LEGO fan

If I’m posting as an enthusiast, then I always make absolutely sure to clarify the context of my message. For instance, maybe I open a post with:

"Speaking as a fan of the product…." or "This is just my personal opinion, but…"

Of course, this only becomes believable I actually…

Maintain an open and honest and honest relationship: As they say, "if you’re lying, you’re dying". Lies are always found eventually. Always. With the speed at which information buzzs around the net, don’t chance the fact that you might not be discovered. If projects like this are part of your strategy, your strategy is dead wrong. Fundamentally, from the ground up, day one wrong.

If your tagging (see first point) is a lie, it doesn’t count. This process only works if both rules are observed at all times.

These rules apply 100% of the time. When you get hired, you take on certain responsibilities and give up certain freedoms. Before coming to EA they could post whatever and however they wanted. They could identify themselves or choose to remain anonymous. But once they work their first day, that ends and they take on new constraints. I still post frequently as a LEGO fan, but I have to alter my behavior as an LEGO employee.

Imagine if EA had instead posted as EA employees – there’d be a ton of people saying "Great! EA cares enough to show up!" Sad to see they missed the ball… again, assuming that this is the real deal.