Is FacebookGate ‘Troll Marketing’?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Ethics, Facebook, Recruitment | Posted on 12-08-2010

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Note from Brad – Today, for the first time ever, I lend the SquaredPeg platform to another higher ed colleague.  Meet Lougan Bishop, Web Specialist at Belmont University (@lougan).  Lougan has been at the forefront of ‘FacebookGate 3.0′ since November, and has done an excellent job behind the curtains of helping bring this situation to light for yet another year. After breaking the first FacebookGate in 2008 and covering it again last year, I wanted to provide you a new perspective this year & Lougan has done an excellent job of that.

Take it away, Lougan!
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Remember a couple of years ago when FacebookGate rocked the higher education world?   Then earlier this year, the folks behind the original controversy started a new company called URoomSurf with the promise of more transparency?  Once again, Justin Gaither and his crew are back to their old tricks- except this time under the guise of a company called RoomSurf.

While it may be aggravating to see that particular group going back to their old playbook, I think these days we should expect these kinds of things to happen.  Higher Education has been dealing with this for three years now and nothing we have done has prevented it from happening.  My question is has it really had any significant effect on higher education’s efforts on Facebook?   It has definitely affected our workload as we write blogs and petition the media to get the word out about these folks who are stealing our brand and deceiving our incoming students.  Some of us have even gotten into heated exchanges with Justin Gaither himself.

So where has this gotten us?  Sadly, it appears we’re back to square one.  Can we really expect Facebook to do something about this?   Can we expect the media to get the word out for us?   Maybe, but I really do not think so.  Do we stir up a controversy?  Definitely, but really I think we’re just spinning our wheels and playing straight into RoomSurf’s hands. I honestly can’t say that FacebookGate has had any significant impact on any institution’s enrollment numbers.  They theoretically could, but right now it doesn’t seem like they are.  If anything, the attention that is given to FacebookGate appears to only be fueling Mr. Gaither’s marketing enterprise.

In the past day or so, I’ve begun to think its time to look at this from a different light. Back when I was in college a few years ago, I was really into posting on different forums online.   The more I thought about it, I began to realize that RoomSurf’s behavior might actually be a form of trolling.  Essentially, a troll surfs internet communities trying to get a rise out of members of the community by posting inflammatory or completely off-topic comments.  You could also compare this to fish trolling, the technique of dragging a lure behind a moving boat waiting for fish to bite.  Both interpretations work for RoomSurf.  Institutions react to them and they get stories in the NY Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.  They get a rise out of us by hanging the bait of a “Class of 2015” group and getting our students to bite.

So is this the birth of a new type of marketing or is this a new type of Troll?  No matter how you look at it, it’s pretty ingenious.  There is nothing inherently illegal about it.  The biggest plus seems to be that it’s working for them.  If it didn’t, they would not continue to do it year after year.  Though I haven’t had the best interactions with this company, I have to give them credit.  They know how to work Facebook, and they know how to keep up what they are doing.

So where does that leave higher education?  What can YOU as a higher education professional do to stop them?   The short answer is… not a lot.  It appears that RoomSurf is here to stay (unless they change their name again).  If the combined power of all of higher education can do nothing, you can’t do much yourself.  In the end, you’ll waste time & resources dealing with them.

You may be asking, “What about the students?! We can’t just ignore this, right?”   Well, there are some things you can do.  Essentially, you’ve got to starve out the competition, because honestly, that’s what they are doing.  Here is how you can do it:

  • Create Facebook groups before they do (but you know that right?)
  • Keep your Facebook group energized.  Engage students and help them engage each other.  Activity keeps your community going, and makes it look enticing to new members.
  • Make a very clear distinction between your Facebook groups and those others create.  It’s also a good idea to a webpage with a listing of all university sanctioned social media sites.
  • Educate your incoming students.  When you invite them to your Class of 2015 pages, it might be helpful to warn them about Facebook groups not created by the university.   Though many of them are just fine to join and could be helpful, others may be companies creating Facebook pages to market to them.  Linking to the NY Times article this year wouldn’t hurt either.

My final word of advice is to make plans to do this every year.   The RoomSurf folks and their Facebook groups are here to stay.  Who knows, maybe one day they’ll work with us.  Either way, you have to give them credit.  They know how to use social media.

Here are some other great articles on this topic:

Comments posted (5)

[...] Is FacebookGate ‘Troll Marketing’? – Lougan Bishop [...]

Thanks for keeping us up to date with this issue and the different ways to fight it. It’s too bad that Facebook is so hands off about these types of evil marketing techniques. It gives everyone a bad name that works in the industry.

First, I noticed you did not give the name of the company in question from the original Facebookgate, which if I remember, were C.P. If these same individuals are still doing the same thing, everyone should know who they are. Second, the reason for this trolling is clearly to gain information that can be used for marketing. There is no other reason to create fake pages. If that is the case, companies that affiliate with them should also be outed since they too are benefiting from this activity. But be careful: remember the adage about throwing stones in a glass house.

That’s right, the first company was College Prowler, however, they had nothing to do with this year or last year’s controversies. If I remember correctly, CP teamed up with a roommate matching company called MatchU. I believe they ended their relationship after the original controversy.

MatchU changed its name to URoomSurf in 2009 and became RoomSurf this year.

[...] will #fbgate2015 mark the end of this kind of activity? I doubt it, and so does Lougan, who wrote a great guest post in Brad J. Ward’s SquaredPeg blog (which outed the original #fbgate2013 fake groups two years [...]

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