Lately it seems like PR agencies, companies, everyone is realizing the power of social media, good pr, community involvement, and Google. There have been a few instances lately of companies realizing how powerful this “new media” is, but still not understanding the true power of it, and royally screwing up.
The most recent, highest profile example of this happened on Monday, when Michael Phelps’ PR agency, Octagon, made a well publicized mistake of trying to bribe a UK tabloid called The News of the World into not running a photo of Phelps taking a bong rip. Apparently they offered “Phelps’s services as a columnist for the next three years and as a host at events on behalf of the newspaper and also offered to get some of Phelps’s sponsors to buy advertising in the newspaper” (Washington Post). The attempted bribe was immediately rejected by the tabloid, and also picked up and Octagon was exposed by John Feinstein of the Washington Post. Yeah, it probably wasn’t the best decision by Phelps to be taking bong rips, let alone be photographed doing the same, but the real screwup here is by Octagon’s Clifford Bloxham for trying to bribe the tabloids.
Another high profile case was Cash4Gold’s attempt to bribe Rob Cockerham, of Cockeyed.com (full disclosure – I’ve read Cockeyed.com for years, and Rob mentioned me in one of his articles on Gasoline), to “de-optimize” popular personal website, which had an article about the shady rip off practices of Cash4Gold, and was ranking number 3 in Google for their brand term. Cash4Gold recognized how important it was to control the Google listings, especially for their brand term, but failed to realize how trying to bribe a blogger to take down content could easily backfire on them – and it did. Rob actually posted up the letters that Joe Laratro, president of now-shady Tandem Interactive send to him on behalf of Cash4Gold. The letters offered a cash bribe to remove the content, and even outed another one of their clients as having accepted bribes. To extend the issue, my former Radio1190 colleague Ben Popken, who now runs consumer affairs website Consumerist.com posted up the entire story of Cash4Gold and Cockeyed, which not only generated even more traffic and awareness of the situation, but also boosted consumerist to the number 2 Google result for the brand term. Consumerist followed up with another post from a Cash4Gold employee.
As a final bid to expose this extremely shady behavior, it looks like Rob Cockerham also bought a few Google paid spots, bidding on, among other things, the Cash4Gold brand term, and titling his ad “Consumer Alert”. Although this paid ad won’t help the natural search listings, it does help to ensure that any consumer thinking about trying their luck with this shady company might think twice.
Tandem Interactive seems to be trying to control the search listings with their own material. Although I can’t confirm that Tandem Interactive is the actual author of these sites, there appears to be a highly optimized Blogspot blog about Cash4Gold, as well as a Squidoo page focusing on positive product reviews. There’s also a ranking Scribd page. Joe Laratro actually posted on his own Tandem Interactive blog about this whole situation admitting that “They get a bad rep. Cash4Gold does not give the highest payout for gold…”, but also pointing out some of the better qualities of the company. I’m glad to hear from Joe directly, especially in an personal, honest, direct blog post.
Finally, on a more personal front, I was recently emailed by a company called SEO Blog Reviews, who asked me to write a product review, in return for a free product sample. To their credit, while they did offer me a sample of their client’s product for free, they actually didn’t mention that they wanted a favorable review. Admirable, but I don’t think they are completely in the clear on this. First of all, the product they wanted me to review really doesn’t have anything to do with any other content on my site – I feel like they simply deemed me a “blogger” and therefore I could give their clients site in-links with good anchor text. Also, just from the name of the company, “SEO Blog Reviews”, it sounds like they are really just going to boost their client’s interlinking and SEO value, rather than get any real substantive reviews or press. I’m sure the company has that aspect covered too, but making mass, simple, mild bribe solicitations to bloggers is kind of low. Instead, how about launching a well crafted and executed social media campaign that will allow me, as a blogger, to genuinely get into their client and product, and entice me to, on my own free will, write something positive about them? Although instant results would be harder to come by, the results that could be seen have the potential to be leagues more genuine.
Update**2009-02-05- Breitbart.com is reporting that Phelps will dropped by Kellogg when his current endorsement contract is up.