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How to detect shill community members?
Is there any way to tell what is real opinion and what is advertising?
gibbergibber




msg:3888091
 3:34 pm on Apr 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

My site is independent and covers a product area where there are lots of rival companies trying to win new customers.

I've noticed over the past year or so a huge increase in the number of forum posts and comments which seem to be very very similar in their content, though with totally different IP addresses in different countries.

These particular posts seem to be slanted towards promoting a particular company's products while badmouthing its rivals, and it makes me wonder if a PR agency is behind at least some of these posts.

Obviously every product has its genuine fans, and some of them will criticise rival products, but it's the incredible similarity of certain postings that makes me wonder if they come from a common template. They all seemed to appear in a wave over a period of a few months and haven't gone away.

Another thing that makes me suspicious is the way some members do nothing but post praise for a particular product, when you'd expect genuine members to be posting on a greater variety of topics.

Is there any practical way to tell which members are posting their honest opinion, and which are the sock puppets of a PR company?

(Like I said before, the IP addresses don't yield any relevant clues, they seem to come from ISPs all over the world.)

 

wyweb




msg:3888110
 3:55 pm on Apr 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Is there any practical way to tell which members are posting their honest opinion, and which are the sock puppets of a PR company?

No, not really. I mean not beyond anything that's just overtly obvious.

I've posted reviews on numerous websites of products I was either totally disgusted with or in complete awe of. If the product was good and lived up to or even surpassed its hype, I'd sing it's praises.

Informed internet shoppers doing comparisons on review sites know to toss out both extremes and look at the middle line. Personally I look for a preponderance and I go to as many different sites as I can find. I think more and more people are doing this.

These particular posts seem to be slanted towards promoting a particular company's products while badmouthing its rivals, and it makes me wonder if a PR agency is behind at least some of these posts.

if you're seeing enough of this then yes, I could certainly see your concern. The fact that you're seeing so many different IP's would tend to suggest on the surface that these are legit. Either that or you're up against a committed marksman who's taken great pains and gone to great lengths to slam his competetion.

My posting does absolutely nothing in the way of helping you in this situation but you seem to be pretty well aware of the conflicts already. Is there a shill detector? Not that I know of. Same IP's would be a dead give away but you're already on top of that. Maybe look at sentence structure, wording, the way ideas are phrased. Do 2 different "anti" posters spell the same words wrong? Are there similar errors in posts that claim to be from different people? I'd look for that too, and then I'd just go with my gut instincts.

Delete a few of them and see who bitches the loudest. A shill will think he got caught. An honest poster will wonder why you axed his post.

Just some ideas. It's a slow Wednesday morning...

Rosalind




msg:3888120
 4:07 pm on Apr 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

Not if they're really subtle. Fortunately a lot of them aren't, and you can pick on up various warning signs: unmitigated praise, few posts on other topics, badmouthing rivals. All of the things you've noticed, in fact.

When it comes to knowing for certain, sometimes you just get a feel for when things aren't right. Or you've tried a product and you know it sucks, so that the only logical conclusion is that these posters are deeply misguided, or else shills. Essentially, though, there's no way to be 100% sure when you're faced with a very convincing liar.

You could ban all discussion of specific products, positive or negative, along the lines of WebmasterWorld. Or you could rely on your instincts and those of your mods. The longer you do this, the more you'll get a nose for it.

gibbergibber




msg:3888128
 4:14 pm on Apr 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

I guess part of it is... am I being a tin foil hat brigade member here? :-)

Or has anyone else noticed the kind of suspicious stuff I'm talking about on their site?

It's definitely the similarities in phrases and structure that set off alarm bells. I don't think they're the same people, but it's like different people trying to recite the same poem from memory, if that makes any sense.

The other suspicious thing, a lot of them only post a few times and fail to reply to other people's posts. Again though, many genuine members might do that because they don't visit the site often enough. Back to the tin foil hat worries... ;-)

The different countries indicated by IP addresses do imply that these are genuinely different individuals, but perhaps they all belong to some central site?

There have been stories about people in various countries earning real money by goldmining in MMO games. Is it possible there's some site out there paying its members to promote stuff on forums?

Rosalind




msg:3888135
 4:30 pm on Apr 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

I guess part of it is... am I being a tin foil hat brigade member here? :-)

No. This sort of thing is very prevalent. It seems to be worse when it comes to less well known products, but don't let that throw you.

The different IPs might just mean they're using a proxy.

wyweb




msg:3888147
 4:45 pm on Apr 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

The different IPs might just mean they're using a proxy.

Yes it could. Again, I think I would concentrate more on writing style and phraseology. Are these reviews antiseptically clean or are you seeing the minor typos and errors that occasionally occur with honest posts?

am I being a tin foil hat brigade member here?

No, I don't think so. As Rosilind said, this sort of thing is prevalent. Go to some webhosting forums and check them out. You wanna talk about cut throat.... sheeesh....

maximillianos




msg:3888406
 8:46 pm on Apr 8, 2009 (gmt 0)

We see it EVERYDAY. And they are getting better and better at it. In the old days they would use the same account. Then they tried using different accounts, but same IP. Now they use different accounts, different IPs but the same subnet (hence, they are still busted).

PR companies are popping up like weeds touting that they can clean up your online reputation in a matter of days... They try to do it by spamming forums like ours.

Trust your gut. Perhaps invent a feature where users can vote content as spam or unhelpful... and if it happens to get voted as such, it gets pitifully buried in the archives of the archives of the site... if you get my drift... ;-)

tangor




msg:3888540
 12:03 am on Apr 9, 2009 (gmt 0)

maximillianos nailed it: let the FORUM vote the accuracy of reviews/reports. Then determine a "less than x" rating that automatically moves the post to archive. (subject to YOUR review, of course!)

Asia_Expat




msg:3903460
 6:33 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

I get this sort of thing quite often on my forum, the most recent being a thread from a legitimate member asking for advise about a named service providor related to our niche. Later someone registered (a competitor of that service providor) and made a clumsy attempt to associate that providor with a particular 'negative' industry keyword in their profile name and then posting in that thread...

... it backfired and a lot of members shot it down and sung the praises of that providor.

I believe that with experience in running a forum, your instincts willl tell you which are genuine posters and you should trust what your gut tells you.

Marcia




msg:3903531
 7:49 pm on Apr 29, 2009 (gmt 0)

Is it possible there's some site out there paying its members to promote stuff on forums?

How about some site out there paying contractors (not members) to do just that - or professional marketers with good outsourcing contacts.

What you've described doesn't pass the smell test for legitimacy; you're describing classic symptoms. It sounds like professional "relationship marketing" to me, and I have seen it done. There are and have been companies and individuals who specialize in that.

nealrodriguez




msg:3906584
 7:28 pm on May 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

These particular posts seem to be slanted towards promoting a particular company's products while badmouthing its rivals, and it makes me wonder if a PR agency is behind at least some of these posts.

maybe not a pr agency, but press release distribution services syndicate content on forums pointing links back to the original.

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