A personal account. Anecdotes with lessons.
The nature of my job requires me to interact with people from different walks of life, people from diverse backgrounds. This often leads to interesting conversations, discussions and some revelations. The latest being the unravelling of a plot of digital fraud.
Here are five experiences that helped me discover this world of online fraud.
While doing in-depth interviews with consumers in Delhi, I was accompanied by an elderly recruiter from the research agency. She was helping set up consumer interviews basis carefully selected recruiting guidelines.
Between respondent interviews we took a break to have lunch at a small local restaurant. We got talking over a meal of Chola Bathura. I asked her how long she had spent at her firm, playing respondent recruiter. It amazed me when she said that she had done this job for more than 25 years; except for a six-month-long break two years back.
When I asked her what she did during this time she mentioned that she was working as a freelancer in a new industry - glued to her home computer from 9 to 6, clicking on links that were sent to her every day from her 'clients'. She said she was paid for the number of clicks that she generated every day and got a bonus as well if she exceeded her targets! Well, she didn't do it for too long; said it got too boring after a while.
While working on a digital campaign, I was looking at the tweets of mid-level influencers whom we had hired to boost the organic reach of our campaign. A few clicks on the profiles of those accounts that had tweeted and retweeted revealed that it was being done within an incestuous circle. How, you ask?
Let's say I create 10 accounts. Each account then follows the other. I create one unique tweet in each account and then the other nine retweet it. So that's 10 tweets and 81 retweets. Easy impressions and deep engagement, right? Now imagine if this group had 10,000 accounts - just imagine!
While speaking to a seasoned e-comm manager about her effectiveness metrics, she mentioned that she now tracks only sale conversions, not impressions served. She said that her thumb rule for bot activated impressions was in the range of 30-40 per cent. And since there is currently very little industry acceptance of third party validation, she was never going to know the quantum of 'real' impressions served. While she tracks her cost per conversion metric, the fact that it could be inflated by 30-40 per cent worries her. She wonders aloud about who in the chain is benefiting from her budget.
We marketers routinely use celebrities to enhance our online engagement. Many celebs have follower counts that run into millions - staggering numbers, considering that some of their films dont run beyond one weekend in theatres. And their fee for every post can be many lakhs depending on this follower count. While evaluating one of them for a campaign, I randomly went through the celeb's followers and found many eggheads - accounts with no followers, no original posts and a random variety of reposts.
A short video had gone viral recently. A social media manager of a political party was heard urging colleagues to open multiple Facebook accounts using different identities, assuring them of course that there was nothing illegal about doing it.
And then this - the tweets of a head of a political party suddenly saw a big spurt in engagement rates. Some attributed this to the tweets being witty. But the buzz in the media was about a Russian connection to this new activity, alluding to Russian bots.
Well, the digital space is admittedly a quagmire of complicated connections. The possibility of online fraud is staring us marketers in the face. We can't afford to turn a blind eye to it. We must get prudent as a collective. It's time we demanded accountability.
Do share your anecdotes, thoughts and possible solutions.
(The author is Head - Marketing Services Group, Titan Company).