Boing Boing: Did Nvidia Hire an Army of Message-Board Sock-Puppets?

Please see important update #6 below.

Boing Boing: Did Nvidia hire an army of message-board sock-puppets?: Well one thing above all should be kept in mind by bloggers and those who would hope to build a reputation online. Be honest. While we all screw up sometimes and we all make mistakes, it is the individual who recognizes these mistakes and then honestly apologizes that in the end is best off.

Still, when a company decides to build a business and PR strategy based on dishonesty this can only backfire and when it backfires it will usually backfire big.

Important disclaimer: Keep in mind that this story very well may not be true. I’ve emailed Nvidia PR this morning to try and get clarification from them.

Nvidia is on the firing line this morning after a piece on the Consumerist was amplified by Boing Boing regarding their hiring users to infiltrate gaming forums and build reputations to then be used when the time is right to market for Nvidia.

The Consumerist quotes from a post on webcomic Penny Arcade: “I interviewed for a guerilla marketing business in San Francisco that targeted web forums.

“I was told that if I accepted the job, I was to have at LEAST 50 identities on as many forums as I could muster (they wanted 100 eventually), with a goal of 5 posts an hour. The posts had to be well thought out, and the idea was that I was to establish multiple identities with a history on the forums, so that when the timing was right a well written but subtly placed marketing post could be finessed in. And regular visitors would recognize the post as coming from a long time poster.”

If this is true, someone from Nvidia should be fired over this. They should also apologize and assure people that it won’t happen again. If it’s not true, Nvidia is a stupid company because the first thing you do when someone damages your reputation this way if you are innocent is to deny it. If this conversation is going on and they are not a part of it then they need to hire someone to better monitor what is said about them online. I’d hope that we’d hear from Nvidia shortly on this. I doubt this one’s just going to blow over.

By the way, Nvidia, if I were you I’d get your army of sock puppets to mod this one down on digg, because when this one hits the front page later today you’re going to be in a whole new world of pain.

Update: Just got this response back from Nvidia PR Man Derek Perez: “Hi Thomas. Its TOTALLY untrue ! ! ! We don’t ‘hire actors’… We leverage fans, people who use our stuff as advocates. I’m to explain more if you’d like – but it is untrue.

dp”

I’ve emailed him back asking what “leverage fans” means and if they have been associated with Arbuthnot Entertainment Group (AEG) as alleged by the Consumerist.

Update #2: Just got back the following email from Derek: “Yes – we use AEG. We leverage fans to answer tech questions – give updates on drivers –
etc. They act as our ‘voice’.

dp”

Hiring people to provide technical assistance might be one thing but hiring them to seed marketing message is another. I’ve emailed Derek back again to ask if these “fans” are limited to providing tech support or if they also deliver marketing messages and if he has any knowledge of the recruitment style referenced by the Consumerist.

Update #3: Just got another email back from Derek: “Yes – fans are given both, mktg and tech messages – is there something wrong with that?”

I’ve asked for information on how much money they get and how the compensation works and if there is any disclosure of any type and if Perez is aware of recruitment tactics like those of AEG.

Update #4: Derek Perez is denying that they compensate they fans other than providing them free products. “Thomas.

We don’t ‘direct’ it – we simply give it to them – like we give it to
everyone else.

They are not ‘compensated’ in any way, we occasionaly give them hardware
– but we give hardware out to A LOT of people

And there is no disclosure difference from them or any other consumer.

And press are disclosed before the launch – they are not.

I have no clue what this guy is refering to…you would have to ask AEG
what they are hiring for.

In my honest opinion Thomas – you are really making a moutain our of a
mole hill – and you really should put some pressure on the ‘consumerist’
who wrote that article…as it is clear he doesn’t have all the facts.

Does this all make sense?”

Update #5: I posted the following set of scenarios to Perez.

“There are three scenarios as I see it.

1. This entire practice is fabricated and AEG does not hire people this way to post about products for money.
2. This practice does happen and AEG does in fact hire people to post
large amounts of legitimate posts in forums and then also directs these
same people to post on your product but you are not aware of this, or
3. This practice does happen and AEG does in fact hire people to post
large amounts of legitimate posts in forums and then also directs these
same people to post on your product and you are aware of this practice
and compensate AEG for this type of marketing knowingly.”

Perez has responded back as follows:

“Not sure where the confusion is – but #3 is pretty accurate. NO money exchanges hands.”

I’ve asked Perez for further clarification and he’s responded that the relationship is similar thttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.italic.gif
insert italic tagso that of a PR agency.

Update #6: I just got off the phone with Derek Perez, Director of NVidia PR, according to Perez, while NVidia has in fact hired third party marketing firm Arbuthnot Entertainment Group (AEG) to market on their behalf, Perez has denied any allegations that either NVidia, or AEG on NVidia’s behalf, has paid money to individuals for posting positive marketing news about NVidia in forums. While Perez has confirmed that NVidia has in fact given hardware to individuals in the mainstream press as well as enthusiasts in online communities, they deny that any cash has been paid to individuals for promoting their products by them or AEG to the best of their knowledge.

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6 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nvidia isn’t the only one doing this- be leary of posts on TGB that seem a little too “pro DRM”. A marketing firm out of boston has been seeding the forums

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nvidia isn’t the only one doing this– so is MS. Be leary of some of the pro DRM posts in the TGB. a marketing firm out of boston has been hired to promote the benifits of DRM in MCE.

  3. Bruce says:

    The only thing I want to know is – are the people that NVidia/AEG using their single, sole, real identity to post both their own opinions and those given to them. If so, that’s not so bad – if they get too egregiously marketeeristic, one can just ignore them.

    If they have a stable of fifty to hundred alternate identities, then that is clearly fraud.

    If they have just one, or a small set, of anonymous identities (“cool gfx stud”, “NV Fan”, etc) – well, I’d find that a bit suspicious, just because its harder to tell which of the other two categories above they fit into.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Guys this is astroturfing, although if it’s paid astroturfing it’s truly despicable. If you don’t know what astroturfing is, simply write a negative bog post on Microsoft’s Zune or Vista and watch the comments flood in.