Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web?


fake social media experts

I spent a great part of my career in B2B marketing positions and the part I loved most was traipsing around the factory floor. I loved watching things work and being with people who were actually “making stuff.”

There was one manufacturing manager I knew who seemed to be a wizard.  The guy always led the pack and found a way to hit his production numbers no matter what was thrown at him. He seemed too good to be true.

That’s because he was. He was a cheat.

Turns out, he would invest to improve his plant’s productivity and then purposely understate the manufacturing capacity of his equipment.  So he was always holding back — in essence, lying and cheating the company so he could “make his numbers” and get that big bonus check.  Of course he was fired.

He moved on to another Fortune 100 company, did the same thing, and was fired again.

You see, it’s not just about making your numbers. HOW you make the numbers matters too.

It’s all about cheating

This has been one of those weeks when I get really disgusted about the questionable games people play in business. For example, there has been a significant debate about the number of well-known authors who allegedly hire specialized companies to buy bulk copies of their books to nudge them on to the New York Times bestseller list.

I understand why people do this. They cheat, bump themselves on to The New York Times list for a day, and then claim that badge of social proof for their career forever. But it’s kind of like calling yourself an “award-winning author” for that third-place trophy you received in high school for the Kiwanis Club essay contest. What did you really accomplish?

The publishing companies apparently approve of this because it moves books.  Even the New York Times seems to condone cheating.  This blows my mind.  I mean, it’s the New York freaking Times, the most respected newspaper in America.  And they’re allowing the editorial section of their paper to be gamed? The fact is, it is possible — maybe necessary — to buy your way on to this prestigious list.

An addiction to social proof

I’ve written extensively about this idea of “social proof.” An indicator like “New York Times bestseller” is a short-cut indicator of quality when we are overwhelmed in a decision process. But this is a two-edged sword. It is undoubtedly a powerful indicator of influence, but it is also increasingly meaningless because nearly every “badge” can be faked.

Today, anyone can manufacture their own image of personal power. In Return On Influence, I wrote about a colleague who admitted to me that his entire social media presence had been faked. He bought his massive Twitter audience. He had somebody ghost-writing his blogs. He made up his client list.  And people bought into it.

Another person I know created their own social media award and presented it to themselves so they had something to display on their blog. Nearly every day I get requests from people to vote for them for some crazy, made-up award. What the heck does winning a “Shorty Award” mean? Are you really the “best” of something?

The sad reality is, what you do may be less important than how you appear on the Internet. In a social media world that barks “Authenticity! Authenticity!” … there is precious little of that, in reality.

There was a time I was too concerned with social proof. I didn’t cheat, but I spent too much time comparing my “numbers” with other people. It was driving the wrong behavior for me and my business because instead of just doing good work, I was thinking about doing work that increased these meaningless metrics. The social proof on my blog included badges about the awards I had won, Ad Age Power 150, etc.  I took them all down about a year ago (which means I am not even following my own advice about the importance of social proof!), but it was the right decision for me because today I am concentrating on business metrics that make a difference.

Leaving success on the table?

I do wonder if the world will pass me by if I don’t cheat.  Will I ever have a bestseller? Will my publishers even support me any more if I’m not willing to pay a third party to buy my own books? Is it more important to write a great book or have the financial resources to make it look like a great book?

Will my blog readers eventually be more attracted to bloggers who display their awards and badges like a a five-star general?

Will clients hire speakers for conferences and workshops based on the number of Twitter followers or Facebook Likes they manufacture?

Does it matter that I don’t make “best of” lists or win social media awards because I don’t lobby my friends for votes?

Despite the business realities of social proof, life is too short to compromise myself to make a book list or fake my way to stardom. I feel like I am in a shrinking minority, but I still believe the lesson I learned on the factory floor so many years ago — How you make the numbers is important too. Even if other people can’t tell what is real, I know what is real.

Thanks for reading my post today. I would love to hear your thoughts on cheating and social proof in the comment section!

All posts

  • RogierNoort

    I do believe you are living proof that authenticity goes a long, long way.
    For me.., it would be to hard, to many actions to justify, cheats to consider and lies to uphold. I do not like that kind of complicated.

    It’s the long-run that matters, not the quick win. Everything has it’s price, and equally, everything has it’s reward. The worth is in how you attain it.

  • Without being too philosophical about this one, everyone has a choice – good or evil. Karma will eventually play itself out. Cheat and eventually you’re going to be found out. You will! When that happens everything will probably fall apart. It’s just so much easier remembering one truth – just be authentic, truthful, don’t cheat – keep away from the dark side.

  • Does authenticity win? I don’t know. There is definitely a gap between expectations and reality.

  • I don’t know. I have seen examples — entire cultures — where cheating becomes a best practice. I saw a study where teens say they value honesty and authenticity yet steal music every day. They say they know stealing music is dishonest but it has become a cultural norm. I think that can happen almost anywhere. Dishonesty becomes a norm because it is widespread. The honest people become irrelevant because nobody cares. We’ll see how it plays out!

  • I would love to be able to say, with confidence “cheat and it’ll come to no good”, but as this article points out, for some it does benefit them, they never get found out and live happily ever after (even with the knowledge that they cheated their way to ‘the top’. Personally I wouldn’t feel happy knowing that the metrics I claimed were faked, cheated or concocted.

    I have been running my site for over 5 years now, the daily hits are ‘OK’, the interaction is not great but steady and my social following is pretty good but not exceptional. The thing is, even with a £45 monthly VPS bill I haven’t contemplated cheating because I love writing about what I write about and wouldn’t want to think that people only appeared interested because I paid for them.

    I understand that if your livelihood is based on your online popularity then cheating would be a potentially attractive option, however, if it’s your livelihood then surely you should be good enough at what you do to gain popularity without ‘cheating’, shouldn’t you?

    Great article and another interesting read 🙂

  • Great commentary. Hang in there … and thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  • Craig Lindberg

    “To thine own self be true.” Alot behind that not the least of which is the personal satisfaction of knowing you earned something. Fraud is fraud and sooner or later reveals itself. Character as they say is what you do when no one is looking.

  • I can’t tell you how often this is a topic of conversation between Amber Naslund and myself. While it’s certainly frustrating watching folks build an entire presence (some extremely popular ones of people you know) on a foundation of deceit, I’ve come to the conclusion that I hate the justification of it even more than I do the activity itself.

    ‘Everyone else is doing it’, ‘How can I compete if I don’t’, ‘It sucks but that’s just how the game is played’, etc, etc. It comes down to this for me, at the bottom of that hole is a single core question. Am I doing all of this simply to make money ‘by any means necessary’? Or am I doing it to be fulfilled and money is simply an artifact of that? I’d argue that’s the difference between success and happiness. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but *only* striving for success in a monetary fashion is certain to leave you unhappy.

    Once you figure that out and stop lying to yourself to try and justify those behaviors that make you feel ‘icky’, the ethics and morals of these kinds of questions tend to take care of themselves.

    Keep on keeping on my friend.



  • Kat Krieger

    Yeah, I have to say I lost respect for the best selling author in question after hearing about that. It disturbs me greatly that such a prestigious list is just something else to be gamed. On the flip, I wasn’t in the least surprised by it. Maybe I am just jaded. I have a lot of respect for someone who doesn’t hide behind badges and questionable awards. It evokes all of the social media experts and gurus we read in Twitter bios. If you are good at what you do, the genuine recommendations and authority come naturally. It’s sad that some people don’t see that there is no real easy way to the “top.”

  • Hi Mark,

    Create epic sh_t. Write epic sh_t.

    Nothing can stop bodies of work that impact people’s lives in positive ways.

    All of the others are are fly-by-night wanna-bees who have zero value to contribute to anything meaningful.

    You cannot build anything significant, substantive, or long term on lies.

    Keep building your masterpiece, Mark : )

    You have only scratched the surface of what your contributions and legacy could be…

    Thanks for the awesome work you do – I learn something every time you hit publish!

  • Loving the honesty! You like to sleep with an easy conscience and there’s nothing wrong with that 🙂

    I think a lot comes down to self-confidence Mark. When you start out, you hang on to numbers, awards – anything that makes you appear a grown-up in your industry to prove your ‘worth’/expertise.

    Once you grow your business, work with good clients and deliver, you get passed it. I’ve lovingly grown my following on social media channels, it’s not huge but it’s niched & engaged – no buying, no aggressive tactics and (for me) it’s worked, what I do and what I put out screens the ‘right’ kind of clients and I’ve not had to brag about anything I do or who I work with.

    There’s an awful lot of seemingly very confident experts out there, but their need for awards/recognition and cheating to be ‘accepted’ speaks otherwise….

    I do think the very crowded marketplace online has lead to more desperate measure being taken by those who think they need it. And I don’t see it changing any time soon sadly. Shame.

  • Ernest Hemingway

    Life becomes much more enjoyable once you release that neurotic complusion to be known…

  • This is such a great question, but also such a quandary.

    When I first arrived in this strange, new world, I took a lot at face value. It took me a few years (and some metaphorical maturing) before I could lift the veil that was on my eyes and see the “gurus” for who (and what) they truly were.

    It was not a pleasant experience.

    This whole state of affairs worries me deeply. As you said in one of your comments, Mark, there is a point at which people begin to not only tolerate, but to accept a negative behavior. It becomes less of a transgression and more of a norm. This perception strips away the stigma that once accompanied the act (whatever it is) and our civilization trips drunkenly down another step towards the gutter.

    I’m not one to preach morality, but there are certain decencies that I believe ought to be observed: treat others as you would like to be treated, for instance. And I believe that telling the truth about yourself is one of those decencies. Misrepresenting yourself, your accomplishments, your relationships with others, or whatever else you might be tempted to fabricate in the name of being competitive … no matter how you slice it, at the end of the day it’s called LYING. Plain and simple.

    Our moms told us about the Golden Rule and they also told us that lying is bad. Sure – a white lie to spare someone’s feelings is permissible, but an outright lie designed to deceive and win you personal gain – there isn’t much gray area there.

    I hope there’s a revolution and people start demanding more authenticity … voting with their wallets and their attention. I know that might be a little overly optimistic, but a girl can dream.

  • Does character still pay the bills? To me, there is more to it than money but there are tons of successful cheats.

  • Dave

    Hi Mark!
    Great article, very timely. Like those fake Amazon reviews on behalf of Tim Ferriss (and he denied it, of course) and other authors.

    Shorty award? That’s give to those who have an especially small particular bodypart.

  • I think everyone needs some sort of a social proof. The question is, what type of proof? It takes time for people to get a hold of what they can call or perceive as a proof but if they are genuine, they’ll eventually find something of more substance. From self-given titles to the number of subscribers to awards to perhaps finally, the number of real life engagement like how you’ve successfully grown an awesome community here 🙂

  • Good article, Mark!

    Don’t be too put upon – everyone deals with these issues. Gaming the system will always occur. “Shrewd” sales people will move orders around to fit contest dates. Kickstarter gives special attention to projects that do well the first few days, so “clever” users put in false orders the first few days. People are impressed by followers, so even an exec of a influence measuring firm that downplays followers is tempted to buy a few thousand.

    I do believe in a kind of Karma – gamers change themselves, even if they are not caught.

    However, many people are willing to risk the costs of cheating. It is the responsibility of those creating measures to consider the behavior they are rewarding. ( For this reason I continue to be skeptical of influence measuring companies since I fear they create incentives to make the social world a worse place.)

  • That’s it. I’m taking all of my awards down this instant too.

    All kidding aside, this topic touches a nerve for me. We built our SEO and copywriting business working behind the scenes for large companies. They outsource to us and we get the job done. It’s seamless and it works, but oftentimes we can’t disclose who we are working for — because they don’t want their clients to know they are outsourcing all of their work. This makes ‘social proof’ kind of hard to come by.

    My solution? I’ve slowly come out of hiding, built up a presence on social media that is rewarding to me and I don’t let myself get caught up trying to be the biggest guru out there. I’ve worked with a mentor who was all fluff — and it took me WAY too long to see through it. I look at everybody a bit differently now, there were a lot of lessons learned with that experience. Regardless of the numbers, how do people act? How do they treat their customers? Is there constant turnover or do they retain clients and contacts online? That is the biggest indicator for me.

  • I am my own experiment. Can I stay “clean” and be successful? I sense that I am sub-optimized and would certainly be more successful if i gamed the system like most around these parts. The potential gains of cheating are like the intoxicating siren’s call and I am unsure if “I don’t cheat” is a meaningful point of differentiation. But internal peace and living without regret is a big deal to me. I don’t want to do anything I would not be proud to tell my children about. I do think there is a risk of irrelevance if I don’t cheat but I at least will be proud of my life and will know I have had an authentic impact.

  • Thanks for the very honest commentary Kat. It means a lot that you took time out of your busy day to add to the dialogue.

  • Dude. What an amazing thing to say. OK, that will keep me going for a few weeks! : ) Thank you.

  • I really like this perspective and that you have built a meaningful and relevant audience through your confidence. Love that. Wish I had put that in the original post Jan! : )

  • I recently found a guy who was paying people to comment on his blog. This is getting extreme.

  • Great article!

  • This topic has been on my mind a lot lately, too. In fact, I was just writing Gini about how digusted it makes me. Fake reviews, fake sales, fake follows, gaming author rank.

    I want the cream to rise, naturally. That’s the promise of the web. But it’s not the reality. And when people cheat, it makes it that much harder for the good works and people to be found amongst all the posers.

    It also puts others in a quandary: do I play the game so I have a chance or do I stick to my principles. So far, I’ve stuck to my principles. It’s not so hard when it comes to my personal brand. I have a harder time when it comes to my clients or the businesses that I’m working for. I constantly wonder if I’m actually not doing them a disservice by being so pure-minded.

    I suppose, in the end, it’s a question of whether you can live with yourself if you cross the line. I don’t know how the cheaters feel ok about themselves. I know I definitely wouldn’t feel good about myself.

  • Cheating could help you game a system and “succeed” on paper. Long term it’s a way to lose.

    Think of the examples you use above. Sure, followers could be bought and awards fabricated to land clients. Once those folks started working with new big clients, were they successful then? When tasked to actually ‘make’ something, were they able to deliver? If they can’t deliver, will they continue to succeed? Probably not.

  • Buyer beware… Great post, great questions Mark! Unfortunately cheating is a personal decision with ‘social proof’ justification.

  • Neil Glassman

    Those who cheat have always resided side-by side on the highest plateaus of success with those who have chosen an ethical path to the top. It’s maddening, because often cheating takes as much strategy and time as “playing fairly.”

    I was at a session at Social Media Week in New York recently with a presentation by an agency that provides “influencers” — actually, made-for media experts — to promote brands. Repeatedly driven home was that, “In order to obtain, build and sustain influence and affinity with millennials, each must build a relationship that is based on a foundation of trust, credibility and authenticity.”

    When the influencers took their seats, just moments after each introduced herself a tweet went out on her Twitter handle that she had just hit the stage. Clearly, someone behind the curtain was tweeting on behalf of this trustworthy, credible and authentic person sitting on the stage.

    When asked how the influencers inform their fans/followers that the brands about which they were posting were paying them for their endorsement, the response came quickly and without hesitation. “We don’t.” After a pause, on of the influencers added, “We are not paid to promote all of the products we write about. Some of the products, we get for free.”

    The chain of cheating runs from the brand, through the agency to the endorser. While we may be angered and frustrated by those who cheat on our fields on which we are both playing, it’s our communities that are most hurt when what they see is not what they get.

  • mkbain


    This is a great article and I give you props for standing on the side of authenticity. It is difficult to build credibility, audience and traffic the right way and when someone “buys in” they cheapen the entire blogging industry. I’m anti Social Media fraud; I won’t even reuse a picture of a beer I drank yesterday when I’m drinking the same one today. Keep up the good work and stay real!

  • Hate to say it .. yes, I think it is a dream : (

    At the moment I am overwhelmed by schlock. It seems that every day brings a new revelation and another disappointment. I am resigned to the fact that being a fake is probably a legitimate business strategy if you have the DNA to live that way and still like yourself (and besides, “everyone does it.”) I’m fortunate that I think there are a bunch of people like you out there I can count on that make their way on a path of where your actions and values are aligned! Thanks so very much for your comment Jamie!

  • It’s an interesting idea — can you “value” social proof? I cull spammers from my twitter stream. If I didn’t I would have more than 100,000 followers. Half of them would be empty accounts, but does anybody care?

    Now if somebody is choosing between be and another person to speak at a conference and I have 55,000 follower and the other person has 155,000 (mostly fake) would they choose the other person based on a perceived value of how we could promote the event? See this is where Klout scores could make a difference as a signal of “ability to move content.” My audience is smaller but more engaged because they’re real. Interesting idea?

  • To an extent that is true but as people are finding out, you might be able to move from a 40 to a 50 by gaming, but to move to a 60 or 70 you need to move original content. That’s the goal in theory any way. If it doesn’t work that way then, indeed it will fail a meaningful measure. In the short term, and at the lower levels, you’re right. It does reward the wrong behaviors. Wait a minute. Did I just agree with you? What is happening to me? : )

  • This is such a great comment Tara. I just love this. It’s taken me some time to see though these veils too. Hang in there! : )

  • Thank you Tracy.

  • I think awards and badges and getting mention in “best of” lists are great for getting exposure, but once people come to your site or read your book it’s the content that will win them over.

    Personally, I don’t care how many awards some “expert” has won. But if I put your blog in my RSS feed or follow you on Twitter, you better not waste my time or I’ll drop you.

    That’s the real key. Awards and accolades are great for short-term bursts, but long-term value is in the content you produce day after day, week after week.

  • The other thing is … doing the work to cheat is also exhausting! Who has time for all that stuff? I guess you can probably out-source the cheating? : )

  • Very much agree with Mark Harai, keep building your masterpiece Mark! You are doing things the right way and proving the good guys finish first.

    One word came to mind as I read this — Karma. At the end of the day, we have to face ourselves. We ultimately will know if the badges, awards, accolades we’ve earned are legit. You can only run from the truth for so long before it catchs up with you. And what we put out will ultimately come back to us. Just ask Lance Armstrong.

  • ross_boardman

    This is one subject that bugs the hell out of me.

    I do a lot of work in the restaurant trade. Every client is told, be honest. I look at their reputation, their Klout scores and make sure they tell the truth. This they do for me as that’s part of my deal with them.

    Out of no-where a new starter rapidly climbs up TripAdvisor in one location. All their low reviews magically disappear. Of course, they’re gaming it. I get emails every day to sell me services to get them higher up the rating, every day I add another bunch of chancers to my blocklist 🙂

    Another local restaurant got caught writing their own fake reviews and knocking the competition. They went bust in less than 9 months, every penny of their bank loans spent.

    A guy I know had two Porsches, a nanny, 4 homes and a little empire in Spain. Within weeks it all went. It was all fake, bought on borrowed money.

    All my connections are real. Spammers, porn profiles and Twitter builders get blocked. One profile I blocked had been live for less than a week and had close to 1000 followers/following and 4 tweets. Tweet 1 mentioned the service they used.

    it is plain annoying but now I have an answer when people ask me why they should hire me rather than those guys. It is about being genuine and not about volume.

  • This is a very interesting question and I have actually observed this in action. What I see happening is that there is an almost insatiable need for marketing expertise — and thus, an insatiable churn of new prospects — who only look at the numbers and awards. The ability to fake your way through does seem rather limitless. Have you seen many “failed” gurus? : )

  • Unfortunate, but true.

  • Wow. There must have been a “gasp” over that answer! That is not only sickening, it is also unlawful. Thanks for “piling on” with that story! : )

    I’m sorry I missed seeing you at Social Media Week. I had actually been scheduled to speak but had to cancel due to an emergency client meeting. Yes, the client was real. And I was being paid. And I didn’t tweet about it. Ha!

  • It’s sad that anybody has to stand on the side of authenticity. It should just “be” right? The technology has enabled the snake oil. Appreciate the comment.

  • I do believe you’re right. @cspenn has a great quote in my book about the scarcity of true expertise in the long term, although we may be fooled in the short term. I do believe that is true. Thanks James!

  • I know logically that makes sense but I’m not sure, Don. I think there is enough of a churn of new people on the web to support the fakes even when they are found out. And who really digs, anyway? I don’t think I am being a pessimist. I think I’m being a realist. Social proof rules, for better or for worse.

  • I cannot tell you how much I needed to read something like this today. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

  • mkbain

    Snake oil is a perfect description of tons of “social media gurus” advice. There is no substitute for great content; get out there and be awesome!

  • I’ve thought a lot about this myself. I’ve seen cheats rise in every facet of business I have worked and wondered if I have to, to get ahead. But I won’t. I have ethics that won’t let me. Mark I’m with you. Take the high road.

  • Amen brother! You know how I feel about this as we have discussed. My belief is do good & good things will happen. Cheat & dig your own social grave. Cheaters never prosper in the long run.

    We can never go wrong by investing in people. Cheating is not investing in people. The people (and self proclaimed gurus) who do such are not investing in people. They are providing lip service for their own benefit. Eventually their communities will know, their clients will know or they will follow suit & do what they do. Regardless they won’t win in the bigger, ethical world of integrity. The cheaters will play together as the leaders who work hard to deliver value (not just automated value) will prosper deeper than any dollar. We will prosper with relationships, 2 am friends, and a million other things that money can’t buy.

    Thanks for being you @businessesgrow:disqus I am so happy our life paths crossed. One of these days we will meet face to face & I’ll give you the biggest bear hug ever. One day we will rock it on stage together in real life. Love ya!

  • Amen!

  • michelle grigsby

    There is a fine line, here. Being a wordpress website (small business) developer, I rely on testimonials and reviews for businesses to see. But I spent a lot of money to get my business degree as well as some specific trainings in which YES, I do have a bade on my site showing that.

  • My Kiwanis Club essay contest had some tough competition!

  • Great post Mark!

    The foundation of this post is the reason why we built There are too many of these fakes out there in our industry, that we needed to create a place where you could get truthful information about social media, marketing, business, and tech. Even well known websites like allow gurus to get mixed in with real professionals, making it very hard to sift the real info from the fake.

    It really makes me happy to see this post coming from you – I know you have a large audience, and I have the impression that you’re well connected with many of the top social media professionals out there (including some of the gurus). For this to come from someone like you will definitely have a great impact on the social community! Bravo!

    I know I don’t always agree with some of your views, but definitely agree with this one.

  • As I was reading your post Mark it reminded me of a sign a jaded marketing director I used to work with had on his desk: ” I shoot every third marketing rep and the second one just left – now what is it that you want to sell me?” Just replace “marketing rep” with “best-selling New York Times author” and you’re good to go!
    If the Times is on board with this in any way, shape or manner, they’ve cheapened the very value of making the list and removed all trust in it from the consumer view.
    This is a good reminder of how easy it is to get sucked into the “manufacturing” of social proof. Thanks for writing this!

  • Carlos León de Osa

    It was very instructive and interesting this article. Unfortunately many marketing campaigns include traps in their proposals, because they know that excite shopaholics who will probably read only the book’s foreword. Regards from Costa Rica. Pura Vida!!!

  • Gettysburg Gerry

    I am so depressed, I ran up my credit cards buying followers and friends, and I have a warehouse full of my books, and now you tell me I have to do it legitimately!!

    Seriously, I detest those who buy and “game” the system. I also celebrate those that work hard to build a solid interactive community. We have already established that like it or not, numbers do matter, however they need to be legit. There is a satisfaction that comes from building a wonderful social community, like anything else done through hard work. I do believe that eventually those that game the system will get their just rewards at some time. Excellent piece Mark, I love this..

  • RandyBowden

    Do not get me wrong, I am a die-hard marketer and understand the improtance of building a personal brand. However when I visit someone’s business web-site or blog to gather what ever it is that I have been directed there for or have searched for, I am often presented with a flashing screen resembling the racing suit of a NASCAR driver embossed with tokens, badges, scores, and the latest widget of some automated self promotion score advertising that this person is all that! Most do not realize that the displayed vanity token is there to entice folks to gain reach for the provider. Can you not just be you, that is what social is right, just being you? Please stop the competition of my score is higher than yours and I have six more widgets on my page than you to try to gain a client. I want to see your body of work and If it is impactful I will take it in a plain wrapper. I think most who seek the service of a professional can see through much of the BS hype. Thank you Mark, well said and you are a good teacher! For those that may need it, please read AMA’s Statement of Ethics,

  • On your deathbed, you won’t be thinking about any “best of” lists. You’ll just be thinking, “Did I have a good life?”

    I doubt you would have found the answer down any of those murky ethical roads.

    Most of it is just nonsense, noise and distraction from the love that sustains us and the mortality that haunts us.

    You’re a good egg, my dear. Just keeping eggin’ on. It all works itself out in the end. 🙂

  • Every day I see posts on Twitter “get thousands of followers” – I’ve asked them personally, why would I want thousands of people I don’t know, who aren’t interested in my services? There is never a valid answer, just that you get the exposure. Who cares if no one is actually paying attention to anything other than the fact that you’ve got thousands of followers.

    Stick your guns. I do. I may not have tons of people following me on any social account but those that do follow are listening. And the people I follow generally have something to say or I “unfollow.”

    There are people who “get it” and understand that in the long run cheaters are outed by lack of credibility, integrity, expertise or all three!

  • Two years ago one of our hospitals decided to participate in the “Pink Glove Dance,” an opportunity to create an employee video set to a popular song that included various groups of doctors, nurses and others dancing while wearing pink gloves – all for Breast Cancer awareness. It’s a national “competition”, and the hospital that garners the most Facebook “Likes” for their video would win a sum of money donated to the cancer research charity of their choice. A lot of time and effort went into the production of this video, both by myself who shot and edited the video, my colleagues who worked out the logistics, and all the employees that gave up their time and dignity to cut loose on camera for a good cause. At the end of the day, the quality of the effort made no real difference, as it all came down to which hospital system could put together the most effective social media campaign and “game” the public into voting for their video. The largest slice of the public reached, the more votes garnered. The hospital that ended up winning was in South Carolina – a state that had no other hospitals competing, and their marketers were free to beg for votes around the whole state. Tennessee had 4 other hospitals competing across the state, and we still ended up coming in tenth which was not bad. But I still have no real idea whether people actually liked the video over the others, whether they considered it a quality effort, whether it told the story well or not, and if it actually accomplished its goal of raising awareness of Breast Cancer. It all came down to how many Facebook “Likes” could be generated for each hospital. Since then I remain unconvinced of the true, unbiased quality of the work that I did. Which defeats the purpose, to me….

  • Honesty Matters. I’ve given some thought to this myself. I’ve come to this conclusion: its a shame that in today’s world, you can stand out just by doing the right thing. But its true…and not a bad brand to have.

  • krusecontrol

    I second that Mark Schaefer. Mark Harai, you have written an epic shi_t reply. Thanks for making my day!

  • Ok, let’s break up this love fest. I generally agree with the foundation of this piece, but “cheating” is being tossed around very loosely.

    I recently heard about the book buying shenanigans in order to receive the NYT BestSeller seal. It was in a FB group, and evidently these purchased books find a home in San Diego. At first I thought this is unbelievable, but if the governing body (New York Times) understands this what happens and tolerates it then so be it. It’s not cheating, not matter how much it stinks. It’s definitely tainted, and if you partake in such activities you know the truth, but I don’t think we’re going to see the story on 60 minutes anytime soon.

    Do you get a plaque or a certificate for winning a “Shorty award”? Do they fly everyone to NYC? I think the people that want to win think it’s a big deal. It seems to be more of a fun thing, and while the “vote for me” everyday gets annoying, they’re just doing what we all do at some point. We market, lobby, campaign, hustle, etc. We can package it however we like, but that’s the foundation, and none of it is cheating. Cheating would be if you went in and hacked the numbers in your favor. All this other stuff is how our government is elected.

    I think most people look at badges and awards in a positive light. I generally walk away from the site with a “good for them, pat on the back” mindset. You’ve done something right to be given the honor, and they hold some value. All the people commenting on this post that have awards up, will keep them up and should. Don’t feel guilty about it…Enjoy it without stuffing it down your readers throats. At least leave them on your “Us” page.

    Listen, if you want to be governor of Tennessee Mark you’re going to have change your tune…This attitude won’t fly in a race…:)

  • Interesting spin Steve!

    I don’t completely agree with some of the stuff here, but I can certainly see the argument. What I don’t think is fair is for people that have built their career around “best selling author”, but have actually gamed the system to get there, which is what I think Mark is alluding to in his post. Most of these people “cheat” clients out of their money, without actually offering anything in value in return, because they haven’t really “done it”. I think that’s where the cheating part really takes place.

  • I’ll have to disagree with you here. You seem to be making a semantic argument about whether something is effectively ‘legal’. I would hope that our ethical and moral boundaries are shaped by more than just what has been formalized into the canon of law.

    On the one hand, as a marketer you can look at the problem like this “What’s the difference in buying my way onto a bestseller list vs. buying an ad on Google to force my way into your attention space rather than hoping for organic SEO results?”

    That sounds plausible, logical even. But I’ll tell you where the logic breaks down. Obfuscation and intent.

    Now, if I’m a business book author, and that bestseller list is meant to be a proxy for ‘quality’ that allows me to get more gigs, charge more for them, etc. then the only question you have to ask is this: “Would I tell the person I’m charging that all those people didn’t really buy my book due to the quality of it, but rather I bought my way onto the list so that you’d know who I am?”. If you wouldn’t tell them, then I think you’ve got your answer. I don’t think you can deflect all of the responsibility onto the NYT for not making the system unable to be gamed, or the reader for not digging into the gamability of the list, any more than you can blame a client for not seeing through someones lies.

  • Hi Mark!

    Great post, I totally agree with you! Quality is way more important than quantity.

  • Pingback: Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web? | Community Management Around the Web |

  • I think you are voicing a frustration felt by many of us. We know the various ways social “proof” can be gamed, yet we also know that clients don’t have a clue. We can educate them, but they are not really interested. I think, at the end of the day, the best advice I can give or receive is “To thine own self be true”. Do the right thing and do as @markharai:disqus advises, “Create epic sh_t”. Those of us in the industry know you are the real deal. Your readers know. Your customers know.

    Thank you for being so honest, forthcoming and brave.

  • geofflivingston

    Yeah, we discussed this, too. Doesn’t surprise me, but I think Mark’s post does a great job of explaining why making it the old fashioned way is better.

  • LOL!!

  • Thanks Diana!

  • Mark, Loved the post. You have an amazing Blog and an amazing community. New comers look for social proof to separate themselves from the crowd. As the inner confidence goes up, the need for social proof becomes less and less (and other recognition too).

    In India, we have a nice saying that adding a little salt converts your chapati to a tasty paratha (breads), but one tends to get greedy and adds too much salt, and often ends up ruining everything. We all do a little bit of packaging (adding salt) to market ourselves. What is practical, is to aspire for more and more conscious decision making. In simple words, “As intentions become more and more pure, perceptions become less and less important.” This is a constant challenge in the journey of life.

  • My first reaction is that people who go for the people with rewards are not necessarily the audience or clients you need. Which is probably not 100% true but it’s how I used to deal with rejections when I was looking for a job. But this approach may not work for business owners who want to stay in business.
    If potential clients think you must know what you’re doing because you have an award, and if you do want their business, find a competition that’s worth entering – that delivers an award you don’t feel embarrassed about. Sport it on your about page, not your home page. People who are interested in this sort of thing will look for it, the others don’t care.

  • ross_boardman

    Thank you too. Sometimes it gets a little lonely on the last mile 🙂

  • mankul65

    Mark – In any shape or form,cheating never pays.

    Even Seth Godin once said that the New York Times best seller list can be gamed.

    Somebody recently said America’s moral decline began with Watergate. Incredibly stunning, one of the heroes who exposed the Watergate scandal, Bob Woodward recently cut a sorry figure.

    Meanwhile, here is a feel good article.

    man who returned diamond engagement ring receives over $175K in
    donations and is reconnected with his long-lost family after 16 years |
    Mail Online

  • This is such an important issue – and so much wider than social networks alone. It’s also as old as the universe, in that what people see, determines what people believe, at least on the short term. It’s what drives corruption in politics, in sports, in every walk of life, simply because fixing what people see is a lot easier than making people really look – and since you have all the freedom in the world once you start fixing reality, it’s usually incredibly effective. The fall of Lance Armstrong and the subsequent crumbling of wheeler sports’ general credibility is a great example of how things can get out of hand: for all we know, it may simply have been impossible to compete in wheeler sports without using some form of doping. In my view, that’s the same reason why in some countries, if not continents, politics without corruption is impossible; it’s almost impossible to win if you don’t.

    There is a very thin line between ‘fitting in’; adapting to the system you’re in, and pretending to be what you’re not – and from there, to pretending to do what you don’t. Ironically, this is also one of the major flaws of a democratic system, since it’s easily rigged by people who make promises they can’t or won’t keep. It’s easy to point fingers at politicians who do that, but they all do it to a certain degree because they have to. Your realistic story won’t get you votes, since it’s easy to think up lies that sound a lot more attractive. In return, you have to spice up your truth in order to be heard. And where does that spicing up begin to feel like a lie?

    So, do you have to cheat to be succesful in life? Heavens, no – and please don’t, even though I fully understand how frustrating it is to have to compete with cheats and frauds. But you cannot solely trust on the power of your truthfull message either. You may know what’s real, but if you don’t convey that message to others, you still loose.

    Reality is that life is an incredibly unfair game, mainly because people are lazy and easily led astray – and other people will prey on that. That means it is highly important how you conduct yourself, how you present your message – to find ways to get your message out without getting corrupted. Learn from the frauds, because they know how to play their audience. I fully agree the world has way too many empty ‘awards’ and prizes – so seek out the few that really matter, or better yet: create one that does rightly carry weight. There’s always a spark of truth in any fraudulent message – or at least a lesson in effectiveness. So watch and learn.

  • MaureenMonte

    Hi Mark,

    I’m a perfect example of the most important aspect of your work – the silent majority who are influenced positively by you, move in a new direction, and do it without a virtual marching band, fireworks, and champagne. Think of all those folks in the room at the IBM Ireland event – Every one of them is doing something different, thinking something different, and feeling something different since they heard you speak – impact that extends far beyond a damn NYT badge.

    Second, I have a Masters degree in Leadership and BUSINESS ETHICS. Do you think I could get anyone to talk to me about business ethics? In Detroit? Nope. In Dallas? Nope. People don’t want to hear it. So, in my mind, they have to figure it out themselves. Let them pursue lists, and stars, and likes. Let them cheat and then try to hide it in shame. Only when they’ve exhausted that energy will they see the “moonscape” around them.

    How’s your view? Mine is pretty darn good. Oh, and we’re going to do a Strengths Slam in IBM – GEE, I WONDER WHO HELPED ME BELIEVE THAT I COULD DO THAT? 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing Mark. It is disturbing the red to game the system – I also enjoy the please buy multiple copies of my book requests. Really, I only need to read one and do promise that if it’s well crafted I’ll recommend it widely on all my various channels – as I’ve gladly done with ROI – In my humble opinion you’ve earned the badge of trusted resource without gaming and I can’t imagine it passing you by as I’m likely not the only fan of your work.

  • In my experience watching a similar example, it always becomes the client’s fault when it doesn’t work – “they didn’t execute correctly” ” they never grasped what we where trying to do” and so on. To Mark’s point the next prospect just imagines it won’t happen to them

  • LOL, judging by your last comment I’m thinking you totally missed Mark’s point. He’s beginning to not give a Sh*t about that rat race because he’s questioning the value it’s delivering to those who really matter? Sorry Mark, not trying to put words in your mouth…….

  • Wow, what did you put in your Wheaties this morning (well, yesterday as I’m a bit late getting to this). Fakery is abound! You’ve been fighting this since you started {grow}. It’s the reason social media became what it is, people not believing in fake advertising, questionable claims etc, and going to other users for advice to make decisions. Unfortunately, once it became a well known thing and “named”, the fakers are trying to figure it out too. But as happened to advertising, the consumer will eventually win and push the fakers out IMO. It’ll just take some time. And, with a little help from some of the emerging technologies, fakers will be identified just like spammers and others and be cleaned out of the service. The problem is, I wonder if faking is so fundamentally “human” that it will never go away. As we try to address it, others figure out advanced methods to beat the checks and balances…….a never ending spiral of same old, same old….. I mean really, some of the most trusted and relied upon services that are guiding people online right now could easily be put into the “fake” camp (depending on your definition).

  • Bravo for this! Unfortunately I believe this is going to get worse with the trophy generation knocking at our doors.

    Fear not, I will never leave your blog for “bloggers who display their awards and badges like a a five-star general”. You have way too much awesome information for that.

  • Pingback: Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web? | Social Media, Marketing and Promotion |

  • I’m not even going to address the “buying followers” piece because that will always come out in the wash. However, the significance of awards – no matter how trite they may seem to those in the “know” IS different. I wonder if, 4 years ago, you would have thought the same way about that kind of industry recognition? I’ll be honest – I was a finalist in the shorty’s last year and it was a fun thing to do. It also gives me some bragging rights no matter how insignificant it may seem to others. When you are in the beginning to middle stages of trying to stand out in a VERY crowded room, you will take whatever advantage you can to do that and I am sure you and others who are leading the circuit now will agree with that – even if it’s not admitted.

    I will also say one other thing about a lot of those that have blazed the trail and made their mark and are now considered “a-listers”. Don’t forget the “real” people you worked so hard to build up so that you can get there. Your circle was NOT created because one day, last year’s “a-lister” finally took notice of you. It may have helped but it’s because the thousands of followers that you accumulated along the way did a lot of work for you because they respected your work. Don’t let them down. (and I am not referring to you, kind friend…) I see it in both aspects of my world.. the business side and the mom blogger side. Holy cow there are a lot of over inflated egos whose biggest asset is that they were in the right place at the right time. That to me is also a big cheat 🙂

    Stepping off my soapbox now…

  • Mark, you hit one of my hot buttons today. I believe learning to cheat starts in childhood. When I was a kid I played a lot of Monopoly and the game of “life” with my family. My dad was an engineering strategist who detested cheating. Honesty was one of his core moral values which became one of my core moral values. Being a cheat in life is like cheating at a game of Monopoly. You may win the game by cheating the rules, but you know deep down in your soul that you really didn’t win. I believe it comes down to self respect. I also believe that the quest for fame and fortune can make people do dishonest things. Ask yourself, “what are your core moral values”? If winning and being the best at any cost makes you get up in the morning, you still need to look in the mirror. Does fame and fortune make you happy? People lie to themselves. They tell themselves it’s ok to cheat. If you were to look back at a cheaters childhood, it all starts there. What values are important to you? I built my reputation on complete honesty. I am very direct and I am proud of who I am. Are you proud of who you are when you look in the mirror? Who’s looking back?

  • Wow, what a great post! Another one, I should say, because quality is always here on this blog. I read a lot of the comments, so won’t add much that hasn’t been said, except to remember that proven axiom: “you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time!”.

    Someone recently asked me how I ended up with more than 5,000 followers on twitter. My answer: grinding it, day-in, day-out, for the past two years. In the past year, as I began consulting, I put more efforts on my blog and my social presence so that helped too, but I haven’t bought any fans or followers, and I truly believe the community I have around me is made of people who read me, trust me, and whom I read and trust in return.

    You said it best: those who fake it almost always end up being called out for what they are: fraud.

    Cheers from Quebec City,

  • CraigEYaris

    Good morning, Mark.

    Social proof seems to be very important to everyone on the web. But, it’s also important to our own self-image. If I have 1,000 twitter followers, I must be important, right?

    But, even worse, it is important to those prospective clients. And I even take the view myself. If you aren’t successful in social marketing, then why would someone hire you?

    BUT. I agree that it needs to be the great work we do, that inspires people to hire us. I try and do the best I can for my clients, regardless of my social reach. In the end, it isn’t my reach that will help clients. It is theirs.

    I’ve actually written about this very topic, under the premise that it isn’t okay to buy a like or a friend (isn’t that what we are really talking about?).

    I’m just not sure things will change. People will always be fascinated by the numbers. People want to see their “experts” with tons of likes, followers, re-pinners, etc. I just wish it weren’t so.

    Until then, as @markharai:disqus says, just write epic stuff, and you will show your worth.

    Thanks for the post!


  • Great article and the comments underneath to match. I think in short some people out there haven’t got the stamina to run the social media marathon and looking for short cuts might save them time now but they will eventually get left behind and loose the race.

  • Yes, these folks are cheating, but all writers are up against a more insidious force – the Matthew Effect. This is described by Nassim Taleb in “The Black Swan”. Initial random conditions create an initial advantage which is then multiplied by the “Matthew Effect” (ref to Matthew 25:29). The initial advantage is often random (the editor chooses your essay because on that day, the sunlight was coming into her window just so and it put her in a good mood and they reviewed your paper in the New York Times while rejecting than that pile of papers over there – a few of which were just as good, if not better than what you had, for example). The NYT realizes that this initial choice is somewhat a random event. A cheater is trying to ensure they have an initial advantage.

    An initial advantage (that good review that kicks off the attention to your career) follows someone through life. So does an initial disadvantage: an early failure marks you for life, predisposes people to judge later work more harshly. This is intensified in a winner take all economy.

    The Matthew effect is most pronounced in the arts and academia.

    Taleb notes “much of the perception of the importance of precocity in the career of researchers can be owed to the misunderstanding of the perverse role of this effect, especially when reinforced by bias…fields like mathematics meant to be purely a “young man’s game,” illustrate the age fallacy: simply, it is necessary to be successful early, and even very early at that.” And then citations pile on and you have the “cumulative advantage”. (Black Swan pp. 217)

    Taleb says it’s not that the folks who get that early advantage aren’t talented, but that the advantage conferred is often random and has a huge, measurable effect and that in our days of media and internet the advantage is greatly distorted.

    So what do you do about the Matthew Effect? How do you counter it in a way that is genuine?

  • Fake followers are just sad. But I also think the social media community needs to get a handle on one-sided “networking.” There are so many people on LinkedIn in particular, with tons of “connections” they never interact with at all. In fact, I was told via email by a LinkedIn representative to increase my connections to get a job. I already have a job, and thankfully, the people I work for don’t judge me by the number of hollow relationships I have on the web. Sites like Klout really feed the monster because they emphasize quantity over quality. Nice to see someone take a stand against this nonsense!

  • ausferret

    So THAT’S why I usually do not like some “best selling” or “award winning” books, movies, etc: Some of the kudos are not gained due to the quality or merit of the product.
    Perhaps it is easier to “play the system” than to develop real talent.

  • Pingback: What is an “Influencer”?()

  • “Cheating is not investing in people.” I like that. You gave me something to think about! And we are long overdue to meet. I will be down your way in May!

  • Good for you. That’s legit! : )

  • What? You don;t agree with my views? : ) Well. I’m actually glad for that. I wish I had more dissent around here. Feel free to chime in next time I piss you off : )

  • Many thanks for taking the time to comment Rich!

  • @KennethWorles

    I really appreciate this blog. I recently went to an award show for young men in college, but some of them really didn’t deserve awards. Like really. You could actually nominate yourself, and if you didn’t have other people nominated, you got it. But to think they now walk around with a form of “social proof” kind of rub me the wrong way. I think it’s a dying art form to make good work. In the end “Winners never cheat. Cheaters never win.”

  • Greetings back from Tennessee. Cost Rica is on my short list of places to visit. Maybe we’ll meet one day soon.

  • I was pretty shocked (but not surprised) to read about the list gaming, too. I’d long knew there were ways to game the NYT if you had the money to do it. So I quit taking it seriously even before my first book was published. When you’re a new writer, awards or great reviews help the author, as much as the reader, if they are legit.

    Way back, when I published my first novel, it won a Dorothy Parker Award. I have no idea how it happened, how I got picked, but I was thrilled! It was my first book! I love her pithy quotes and I was giddy. And then…you would not believe how many people I ran into who had never heard of her. LOL

    I learned then that awards and such have limited benefit and most helped me keep going. (wry grin)

    The sock puppet reviews, the gaming, all have made it more challenging to find books. In the end, it is still about word of mouth from people you trust, as you’ve pointed out here.

  • Good points; often the easy way isn’t the best.

  • Thanks pal. Unfortunately, and sadly, I don;t think the numbers do have to be legit. For example, I actually cull spammers from my Twitter stream. So I have a third of the number of followers as some of the big names. But I doubt if anybody knows or cares, honestly. I am actually hurting my social proof! : )

  • Love this. We are definitely in a NASCAR age. More and more.

  • Hey, you never know. I might be on my death thinking, I’m wondering if I am on Jenn’s “best of list?” : ) See you at Social Slam!

  • Amen! Great statement Teajai! Thanks for commenting.

  • Never confuse popularity with quality!!!

  • That is a profound statement. Thank you so much!

  • First of all, thanks for breaking up the love fest : ) I appreciate a dissenting view.

    But let’s say I agree with you. It’s not cheating. It’s “tainted.” Well, who wants to be tainted? It’s still wrong.

    And I don’t begrudge people having fun or legitimate social proof. It’s smart business. People have to know what you accomplished. But it’s also easy to make stuff up that is not legitimate, true or meaningful. That’s what is wrong. Right?

  • Thanks Diego.

  • Many thanks for taking your valuable time to comment today Kimberly!

  • Beautifully said! Thank you for sharing your wisdom today.

  • I think falling for the numbers plays a role in all our lives to some extent. The world just has too much information and we need some kind of a clue to help us figure everything out! Thanks Claudia.

  • This is a very interesting analogy. One of the nice things about the social web (I thought) is that you don;t have to be a politician. We can all stand on our own merits. But that’s not necessarily true, as you point out. Very interesting take on the issue Volkert!

  • Wow. So cool. Thanks for the awesome comment Maureen. I loved that IBM crowd. I felt that I did have an impact there!

  • As a matter of fact, I think you are my one fan. I’m glad to have finally found you. Can’t wait to call mom. : )

    Seriously, thanks for the very kind and generous comment Gordon!

  • I’m not as optimistic. I think that people are generally exhausted and will relay on social proof more than we would like to imagine. I see it every day. But I hope I’m wrong and that you’re right!!!

  • Hurray. Thanks for that! I’ll do my best to keep it going! : )

  • This is really an amazing comment in so many ways Kristen. First, you’re right about the need — sometimes the desperate need — to find a way to stand out in a crowded space. I probably need to give more grace on that account.

    The second point is also so key. It is getting harder and harder to really stay connected as he numbers grow. If I ever fall into this category i want you to give me a good swift kick in the butt.

    I still spend a lot of time helping people but I can’t keep up with the demand. I do appreciate where I came from but also realize sometimes I might look like a jerk because I have to say no. Those folks don;t see the big picture, they only see the “no” and I hate that.

    Any way, thanks for the brilliance!!

  • Not always, but that’s ok! You’ve never actually pissed me off though, so that’s good, haha :P. Disagreement is what makes the world go round! If everyone would agree to everything, a lot of stupid things would happen to society, or we’d live in a boring world.

    Nothing like a friendly debate once in a while! 🙂 Would love to have a chance to talk to you outside your blog or social, maybe a hangout or something? I’ve been heavily invested in Influencer Marketing since October now, and I always appreciate good debates about it. 🙂

  • Very interesting Julie. My concern is that there is not just a cheating behavior, but a cheating culture out there, a culture that rewards the “insiders” who know the game and increasingly blocks out the honest people. I use to do business in Venezuela and saw this happen there. When the only successful people are the corrupt ones, who do you look up to? Who do you aspire to? What do you do to feed your family? I think that could very well become the case in the some of the situations I described here.

  • Much appreciated Frederic. I appreciate the support and never take it for granted when people spend time reading {grow}!

  • Agree with you and also agree that it is not likely to change, at least until when somebody like the New York Times starts to wake up on this topic.

  • Another big issue, isn’t it? There are no shortcuts really! Thanks Ravi.

  • Some of this is also articulated in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book where he points out that most success is really built on an incredible amount of luck. I love this point though — using social proof to tip the odds in your favor. You taught me something today. Thank you!

  • Thanks Katherine. PS I think it is a common myth that Klout favors quantity over quality. There is an example in my book about a photographer in Chicago who had just a couple hundred followers but a high Klout score because people moved his content. That is really what Klout is trying to demonstrate — the ability to move content.

  • I think that on the social web, yes, that is true. Some of the best-selling social media marketing authors in this space have never held a marketing job in their lives. So there you go. : )

  • Hey Kenneth! Thanks for connecting here. So glad to have have met you at MTSU. Thanks for the great comment.

  • Cool story Pauline and very relevant. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web? | Social Media and Internet Marketing |

  • I love this post. And I think my philosophy on “gaming” the system is the same philosophy I have on fake boobs. I don’t spend much time worried about whether or not another person has decided to enhance their features beyond their natural state– I personally take the “as nature intended” route regarding my own body, soul, and Klout score. And if what it takes to get attention is that kind of unnatural enhancement, then it’s not the attention from the people I want in the first place.

  • Andrew Kobylarz


    I think that you touched on two things here 1. Moral value on creating a brand and bumping up content 2. But also an insight into what can really ruin premium content for consumers. The second thing is probably the one that worries me the most, and even though a lot of people will weed through the crap to find the good stuff, it’s definitely VERY hard to come by. A lot of publishers today are using “content recycle” schemes just to generate more clicks. Kinda defeats the purpose of creating content for the consumers and the advertisers . . . IMO

    Here’s an article I found on viperchill: (pretty long but I think that you’ll find it insightful)

    Thanks for the awesome post!

  • Pingback: Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web? | Online Media News()

  • Pingback: Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web? | Internet PR Student |

  • Alexander Gibson

    Sorry to say but this has motivated me to cheat a little. Maybe not give myself fake awards or buy traffic but you paint a picture of a tough time for new writers. Sure content is king but if no one reads it…. Anyways I enjoyed the read and I’ll be back in the future.

  • kadeeirene

    What it comes down to is simple, people have great BS detectors. Trust will come when the cheating stops. “Cheating” makes you work hard and endlessly to figure out the next way to game the system when the initial tactics get old. If you just put in the work up front it all becomes so much easier down the road. The future matters, not just the now.

  • It can be so frustrating to watch others make great leaps and strides doing all the things that I swore I’d never do; buying followers, faking clients etc. I want to succeed on my own merits but it can be disheartening when the pace is so much slower.

  • Yes, some of it is cheating. But most of it isn’t really. It’s just that certain people – in any profession – are comfortable being overtly self-promotional in ways that might, at first glance, appear horrifying.

    But to ask someone to vote for you in the Shorty Awards, or even to win a Shorty Award and promote it, isn’t cheating. It’s just making a different choice in terms of how, why, and what a person chooses to emphasize about their own background, experience and expertise.

    I, too, sometimes marvel at how brazen professional marketers can be when the product is themselves, but at the same time I feel it’s important to not mix questions of ethics with questions of ego, as they are typically not the same.

  • Mark:

    I continue to be impressed with your diligence and thoughtfulness. You generated all these comments…and take the time to give each comment a thoughtful response. You are a great role model.

    – Gary

  • Hey Mark, Good to hear sound thoughtful advise from a friend. Hope you are doing well.

  • A very healthy attitude. Thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy day to comment!

  • Well, that is a perfectly fine and honest response. It’s not a tough time for new writers. It’s a tough time for boring writers. : )

  • I do believe that is true. Despite the fast that so much of social media is non-verbal, I agree it is usually pretty easy to detect the BS over time. Thanks!

  • Feel your pain. My audience is building but this is really hard work. Definitely worth it though. You;re here, right? : )

  • You’re right, a Shorty Award is not cheating, per se. I just threw it in there as an unusual form of social proof. Thanks for calling me out on that.

    I don’t have any problem with self-promotion. That’s our world. I do have a problem with knock-off goods being promoted as Chanel though. : )

  • Or, I’m a tired role model. : ) Either way, I very much appreciate your kind comment Professor.

  • Well, I’ve been wondering about you!! Drop me a line an let me know what you have been up to. Better yet, drive on over to Social Slam April 5!

  • Very, very interesting. Thanks for passing that along Andrew!

  • Thanks. I needed that. : )

  • No, I totally got it…

  • Hey Matt – Buying a Google Ad or buying links to increase your site authority. Tough decision.

    I absolutely see your logic on the last point. This is where it gets blurry. If that same person had a huge marketing budget and made it to the NYT bestseller list would they say anything? Well the agency marketed the hell out of it, I don’t think we would have made it otherwise.

    Marketing and Gaming are probably more closely related than anyone here would like to admit.

  • Interesting post, Mark. You can buy virtually anything today. Need a viral YouTube video? Buy it. Need more Twitter followers? Buy them. But the process of doing it the legitimate way takes a very long time. There are no short-cuts. But that’s what I do, Mark. I’m either really smart, or really stupid – not sure which.

  • Pingback: Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web? | Latest Social Media News |

  • its what you have to say that counts

  • Like your manufacturing guy the fakes alway get their due. And because they’re fakes nobody notices except the ones who are burned by them.

  • reddel

    Very powerful stuff Mark. I’m so glad that Pam Moore shared this article on Facebook. Couldn’t agree with you more. As my high school basketball coach told me years ago cheaters never prosper. Stay true to yourself, do the right thing, and be respectful of others. So simple, yet so difficult for so many people. I’m your newest fan. Look forward to more from you.

  • Falling for the numbers… I know how easy that is and I’ve only blogged since, what, last August? No one is immune. Have a great weekend Mark.

  • Thanks for joining in!

  • Should wealthy corporations be able to get into the Facebook news feed by paying for promoted posts Mark? Is this “cheating”?

  • No, that’s advertising.

  • They get a lot of “likes” on their posts and on their pages this way.. Not sure where this will all end

  • very thoughtful, Mark (and all) – however some of your views as to cheating, gamification, clawing + sleeping + fighting (and back-stabbing, doublecrossing, betraying) your way to the top (of social media) are naive’ and display an attempt to superimpose morality onto the culture of the internet – which as you all know is no-holds-barred; fraught with fake (and overly belligerent, flaming, and trolling) behavior, mis and double identities, bots, spam – and get-rich-quick schemes.

    Time will tell. Judge not – lest ye be judged. What good is it? to gain the world? and lose one’s soul?

  • Pingback: Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web? | Social Media MOOC |

  • panangler

    There is so much noise today, that even if you create epic sh_t, it is sooo hard to get the message out to the people who would enjoy it or benefit by it. You still have to market – you just have to do it the right way, and be prepared for it to be a gradual process. Like this:

  • Lance Wyllie

    Just reading this discussion is a testament to doing things the right way. Real interaction with knowledgable people will always lead to greater personal growth. True gurus are always on a quest of knowledge and their world is filled with interaction, so cheating is simply a waste of time. My CEO thinks I am a genius. I like to think so, but in reality, my genius is surrounding myself with all of you in this fabulous digital landscape where anyone can connect with the best there is.

  • Pingback: Fresh Business Info – Saturday, March 9, 2013()

  • Shrutin Shetty

    Hi Mark, that was an excellent post. Thank you. You do represent a shrinking minority, but it is reassuring for people like me who are relatively young in industry. And I do hope that people start seeing the self-defeating effect of their efforts (the forced or follow-the-herd likes on facebook, the people-who-wouldn’t-have-a-clue contacts endorsing certain skills of yours on LinkedIn, etc.) soon. Thanks again.!

  • Mark,

    Given what so much of my content here has focused on for the last several weeks, I think it’s safe to say you know how I feel about this. You can’t manufacture authenticity. I personally don’t believe in buying my way to the the top.

    1) You could buy yourself a million followers
    2) You could buy a million pageviews
    3) You could buy 100,000 copies of your book

    But what you can’t buy is a real connection to your readers. You’ve done that in authentic way. Thanks to your excruciatingly high editorial standards my latest book has been a HUGE hit with my readers. I’ll leave you with one thought. Nobody is going to put your klout score on your tombstone.

  • Alicia Olsen

    Thanks for the great article. I had no idea about the NYT list! Ugh… I come across this issue most in talking SEO with my clients, convincing them not to buy random inbound links or stuff keywords into their background image. It’s an ongoing battle! I will definitely be sharing your piece!

  • Tim Greaton

    I blogged on this very issue recently, and I have to admit that though I have and would not follow the false path, I believe there is a lesson to be learned for the rest of us. To write in today’s world means to self-promote. Getting noticed has become an important part of our job. We can demonize the cheaters…but that doesn’t stop them from leaping above us on the bestseller lists and in sales. Again, I don’t think any of us should cheat, but I wonder if rather than worry about the misdeeds of those who choose an unsavory path, maybe we should instead find an honest path upward. Then again, raging against the cheaters might be an honest path 🙂

  • Pingback: Posts Recomendados 4-10 de Marzo | Diego's Blog()

  • I don’t know if it would be “failed” gurus but maybe ones that have completely fallen off the map over time. Cheating the system isn’t sustainable over a long period.

  • Agree Laurie. I certainly agree with Mark Harai’s message but still fear that it will get lost, even if it’s epic 🙂

  • Amen to that! : )

  • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment Shrutin!

  • Well said Srini. Thanks for all you do and congratulations on the book! : )

  • Awesome. Glad I could help!

  • i don’t think I elevate myself by putting others down. That’s not my style and that is not the purpose or tone of this post, I do think it is appropriate to shine a light on issues in our business and I try to incorporate a personal element in my writing to make it more “real” and interesting. I personally am terrible at self-promoting,. In that respect, I am in the wrong business. I have had success in spite of myself : ) Thanks for the very interesting comment Tim.

  • Great piece, Mark … lots of (sadly) familiar points here!

  • Robin Taney

    So, someone who has a company buy a ton of books to nudge them on to the NYT bestseller list is proud of himself even though he knows those books are most likely sitting in boxes in the company’s basement or on their way to the dollar store? That is sad.

    The foundation of my PR business is that entrepreneurs have to Get R.E.A.L., which is based on four core principles: they have to be realistic, engaging, authentic, and develop the mindset that they want to have a long lasting relationship with their customers. Why does it have to be any more complicated than that?

  • Daw Johnson

    Some of the worst offenders are those “social media experts” who follow 10K+ people for the sole purpose of building their follower count up. Then we’re supposed to be impressed that they have tons of followers, even though these people are only following back out of reciprocation.

    There’s one such expert who *FOLLOWED ME* and I, being naive and new to Twitter at the time, followed back (thinking that’s what you’re supposed to do). I realized his Tweets were crap (just quotes of the day and links to his blog…no THOUGHTS or OPINIONS, the things that I want to see from the people I follow) and unfollowed him. Immediately, I noticed that he unfollowed me.

    Clearly, he was following me to build up his network–not because I added value to his life. And no surprise, since it’s IMPOSSIBLE to follow all the Tweets of 10000 people. Hell, I only follow 90 people and can’t keep up with everyone’s posts.

    If people aren’t following you because they find your Tweets valuable, they shouldn’t count as real followers because you don’t have guaranteed influence over them.

  • Thanks for the keen (and accurate) observation!

  • Raymond Morin

    Hi Mark,
    This is another of your great blog posts that I would like to have written by myself. At the end, the fake social media gurus will always get revealed by their own fail. The real thought leaders never have to fake or cheat about their influence to get recognized. They just have to say what they are really thinking about the topics that they are concerned, as you always do. The «social proof», as important as it could be for businesses, should always be taken in its own context.

    P.S.: I just loved the Kiwanis Club essay contest part … I know so much people in this way of thinking.

  • Pingback: Posts Recomendados 4-10 de Marzo()


    This is so true! But unfortunately I feel like if you’re an up and coming artist, you almost have to pay for some likes or followers as to not look unappealing from a marketing perspective. I think as long as it’s nothing extreme, it should be okay. Besides, it’s not fair when artists who get famous because they have their daddy’s millions to pay for advertising. So maybe the buying a small bump or two isn’t such a bad thing? I dunno. I agree with your article – I Have issues with it too, but a part of me knows that if you don’t go along with it, you might be the one who never gets that break because you didn’t fake it til you make it. I guess it’s all about intentions, I think everyone in business and especially show business have to deal with the fake side of things too. As long as you are real where it counts, I guess that is what really matters?

  • I shake my head and roll my eyes at the accolades that some people grant themselves. When I see tag lines and bios asserting “world’s best” I think “REALLY? How could you possibly know that? Was there a worldwide talent search and you won?”

    A similar tactic to the NYTimes best seller list is the common practice of asking everyone on your list to download a free copy from Amazon and leave a review of your book on a certain day…to drive it to #1 in its category (for a day). Then forevermore you can refer to yourself as a “#1 best-selling author on Amazon”.


    I think everyone’s comfort level differs though. Personally I don’t like scheduled posts (although I have been known to do it and even recommend it to my students) or repeated posts. To me there is an inauthenticity to those tactics. When I see a tweet about a blog article I assume it’s a fresh post and I feel cheated when I click through and see it’s a repeat from weeks or months ago. I know you differ with me on this, Mark, and I know there are some good arguments for repeating posts.

    And before I leave the impression that I am pure as the driven snow, I must confess that over the years I have tried out many tactics that I now consider cringe-worthy. And who knows, I might try out new ones in the future 🙂

  • Mike Hind

    And right there is a reply I wish I had written.
    We do, of course, know that there are two ways to play any game; the hard (but satisfying) right way. The way that leads to uncertainty and unpredictable outcomes. Or the cynical way.
    I know which one I favour. And I’ll stand or fall by being authentic.
    Because, in the end, I want to see a proper person when I look in the mirror.

  • Mike Hind

    A great example of breathing new life into an old (but still relevant – and resonant) piece of top notch content. Following your own advice offered in The Content Code 🙂

    I have watched supposed social media ‘experts’ follow and unfollow me as many as 5 times. It just leaves me with a wry smile and a modest – but reasonable – follower to following ratio.

    I’ll live with that.

  • Pingback: Strategi for sosiale media – but why? | jj tale()

  • Pingback: Buying Fake Book Reviews: Are you a respectable writer or a con-artist? | T. K. Jones()

  • Pingback: Buying Fake Book Reviews: Are you a respectable writer or a con-artist? - Terri K. Jones()

  • Pingback: Nazaqat | Sasha H. Singhal | Book Review | Drama |

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend