Shoveling and picking organic fertilizer was not my idea of a lifelong profession as a child, yet growing up on a farm meant I spent a lot of time rearranging the location of animal poop. I worked hard in school to ensure that my future did not involve more organize the excrement of others. Went to college, got a degree in engineering, served in the Air Force, got a PhD, settled down with a family, started a company, the typical path of an Arkansas farmboy. Imagine my surprise when I woke up to realize how much of my day was spent shoveling the poop of others around…
You see, Argus Insights got into the big data business by accident. Initially our most compelling insights came from the analysis of consumer reviews. Over time our clients asked us to take the talents honed in pulling actions from the rants and raves of consumers and apply them to the growing proliferation of social media, Twitter, Facebook posts, etc. Like good soldiers we dived right into the mix, eventually developing the means to extract value from the vast landscape of social media. Our initial efforts to separate wheat from chaff produce small piles of waste that we dutifully stored for later study. Then we did a brand audit for one of our retail customers. To our shock, one in three social mentions of our client contained a like to Amazon.com. Their brand was being hijacked!
Before you decide that this post is about attacking Amazon for surreptitiously snagging mindshare from our clients through a well thought and illicit campaign of consumer kidnapping, I have to share that each one of these links was actually a link to an Amazon affiliate designed to guide consumers back to Amazon for a purchase where the erstwhile affiliate would be rewarded for their ingenuity. This was starting to be an issue our clients and by association, we could no longer ignore. It came to a head during Black Friday 2012, when an Amazon Affiliate by the name of Bob Douplein found a way to get legitimate Facebook users to help him repost the entire Amazon.com catalog one public post at a time. At one point in time, if you searched for Bob Douplein, you found over 14 million hits because Bob adhered to the Amazon requirement that affiliate be part of every post.
Why did Bob do this? Since Facebook is so heavily indexed by Google and Bob wanted his links to the 25,673th pink leather iPad case to come up at the top of your search results, he, or his agent, cleverly found a way to get the attention of Google’s bots. Eventually such a single line of attack was discovered and Bob’s Facebook legacy was removed. If you search for him today, there are less than 50,000 posts. But Bob started something, he showed where the market was headed when it comes to the competition for consumer attention.
One a single day during the holiday season we pulled in almost a million Facebook public posts related to the aforementioned retail client. We threw away (identified as spam with a pretty high threshhold algorithm) over 70% of these posts. We routinely filter out 20% of all tweets as bot traffic trying to boost the page rank of their shady masters. A cry that has increasingly rung through the office, “We’ve got another Facebook spam storm!” The spammers are getting smart, they are using spread spectrum attacks to stay under the radar of Twitter and Facebook. Eventually these attacks are rooted out but with significant cost to the entire social media ecosystem. Twitter recently announced both profitability and lower usage by users, a mixture of hot and cold that left the markets a bit frigid on Twitter’s future prospects.
So the question is, why are Twitter, Facebook and those of use that depend on the social media ecosystem to understand consumer behavior subsidizing Amazon affiliates abuse of Google?