Monday, February 6, 2012

Sockpuppets and being nice on twitter, part 1

As promised, here is a post on sockpuppets and being nice on Twitter--or on podcasts or at book fairs, etc.

Problem: how do you get people to consume your product? 

People usually (and used to) want to be like their idols and socially higher-ups; so if you have a beer that needs drinking, put it in the hands of a king (UK) or a movie star (USA), and some people will drink it as easily as that. (Or for the historical view: peasants dress up like merchants, merchants dress up like nobles--and nobles enact sumptuary laws to keep the lower orders from dressing/consuming like them.)

But what about if people start taking their cues from their equals and peers? 

Then you need to your target to be surrounded by people who consume your product. This is the world of buzz and viral marketing, where you (the PR company) hires an actor or actress to order a particular beer at a bar, and do so in a way that ensures that other people see you buying that beer (or talking up that movie or whatever the whatever). And then those people who saw the original consumer start consuming that way and then other people see those consumers, et al.

But let's say that you don't have a company--you're just one person with a book that you've self-published.

(I like beer as an example, but let's be honest: we're talking about books.) You could try to get your book noticed by juicing the sale numbers--getting all your friends and family to buy lots of copies so that the book was in the Top 10 bestsellers. (Because, believe me, being in the top 10 will lead to more purchases. Nothing succeeds like success.)

But that's expensive; maybe we can juice your numbers through some free method, like positive reviews. But what if you're the only person who likes (or has read) your book?


Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game does a nice job portraying the Internets and forums, and how unscrupulous little monsters could use the anonymity of the web to juice the numbers/take over the world. That is, two super-bright kids start up important pseudonyms to get some ideas out there; but they set up alternate accounts/names to support those primary accounts.

And people do this in real life, especially on Amazon, where writers can feel free to post positive reviews under alternative names. It's not always easy to identify these false positive reviews, though I recently read a book for review which seems to have some sockpuppet-written reviews both on Amazon and Goodreads. My clues?

  1. Verbal similarity: the reviews sound very similar to each other and the book.
  2. No other reviews: on Amazon, these positive reviews were written by accounts that had no other reviews.
  3. Private accounts with unlikely average ratings: on Goodreads, there are positive reviews written by people who have a) hidden their accounts and b) have average review ratings of 5 stars--so these look like accounts that are used mostly to talk up books.
  4. Hyperbole: these reviews can't say enough good about this book that, to put it succinctly, no editor liked enough to publish.
The underdog needs sympathy

There's something I like about self-published authors--they are plucky and self-confident. (Note: Yeah, there's condescension mixed in there, but if it weren't for condescension, I wouldn't have any descension at all.) But when these self-published underdogs try to trick readers into reading their stuff, you run the real risk of losing sympathy and goodwill--which are arguably more important than good reviews.

Have you run into instances of sockpuppetry?

More tomorrow. Or as the book I finished ended: "to be continued."
Cite: Sockpuppets (TV Tropes); Sockpuppets (Wiki)


  1. I have heard that Lev Grossman actually did this for his book Codex. Otherwise, yes.

  2. Disappointing, but maybe not all that surprising--I think it's almost too easy these days to sockpuppet.