With so much buzz about social media marketing these days I can’t help but wonder how many people think manufacturing fake word of mouth is a good marketing technique.

I’m referring to people who get onto sites like Quora, a collection of good questions and answers, and recommend their own stuff without saying it’s their own stuff.

One thing is answering a question by linking to your own website, book or blog post. I’ve done that myself, in Quora — but only sparingly, when the link directly answers the question, and never without disclosing my bias.

It’s quite another thing to troll the web looking for places to recommend your own stuff as if you were an objective third-party person recommending it. People trust objective recommendations, so maybe this works. But does it work over the long term, when they do it as a marketing method? Wouldn’t that kind of marketing cut into long-term business health by killing your credibility?

In Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook we at least have the on/off function, like channels, follow or not, friend or not, which helps somewhat. But in Quora, it’s question by question, and if this continues, eventually we’ll have to wade through the fake answers to find the real ones.

John Jantsch summarizes marketing as getting people to know, like, and trust you. If your introduction starts with something fake, can you gain credibility later?

And meanwhile, this kind of fake word-of-mouth or stealth marketing in social media sites threatens the value of the sites. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Quora lately, and I think I’m starting to see it more and more. It seems like a damned shame, really, because Quora has started out as an excellent collection of really good answers to really interesting questions. The more it gets polluted by fake recommendations, the less valuable it will be.

I hate to say that spam obviously works because it keeps coming. And some other unpleasant tactics that show up in social media must work, because they keep coming. But are we too dumb to see through these fake recommendations? Does that work too?

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