Hastings Direct AstroTurf FaceBookCreep

I wrote a little post about how I thought Hastings Direct had lost a little piece of business, because it was now easier to be part of an invisible community with a lot of power at it’s finger tips (see: https://facebookcreeper.wordpress.com/2009/02/05/hastings-direct-loses-out-to-the-invisible-community/). Some time later, a comment appeared on the blog purporting to be from a “grass roots” user (this is a key term as we’ll see in a minute) and you can see this here: https://facebookcreeper.wordpress.com/2009/02/05/hastings-direct-loses-out-to-the-invisible-community/#comments – look for Jackcat1’s comment. I particularly like:

“In contract however, but for a different reason (I had a claim with Hastings Direct) I found the call centre extremely helpful and put my mind at rest immediately when worried about my car claim. Everything was taken care off, I didn’t even have to dig for information like I have had to do in the past. The polite young lady explained everything I needed to know. Excellent service. Highly recommended and my renewal premium was competitive!”

Jackcat’s real name is Karen Sealy Bell (if her Hotmail address is anything to go by: nice trick). Karen Sealy Bell is Web Development Manager at Equity Insurance Group. You can check this by looking at her LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karensealybell. You’ll note that Equity and Hastings Direct are one and the same company. Granted, this may be someone masquerading as Karen, but I can’t imagine why they would do this.

So what Karen has done is AstroTurfing – which Wikipedia describes as “formal politicaladvertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior (sic)”

Karen has pretended to be a regular member of the public (and not mentioned she has an interest in the firm). If you look at the language, you’ll note that it doesn’t reference the subject matter of the original post (about the power of consumers in the digital age) but seems to focus on my apparent lack of understanding of the insurance market (I was once married to an underwriter so that’s not true). This is then followed by a personal anecdote of her own contact with the firm.

It doesn’t ring true – nice touch with the spelling and grammar errors. It’s too squeaky clean and lovely. People are rarely effusive about receiving normal service, especially about products where they don’t have an emotional involvement (I’m in love with my car but not the insurance).

So – a case of AstroTurfing: quite an old crime in social media, and one that can be used as an example of how not to engage with the public. Naughty Torty!

Thanks to @linkmonkey, @Buzzmartin, @Mattorchard and @Jenniferogrady for their professional twittered opinions.

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