Brushing up on Brand Protection – Farming


    by Stuart Fuller (CentralNic)

    In a series of short articles explaining some of the growing trends in intellectual and physical asset risks, Stuart Fuller examines a trend that is becoming more and more of a concern for global brands – Like Farming.

    For regular users of Social Media, sponsored posts and competitions are now a common sight. Many global brands use Social Media as an effective tool in growing awareness and ultimately sales to consumers across the world. The social networks’ command of user data is so extensive that they are able to allow advertisers to reach exactly the consumers they want, with very little effort on their part.

    However, any regular social media network user cannot fail to see the occasional “too good to be true” offer by a major brand, or quizzes that test our skill and knowledge through some fairly basic mathematics equations. These are designed to tempt us to take part by playing to our vanity and desire to be seen by our online network of ‘friends’ as “geniuses”.

    Such adverts are known as ‘Like Farming’. At best, anyone who engages with them hands over useful information, even if that is simply by “liking” the advert. Thereafter, the unsuspecting user may find themselves targeted relentlessly by more nefarious advertisers. At worst, users can be duped into buying goods that are either counterfeit or don’t exist. Either way, these adverts certainly are too good to be true.

    Recently, I saw one such advert that summed up the problem of Like Farming first hand. The advert in question was an offer to win one of two Range Rover Sports, well at least that is what I’m sure it was supposed to say. What it actually said was that two people would win a “Range- Rover sport 2016”. To stand a change (sic) of winning one all you had to do was:-

    1. Like the page
    2. Like and share the post
    3. Comment on what colour you want

    In addition to over 27,000 “likes”, over 17,000 had added comments, none of which suggested that people believed this was a hoax.

    So why do normal, rational people in the real world become so gullible on Social Media? One reason could be that they trust what appears on their timeline. They may believe that the social media networks would never allow any fake or scam items to appear and so anything that appears is considered genuine.

    Unfortunately, for those 17,000+ who had engaged with the competition there would be no “winner messaged on public via our fan page”. The fact that a company with revenues of over £19 billion would publish something online with such poor spelling and grammar should set alarm bells off as well as the simple question “why”? Why would Jaguar Land Rover, the parent company of Range Rover simply give two cars, worth over £50,000 each for no reason? What would they gain from such a competition?

    When it comes to Social Media competitions, if it looks too good to be true it almost certainly is. But what is in it for the individuals or organisation behind the scam competition? After all, in this instance all they are asking individuals to do is “like”, “share” and “comment” on the page? They are not taking the user off to an external site, where personal details could be harvested or even worse, malware could be injected onto the user’s machine.

    The goal is simply to increase the value of their Facebook pages or fan groups so that they can sell on the data to a third-party who may well have more sinister motives. The more likes and engagement via sharing and/or comments a page has, the higher the resale value is. Whilst such activity is actually against the Terms of Service of most Social Media Networks, it still doesn’t stop the practice from being more and more commonplace.

    One motive for someone buying the data from such a competition is to further mine for personal information. Consider the scenario where the new owner of the page adds a link to the ad which shows who has won the prize. All you need to do is click on the link. If they really want to go to town once you have entered some information to prove it is you then CONGRATULATIONS!!!! YOU HAVE WON A CAR. All you need to do is pay an admin fee, or in this case a moderate delivery fee, and now they have financial data as well. Of course that is a worst-case scenario but the criminals know they only need one victim to get a return on their investment of the scam.

    According to the website they have seen Like-Farming scams in the past twelve months relating to free weekend breaks at Toyota, Disney Cruises, Tesco, KFC and free Air New Zealand flights to anywhere in the world. Just think about those for a minute – why would any of those major global brands give away such expensive prizes in such a way?

    We’ve so far looked at the situation from the consumer or Social Media user, but what about from the brand holder’s point of view? Should they be concerned about this sort of activity? What could or should they be doing about it? It is incredibly hard for them to stay on top of everything that happens in the almost instantaneous world of Social Media, where content can be posted and shared around the world in a matter of minutes. When brand holders do become aware of something that is unauthorised, they should work with the Social Media networks to have the content removed quickly as well as using their official channels to warn their followers. Unfortunately, the damage to a brand’s reputation continues to stick even if they are as much a victim as some of the Social Media users who fell for the scam.

    A formalised Social Media Monitoring solution, such as the BrandShelter Social Media Monitoring solution, can certainly provide a core foundation to a brand protection solution and should be a consideration for any ambitious brand looking to build their online presence. A formalised social media monitoring service provides you with important information about the use of your brand on all relevant social media platforms. For example, BrandShelter monitors existing and new social media networks and identifies brand violations in user names and profiles. A service should focus on legally actionable trademark infringements, not just brand-related comments. It should also monitor the important networks for you and inform you about questionable uses of your brand.

    The underlying message though must be for the whole digital generation. Social Media users need to be vigilant and exercise caution when using Social Media, using the same level of prudence (if not more) than in the ‘real world’. Companies do not simply give away expensive goods to random people without any quid pro quo. Remember the old adage updated – There is no such thing as a free lunch….or car, cruise, city break, five star holiday or brand new iPhone.