In what could be remembered as one of the larger exposés of aggressive viral marketing tactics on Facebook to date, a recruiter in the Butler University admissions department has unearthed evidence that college guide book publisher College Prowler has been using Facebook Groups, fake Facebook accounts, and savvy understanding of some behavioral dynamics inside Facebook to essentially build a mailing list for the entire incoming college class of 2013.
In his original post on Thursday, Butler’s Brad Ward discovered that over 500+ Facebook Groups for incoming freshmen next fall at colleges around the world, like University of Michigan – Class of 2013 and The Official Cornell University Class of 2013! were all created by a small group of accounts that were friends with each other and affiliated with College Prowler – none appeared to be legitimately affiliated with the incoming freshman class at any of the hundreds of universities for which they had created groups. Said Ward,
But for 500+ schools? Owning the admin rights to groups equaling easily 1,000,000+ freshman college students? That’s huge.
Think of it: Sitting back for 8-10 months, (even a few years), maybe friending everyone and posing as an incoming student. Think of the data collection. The opportunities down the road to push affiliate links. The opportunity to appear to be an ‘Admin’ of Your School Class of 2013. The chance to message alumni down the road. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.
Responding on Mr Ward’s blog, Luke Sherman, College Prowler’s CEO, left the following comment:
Yes, College Prowler has been directly or indirectly involved with the creation of multiple Class of 2013 groups. The original purpose was to use these groups as a way to inform students that they can access a free guide about their new college on our site. No employee or anyone else associated with College Prowler has used these groups to send out messages or wall posts.
Until about an hour ago, I was unaware that College Prowler was working with another company that may have been using fake aliases to create to these groups. The groups that College Prowler was responsible for creating were set up with real accounts. Here are the names that are associated with College Prowler, and they will all be removed immediately from the Class of 2013 groups (all other names are not controlled by College Prowler):
• Mark Tressler
• Ron Tressler
• Brenna Young
• Lisa Young
• Lauren Plavchek
• Jessica Lash
From a big picture perspective, having a marketing strategy using social networking sites (like Facebook) is something that is necessary to be effective in our business. We do pride ourselves on being forward thinking and aggressive. In this instance, in its current form, we have crossed the line and to reiterate, we will be removing our administrator privileges from all of these 2013 groups immediately.
Feel free to email, firstname.lastname@example.org, with any additional concerns or questions.
This looks like a classic class of guerilla marketing gone wild. As Butler’s Ward discovered, there are a lot of aggressive marketers out there taking advantage of Facebook Groups to reach hundreds or thousands of Facebook users. Groups grow virally through Facebook’s invitation channel, and some groups can even grow into the millions of members in a matter of just a few weeks. However, unfortunately, College Prowler apparently used fake accounts to carry out its marketing tactics, a sure fire way to get shut down (usually by Facebook’s automated systems – but in this case, by the self-regulating social pressure from other Facebook users).
As we discuss in the Facebook Marketing Bible, Groups are one of the oldest ways to build community around your company or brand, but Facebook is encouraging legitimate brand owners and marketers to adopt its Facebook Pages platform. Pages are a better way for marketers to build long lasting relationships with large volumes of people, and are extensible with Facebook Platform application functionality. Learn more about the best ways to employ both Pages and Groups as part of your overall strategy here.
Also see more notes from the Chronicle of Higher Education.