Social media is extremely powerful and scalable. It leverages the crowds to spur rapid growth. However, the very mechanism that enables this growth is often exploited in a counterproductive manner via cheating and “gaming”.
My definition of gaming is as follows:
“The exploitation of a social service for self-fulfilling or monetary purposes, decreasing the overall value of the community. “
Analyzing the situation from a traditional marketing approach, the motivation for such behaviour becomes clear: the ROI of gaming social media is very attractive. Such tactics cost nothing and can (potentially) reach the masses.
The line between gaming and social media marketing is a delicate one. I think the easiest way to distinguish the two is by asking if a given action adds value to the community. If so, then it can be considered social media marketing. If not, gaming may be a more appropriate term. Another question that can be asked when determining whether a certain tactic should be considered gaming is whether a regular user would engage in such behaviour. If yes, then proceed as necessary. If not, then re-establish priorities.
Popular social media properties, such as Wikipedia and Digg, depend on users for the continuous influx of content. YouTube and Flickr rely on users for video and photo content. Blogging platforms, such as Wordpress and Twitter, simply offer a tool that facilitates the creation and dissemination of ideas. The content is produced entirely by users.
The point is that manipulating and exploiting the focal point of these sites (i.e. the content) can produce attractive rewards. The desired outcome of an abuser may be cheaper and easier to achieve than using a traditional Internet marketing strategy.
Wikipedia can be leveraged by creating company-specific content. Also, the favourable editing of company-related articles and the unfavourable editing of competitor-related articles can also be considered gaming. Digg can be manipulated using group voting tactics. This is probably the most well-known example of gaming. Other unethical practices include the “repurposing” (i.e. stealing) of content and comment spam.
Social media sites are in a constant struggle to combat these forces. Thus far, they are doing a relatively good job. A combination of tools, systems, and user moderation is needed to regulate these communities. Still, as these defense systems improve, so do the gaming tactics and technologies. Constant innovation and evolution is needed to deal with these issues and stay ahead of the curve.