Gaming Social Media

April 28th, 2008 | Categories: design, marketing, markets, networks, social media, strategy, trends, video, web issues, wikis

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.


  1. Michael Artemiw Says:

    Perhaps it is our definition of community that we need to challenge. I like to think of a community as a group of individuals working toward a common goal. A group assembled for some common purpose. Many of today’s social web apps are social, but not communities, by that definition.

    Rather than get in a perpetual arms race with the gamers. We should be trying to figure out how to build real communities. We should be looking at the purpose of these communities, and the reward structures that our apps create. Today’s social web apps reward individual contribution, while that remains true, there will always be individuals who game the system.

  2. ML2 daily 04/29/2008 Says:

    […] Gaming Social Media […]

  3. Aidan Says:

    Michael - very interesting point.

    Perhaps “social” and “community” are not necessarily the same thing and should be treated as separate entities. Although, I would argue that some communities are social by their very nature.


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