Distributed viral social media spam

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What do you get when you combine the scale and elusive nature of a distributed denial of service attack, the purposeful approach of social media spam, and the rapid spread of a viral marketing campaign? I don't have a word for it, but we have a real-world example, and a lot of people are going to see the results tomorrow.

Bum Rush the Charts is an effort to put an indie band at the top of the iTunes charts—tomorrow. Eric Eggertson writes about it as a case study in word-of-mouth promotion. The details are worth considering, as is Eric's comment:

Note the blatant manipulation of the various voting sites, to create a huge bump in links and attention for the Black Flag song Mine Again.

Now, take those tactics and apply them to an election campaign, a word of mouth marketing campaign, a WTO protest—you name it.

I'm not quite sure what to call this. It's not exactly spam, since the participants don't benefit directly. The effort is apparently transparent, and it doesn't ask anyone to do anything improper. It's an effort to coordinate votes and buying behavior.

So, what is this? Consumer-generated spam? Distributed social media marketing? Viral activism? It's not just word-of-mouth marketing, because of the goal of gaming the ranking systems.

This is a slick idea, and I agree that others will try it. And while I've used the language of some very undesirable behavior to understand it, I don't see anything particularly wrong with it. BRTC may be manipulating outcomes, but they're going in through the front door.

It's just that tomorrow, the rankings will show what happens when a group of people get together to demonstrate their numbers and purchasing power.


1 Comment


I think in the old days, this would be called a grassroots advocacy campaign.

The fact that people are organizing themselves to have an impact on social media sites and on a commercial site like iTunes is a new twist.

But there have been citizen actions using petitions, letter-writing campaigns, meetings, fund-raising concerts, phone-in campaigns, news releases, news conferences, etc., etc.

As you say, this effort is transparent, and they're coming in through the front door. I agree, there's nothing nefarious going on. Just the peeps flexing their collective muscles.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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