Is a social media marketing hoax ever a good idea?

October 5, 2016

Social media marketing success is built on trust: your followers have got to feel like they can trust what your brand is saying on the platform or they’ll simply stop following. However, is it worth risking that relationship for the sake of a viral marketing campaign?

An Australian online betting company seemed to think so.

Last week, Luxbet gave its followers the impression that a just-fired social media manager of the company had gone rogue, using the firm’s Twitter account to bad-mouth his former employer, to the delight of onlookers.

Hashtags #SaveDave and #DaveGetsFired went viral in quick time, but users were not sure whether to take the story at face value.

Some did, while others wondered whether Dave’s derogatory tweets about the way in which his employer wanted him to promote a new app were all just a part of a clever marketing stunt.

People were right to be suspicious. Luxbet admitted to making the whole thing up, leaving some users less than impressed. Others, meanwhile, were more accepting of the hoax.

It’s also worth noting that Luxbet did seem to follow through on its promise for pizza for those who got in touch with ‘Dave’, based on some of the pictures users uploaded to Twitter.

But is a marketing hoax ever worth the effort?

The case for ‘yes’

For those brands that just use metrics as the primary barometer for a campaign’s success, it’s hard to argue against viral marketing. The #SaveDave and #DaveGetsFired hashtags were still being used days after Luxbet had come clean, while the company benefitted from plenty of people sharing the content written by fictional Dave.

Luxbet’s Twitter followers climbed by a couple of hundred users, too, which now stands at approximately 12,600 – it had around 12,400 when Dave first started posting.

Also, not everybody was upset by the nature of the campaign. Andrew Rogers ‏(@AndyDRogers1) posted:

“This is just clever. Amazing use of Twitter by @luxbet. Might sign up purely because of this. Beautifully played. #DaveGetsFired #SaveDave”

While others suggested those who were aggravated by the hoax needed a reality check. Bren O'Brien (‏@streetruffian) posted:

“If you are approaching social media with the attitude everything should be real and earnest, you may be in the wrong place. #davegetsfired”

The campaign has also gained some impressive media coverage – the BBC even reported on it. Not bad for a modest online betting firm.

The case for ‘no’

However, not all the coverage has been favourable. The campaign was even labelled “disgraceful” by one user. Dale Roberts ‏”@ozdale” posted:

“I hate hoax marketing ploys. This Luxbet #DaveGetsFired is super lame. They will be yay metrics - but let's see if any actual real outcomes.”

He makes a good point. If all the shares and likes don’t translate into app downloads, then the campaign might have done more harm than good.

It all comes back to trust. Speaking on the matter of trust, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Chris Daly, says: “Consumers are looking for reassurance on social media that the restaurant they have booked for a special occasion or laptop they are thinking of buying is the right choice.”

Daly was commenting specifically about a new research which suggests consumer trust in brands or brand information on social media channels is deteriorating. A quarter of the people quizzed by CIM said they have little/no trust in the information brands give out on Twitter – a 10% rise from 2014.

“Social media is a key source for information which makes the reduction in trust a worrying trend for brands. They need to up their game in keeping on the right side of the law,” Daly added.

Hoax marketing stunts only serve to undermine any trust a brand has built with their followers, don’t they?

Customer trust is hard to build, but easy to lose. That’s what marketers should keep at the forefront of their thinking when they look to ‘mess’ with their customers. Social media is not to be messed with; it’s like getting pranked by your best mate: it’s high risk and normally leaves people with a sour feeling.

That said, it might not be as cut and dry as that in certain industries. Maybe there’s more creative license in ‘fun’ industries like gambling? Some food for thought to end on.

Dan Vivian - Business Development & Marketing Director