“Grass roots” is an over-used term that means enthusiasm, support, or ideas come from common folks, from the “ground up.” The phrase gained popularity in an age where most felt that big business, big government, or big brother were dominating the mindscape of the populace. Over time, anything grass roots was trusted more than official ideas or mouthpieces. The theory was that an average Joe or Jane was more likely to be honest and less likely to spiel propaganda.
“Astroturfing” refers to any artificial marketing or response campaign intended to impersonate a grass roots effort. Astroturfing may take the form of positive product or service reviews on Amazon or similar e-tailers. It may take the form of a marketing message disguised as a comment in a blog. Or frequently, astroturfing can appear in the guise of a favorable blog post.
I’ve run Gibberish Is My Native Language for over seven years. I have a ton of posts about nothing in particular, but I do write about gadgets and doo-dads every now and then. About ten or twelve times a year I get offers to review a product for compensation. Most of the time the compensation is the item I’m supposed to review, but sometimes it’s cash.
I have never accepted a cent or a product to write a review. I have always returned any items sent to me by a company, and when I write the review I’m always careful to point out what was provided by the company and any compensation I received. Unfortunately for manufacturers, I’ve yet to give a fully positive review to any item I’ve been sent for evaluation.
In addition to the paid product review requests, I often get invitations to link to other Web sites, blogs, and reviews — also for pay. Some of the requests are just simply adding a site to my “blog roll,” a list of sites I visit or endorse. I don’t even keep a blog roll any more, but when I did ever last link belonged to someone I knew personally.
Other, more elaborate for-pay link requests involve doing a short write-up about a site, etc and then making the link. In either case, I think this is done to buoy up the legitimacy of astroturf or malware sites, neither of which I am willing to support.
I usually get a few of these requests per month, and they have become so prevalent that my spam filter is starting to catch them.
Lastly, and most rarely, I get a request to put a paid product placement post on my blog. The company will offer me money to post something on their behalf. I don’t get to write it – essentially it’s ghost writing. Here’s an example offer:
I’d alike to inquire about purchasing a sponsored blog post on your site journal.drfaulken.com.
We own a couple of sites, in a # of different industries from entertainment, hobbies and news to jewelry and toys/gadgets and are looking for some blogs that have a similar audience to promote our sites on a monthly basis.
We would write the post, and all you would have to do is post it on your site.
We do 300 – 500 of these kinds of posts a month. If you have other sites that you own, that you’d be open to a sponsored blog post on, please send those over as well and we might be interested in doing a bulk buy.
Please let me know your price on the one site and also (if you have more sites) if we buy 30+ posts at once.
I’ve never, ever done one of these.
The reason I post this particular request is that it illustrates the business of astroturfing, as well as how widespread it is. The company claims to do hundreds of paid postings per month. I wonder how many supposedly independent product reviews are floating around on blogs all written by the same company. I had half a mind to reply and get a sample piece of content, but frankly I don’t want anything to do with the company. I don’t think what they are doing is illegal, it’s just no something I want to associate with.
Gibberish doesn’t make enough money to pay the server and operational costs, let alone compensate me for my time. I sometimes wonder if I could make a decent hobby out of this site if I took these kinds of offers, but I don’t think it would result in the kind of site and reader base I have today.
be careful the next time you read a supposedly grass roots post about something online that sounds too good to be true. You’re probably standing knee deep in astroturf.