Russian Disinformation Details Are Lessons for Guerrilla Marketers

In yesterday’s post we looked at two reports released on Monday investigating the misuse of social media platforms by the Russians to influence American voters. All companies can learn from the Russian abuse for their online marketing campaigns. The Russian-tied company, Internet Research Agency, provides a good blueprint on what it takes to leverage social media platforms and Google to influence individuals to purchase goods and services from those using the Internet as a sales channel.

Much of IRA’s techniques can be leveraged as a guerrilla marketing scheme.

The underlining technique required to influence Google to push a specific company’s results to the top of searches is the number of linked relevant content that points to the company’s website. The more separate links from third-parties to a company website, the higher their ranking on Google’s search results.

Obviously, news media reports push a company’s results to the top. Smaller industry-related content providers also help. But those require a substantial investment in advertising and public relations teams asking for coverage. Also, news media coverage may not be constructive to the company, especially financially-troubled companies or startups.

The New Knowledge report demonstrates that the misuse of Gmail and Google Voice allows guerrilla marketers to create false personas to leverage Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube, among others to create the illusion of third-party interest in a company and the necessary relevant links needed to position the company at the top of the search pile.

The report also points out that the Russian trolls created “several complete websites” to host “original written content”. The Google search algorithm looks for links linking original content from third-parties to the company website. The more quality links that exist, the higher the company ranks in the search results.

Rather than depend on traditional news media to create the relevant links to the company, the company can take the Russian troll example, and create various third-party “feeders” to the website increasing their search ranking for the company’s website.

Although the scale of paid individuals to create fake content is difficult for companies relying on guerrilla marketing, it is nonetheless important to note that about 1,000 individuals were paid by the IRA to create content. Content is king. The better the quality and more content the better it is for influencing Google’s algorithms. Google assumes that content it sees is created organically and thus if it is good quality and from different sources it assumes it to be genuine.

The other metric that allows us to have a better understanding of how to manipulate Google search results for guerrilla marketers is the metric of the number of content creators it took to reach an audience. Understanding that original content is key to reaching larger audiences we can look at the number of users creating content for IRA and the number of individuals their efforts reached.

For example, according to the New Knowledge report, it took 1,000 creators to reach 126 million Facebook users, 20 million Instagram users and 1.4 million users on Twitter. Obviously, it is impossible to quantify a one-to-one ratio, nonetheless, the total number of users reached on the three major platforms give us a useful metric that each content creator has the potential to reach 147,400 users, assuming quality and persistent content.

The second report, the one by Oxford researches points out that “the most far reaching IRA activity is in organic posting, not advertising” demonstrating that organic posts are most effective for user influencing.

It should be noted, that the Oxford report adds that the IRA employees, worked in tandem being both Russian troll factories while also denying being trolls. The technique was designed to discredit account suspensions for Terms of Service (TOS) violations. The denials allowed them to gain better credibility.

The bottom line for guerrilla marketers intent on leveraging attention by misusing social media platforms is that it is necessary to create the illusion of organic posts. This requires multiple personas using various platforms playing multiple sides of an issue to give the illusion of trending topics.

It is also important to note that for it to be effective required millions in investment and at least 1,000 working individuals trolling various platforms.

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