Snatch of conversation:

- I beg your pardon? Assets? You probably meant to say puppets didnt you?

- Whatever you call them, dear: puppets, fake accounts or users, bots, tools assets!

- Hm But the creation of err sock err fake err multiple accounts within one community most often goes against their T&C

- Yes, of course it does, but it cant effectively be policed and it cant possibly be ever enforced...

As you rightly guessed, todays subject for our discussion is one of the most controversial SMO assets " artificial user. The activity thats clearly out of the bounds and borders of white-hat SMO but nevertheless is so mildly greyish that for many its too hard to resist the temptation. Even if you dont have any immediate plans to jump straight into it, Im sure that you are at least curious to see what other are doing in the meantime.

The ultimate aim, the final goal of user development is the creation of user model capable most effectively (in the shortest period and at the lowest possible cost for the owner) to carry out specific functions. The creation of powerful or influential user shouldnt be the end goal by itself, but its always aimed at achieving some other result.

The real problem as soon as you enter this rather grey area comes from the fact that its much too easy to confuse means and ends and become carried away by the flow forgetting why you started this project in the first place. There needs to be some kind of structural approach, some methodology, so to speak and Im willing to share some basic tips and tricks Ive learned myself while observing multiple SMO campaigns. This list is by no means complete of even approaching this stage. Think of it as a teaser, a starting point to provoke a discussion on the subject.

Before you engage for whatever reasons in this shady activity, you better go through this short checklist that might save you from falling into some traps already well explored by many well before you.

Ready To Be A Fake User?

First and foremost think why you might need to create a swarm of fake user accounts? How will it help? I understand the attractiveness of the idea, and especially to those who already displaying some symptoms of schizophrenia, but will this really help? Creating and managing puppet user accounts is like playing a SimCity and I observe quite many ordinary users doing it just for the sheer joy of the process.

But we are different, arent we? We have our goals clearly defined and our targets set. So, again, think of your goals first! Will this method be the most effective and the most economic for you. Wouldnt it be easier and cheaper just to buy a traditional advertising campaign or sell your stuff to influential bloggers that are already there in some other way? Consider all your pros and cons first but if after careful consideration you still decided to go ahead with it, it might be of some help going through this checklist I complied.

The Fake User Checklist

Any character development starts from defining the following:

  • Function and Aim: in the most cases it will be
    • Advertising/Negative Advertising: open or hidden popularization, propaganda, promotion and vice versa of product, service, ideas - whatever you want, really

    Note: you have to decide from a start: does user have both functions or only one. Why? Because there are situations when if you are for something/someone you are automatically against the opposite thing. You cant support both Obama and McCain with one character without running into some sort of internal contradiction. To be believable your character must be consistent! Consistency is the key to this whole business and hence you need to plan your consistent user in advance.

  • User Type: No community no matter if its real or virtual may exist without certain types of members. Each village must have its village idiot just as well as its village head.

    There two different approaches in defining the type:

    • Easy way: pain-in-the-you-know-what, kiss-up, sexy blonde, moaner, mom, plain stupid, bitch, sweetie, techie geek and etc. Sounds familiar doesnt it? Identify what type of character is missing or weak (almost dead and easily replaced) among the existing users within the targeted community (you must already have list of networks, services and cheat sheet on them where the user will take actions) and fit your character into that niche. Well, alternatively you might decide to create a double of a user type already existing in a given community, but beware the conflict between the two is just around the corner, so this might be useful only if you feel strong enough to energize the community with almost unstoppable stream of flame. Note: remember that chosen user type should fit easy and nicely (please, do not place stupid blondie into techie-geeks-programmers-hackers-and-admins comminity)
    • Not so easy: creation of absolutely unknown user type - unique combination of characteristics wich produces a new type.
  • Personality: full freedom for your imagination.

    Note: all personality characteristics and parameters must correlate with user type.

  • Characteristics and Parameters: name/nickname, date of birth, location, avatar, list of interests/likes/dislikes, bio, vocabulary.

    Note: empty profile always works against you. Why? Theres nothing more annoying in the Internet than an empty profile. Empty profile is the first giveaway for a puppet user and we dont need to expose it right away.

  • Actions or the combination of actions:
    • Networking:
      • Where? " List of a combination of networks/services/communities ideally correlated with user type and personality.
      • With Whom? Who is going to be your friends or opponents? It may vary from influential power users to ordinary users or you can take a combined approach.
      • How? - Friending, following, staking and migration of existed friends, followers, stalkers into other online communities.
    • Blogging: Surprisingly the least important part of character development " who reads blog posts these days?


      • blogging subjects, the combination of subjects: art, politics, IT and etc (must correlate with user profile interests and be internally consistent)
      • frequency (timetable), volume (small, medium, big), quality of postings (notes, blah, articles and etc)
  • Participation: Starting threads, commenting, voting, groups making, groups participation.

    Think carefully what kind of participation is for your user as some might hardly be justified in terms of time and resources needed. You dont need to waste your time moderating a group about knitting in some remote community while your target audience are devoted fishermen.

Hard Work = ROI

As you can see the creation of artificial user is quite labor-intensive process, needless to say quite difficult to manage as well.

But there is an important thought you should always remember; after you succeed with building a tool it will become a unique Social Media Optimization asset, which has its own value and price " sometimes higher than media campaign for which it was created.

Lora Lufark aka SexySEO, self-described geeky Internet avant-gardist, does SEO and Social Media Optimizaton

Images courtesy of K W Reinsch, Vitor Guerson and mistersnappy