Another case of poor marketing campaign execution is making waves this morning, with news that an agency has been soliciting paid posts on behalf of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. TechCrunch founder, Michael Arrington, posted a solicitation from advocate marketing agency, Socialchorus, to:
“collaborate on a sponsored post opportunity for Internet Explorer… If you accept our invitation to work on this program, we would like for you to write a blog post by July 10th, in addition to sharing links to the new Internet Explorer across your social channels. Compensation for this post is available…”
The problem for Microsoft could be in the lack of details here. Nowhere in the program instructions does the agency include requirements for bloggers to use “nofollow” attributes in links to Internet Explorer content to signal to the search engines that Microsoft is not seeking credit for the link.
Passing links from paid posts is against Google’s and Bing’s (Microsoft’s own search engine) policies. Trying to pass link credit through paid sources can get a site demoted or even banned from ranking on the search engines. Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, has already made it clear on Twitter that his team is looking into it.
In Socialchorus’s program overview for the “RethinkIE Blogger Network”, bloggers are instructed to use the hashtag #IEbloggers when sharing their sponsored posts about Internet Explorer. A quick look at Twitter for #IEbloggers brings up a few tweets using a Socialchorus URL shortener that redirects to various IE content. Here’s one example:
Never miss a #Skype call on Internet Explorer, thanks to the multitasking feature! #RethinkIE http://t.co/nva2MzFROw #IEbloggers
— Nicole E. (@prettynameless) June 12, 2014
Set sail with 3D graphics like never before! #RethinkIE http://t.co/YTZxwZTh4H #IEbloggers pic.twitter.com/T7QTgmcWZp
— Justin Germino (@dragonblogger) June 14, 2014
Looking at tweets from late May, there are a number of tweets tagged with #RethinkIE and #22Tracks, which is one of the IE partnerships bloggers were encouraged to post about along with ESPN FC World Cup, Assassin’s Creed Pirates and a few others. The majority of these posts were also tagged with #ad to alert users that the links are paid.
Dear Guys, a girls favourite song tells you A LOT about how she feels about you! #22tracks #rethinkIE http://t.co/cl6nd3ZL3V #ad
— Oh Seriously (@OhSeriously_) May 29, 2014
The campaign tracking structure changed after the Tweets in late May, and the #Ad hashtag was no longer being used. It’s not clear if the instructions to bloggers changed around that time as well.
We’ll have to see whether Bing and Google will penalize IE for the sponsored post scheme. Google penalized it’s own browser, Chrome, for a similar practice in 2012.
In the meantime, it’s a good lesson for brands to be on watch and understand how their agencies’ and internal teams’ outreach or “advocate” efforts could come back to haunt them. It’s also a reminder that if you’re embarking on an influencer program, the vetting process of those “advocates” is as important as ensuring proper processes are followed.
Even if the sites aren’t penalized, the conversations that are happening now on the #IEblogger hashtag are most certainly not what the brand intended.
Postscript: Microsoft has sent a statement: “This action by a vendor is not representative of the way Microsoft works with bloggers or other members of the media. The program has been suspended.”