Astroturfing is a word and technique that has been floating through the communications and marketing world for some time. We need to be paying attention to astroturfing, because as social media breaks down the barriers between marketer and consumer, cases of astroturfing are much more challenging for companies to hide.
But first, what is "astroturfing"? Let's see what Wikipedia says:
"The term, said to have been used first in this context by former U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), is wordplay based on 'grassroots' efforts, which are truly spontaneous undertakings largely sustained by private persons (not politicians, governments, corporations, or public relations firms). 'AstroTurf' refers to the bright green artificial grass used in some sports stadiums, so 'astroturfing' refers to artificial grassroots efforts... A form of propaganda, astroturfing attempts to selectively affect the emotions of the public, whether trying to win a campaign, be the top music record seller, the top book seller, or gain political support."
Now that you know what astroturfing is, I'm sure real-life examples are flooding your thoughts. The models who are hired to pimp a new vodka to unsuspecting bar patrons, the "person" (re: paid actor) on the street who asks you to take their picture with a brand-new digital camera and then engages you in a conversation about the camera... it goes on and on (and, it's also been called Undercover Marketing).
Ultimately, companies that engage in this activity give our industry a bad name. As marketers, it's our job to be vigilant. To create real conversations. To demonstrate the real benefits and values of the products and services we market.
It's our job to weed out the astroturf.