You’d think that companies would learn. You’d think that of companies engaged in digital media especially. But I guess you, and I, would be wrong. Because over the weekend I read about yet another company that thought it could pull one over on us all.There is a company named College Prowler. Now, I have had two daughters go through the college admissions process in the last few years and I do not recall either one using this site as a primary source of information. The younger one does tell me that she’s been on it and some of her friends use it. They claim they are “a college guidebook series written by students for students.” But apparently they’ve decided to go way beyond that and way beyond the boundaries of social media manners.
According to this article, these bozos thought that they could use interns to create a bunch of phony incoming class groups on Facebook to get data on incoming students. They could also use the groups to push information, benefit from affiliate programs, etc. I do know that one of the first things each daughter did when admitted to school was to join the class Facebook group so there is definitely room for abuse here. The CEO of Prowler said that “We saw so many other companies doing this, and it seemed it was kind of the Wild West, and that this was an innovative approach.” I’m not so sure other companies are misrepresenting themselves, buddy.
This is yet another lesson on transparency. Brad Ward of Squared Peg did the detective work and his blog post, along with the comment chain, is a fascinating look into how the digital community can mobilize very rapidly. In addition, many college admissions officers are now reviewing how their school’s groups are formed and run. Does College Prowler have an apology posted on their home page? Nope. Not a word about it. Dumb with a capital “D”.
I tell my clients that if we’re going to use social media to advance their business purposes we need to accept that it is not a campaign nor is it highly controllable. Because of this, it needs to be uncensored and transparent. It’s a conversation, and just as you wouldn’t lie to or game your friends you can’t do it here. The damage for doing so can be catastrophic, and this is a perfect example. At least the CEO had the common sense to admit it although his rationalization is compounding the problem.
What do you think? Were these guys over the line or it this just another great idea gone slightly wrong?