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Microsoft’s Reddit antics bring glare on reputation management
ADITYA MANI JHA  15th Jun 2013

A Reddit user reported Microsoft employees posting fake reviews of the Xbox 360 (seen above).

much-cited Berkeley study in 2007 brought the phrase 'online reputation management' (ORM) into the cultural mainstream. Researchers at Berkeley's Haas School of Business found that some sellers on eBay had been giving away some items for ridiculous amounts, such as 1 cent. After a grateful user received the item, he/she would be likely to reward the buyer with positive feedback. The accumulated positive feedback across months and months of this philanthropy would then enable the seller to charge significantly spiked-up prices for latter items, knowing that his higher ratings would put prospective buyers at ease. Call me excessive, but I believe the Opium Wars started that way.

Last week, a Reddit user by the name of 'mistysilver' claimed that a similar offence is afoot, only the accused happened to be, well, Microsoft. Although the post has now been removed, several cached copies and other reproductions exist. The post began, "I saw Microsoft employees monitoring this subreddit (gaming) plus others. They were making positive posts about the Xbox as part of their job." The whistle-blowing post came about when 'mistysilver' was at the Microsoft office for a meeting, and managed to sneak a peek at an employee's screen. "I noticed he was mass-downvoting a ton of posts and comments, and he kept switching to other tabs to make posts and comments of his own. I couldn't make out exactly what he was posting, but I presumed he was doing RM (reputation management) and asked my boss about it later. According to my boss, MS have (sic) just brought in a huge sweep of SMM managers to handle reputation management for the Xbox One."

Whatever one thinks about this in terms of propriety, there's no doubt that everybody — from biggies like Microsoft and Apple to companies in just about any sector — is ahead of the curveball when it comes to ORM.

I saw Microsoft employees monitoring this subreddit (gaming) plus others. They were making positive posts about the Xbox as part of their job.

Last week's events surrounding the Lemp Brewpub incident in Gurgaon are a case in point. There was much debate on the way social media flexed its muscle to generate a tsunami of negative press for Lemp. Immediately after the first wave of Twitter criticism broke out, a counter-blog called "People For Lemp" (yes, it sounds as ridiculous now as it sounded then) materialised. The author, with no hyperlinks to her Blogger name Shruti was anonymous. Coincidentally, Zomato has a user called Shruti Sharma, who has no less than three positive reviews for Lemp. Shruti has also written a negative review; for a rival Gurgaon pub called Downtown. She gave it a 1-star rating.

Deepinder Goyal, the founder of Zomato, was bemused at angry calls for de-listing Lemp. And although Zomato did take down an advertisement for Lemp, it did not outright remove the listing page. In a blog post which he wrote as a response to the entire affair, Goyal maintained that Zomato did not let restaurants dictate terms, regardless of the ad space they purchase. "From our point of view, we run a neutral platform, and letting restaurant owners pick the reviews they want to display on that page would violate that neutrality. For us, customers come before ad dollars."

Zomato enjoys a more than decent relationship with its customers, which is a luxury for any technology giant today. Microsoft's reputation took such a hit after the IE piggyback case that it has taken all of Bill and Melinda Gates' charitable largesse to blunt a part of the damage. Apple's censoring shenanigans are earning them no brownie points with liberals the world over.

Everybody's in a soup from time to time, and they've discovered smarter ways to deal with it, too. It remains to be seen whether they can indulge in a spot of ORM without alienating their customers further.

 
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