Social Tactics: Manipulation

by Jay Deragon on 10/01/2010

The word manipulation implies shrewd or devious management, especially for one’s own advantage. The word management implies a person or persons who control or direct a personal or business intent. Intent means an aim, plan or plot.  A person or persons intent is revealed by their media and unfortunately we can see that most media intents are to manipulate us , others or to hide intents.

In a world connected and transparent intentions are revealed easily then shared and soon a brand or a person could get labeled as a “manipulator”. When was the last time you intentionally became friends with a manipulator? Those friendships doesn’t last very long because a manipulator deviously tries to use you for their own advantage.

Manipulating Engagement

A PR professional shares the following with me. We are dealing with one client in particular right now that we were able to build a substantial online community for using Facebook.  The community consisted of both investors and consumers of the brand and we were able to convince them (the client) for several months that dealing with the occasional and inevitable detractor with a diplomatic approach would not only serve as evidence of their desire to cultivate real transparency and engagement but might actually win some of them over just by addressing concerns (it’s hard to believe that takes convincing).  In the world of online PR the initial tendency is still the delete and ignore response for most critics.

It worked for awhile and the response was overwhelmingly positive and we believe a major factor in the early success of their community.  However as people can sometimes be a victim of their own success online brand communities are no exception.  The communities success drew attention and though it was positive the corporate leadership became a little more self conscious and started changing policy whereby any negative comment, even if constructed as an intelligent inquiry or constructive criticism was to be immediately deleted.

It is a classic case study of a company that not only wants to “use social media” but has been using it and has seen some of the tremendous benefits it can provide.  However the desire to actually “be social” is non-existent and the underlying intention is entirely self serving.

The Transparency of Manipulation

You can hide some things from a few people but not everything from a lot of people. People aren’t stupid or objects to use for selfish benefits. People can sense and see manipulation a mile away. As more and more organizations engage in all things social their intents become transparent and if said intents are to manipulate people well you’ll lose friends real fast.

If you are intent on using social then do so with the understanding that you may be able to fool some people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time. In a connected world a few people really represent the many because everyone is simply a mouse click away.

You may believe you can manipulate a market and if you think this way you are only fooling yourself.


Alison Longley February 22, 2011 at 1:18 am

So true, I believe that often people forget the long term gain that comes from transparency and opt for the easy way out. We have to be open to all comments or we run the risk of falling prey to being manipulated ourselves through silence, flattery and/or coercion.

Gabriele Maidecchi October 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm

This is a very nice read. Of course brands get on social media to have some sort of return out of it, be it increasing the customer base, cementing their trust in you, or monitor for customer incidents, but eventually, if you’re not “honest” about it, it will show and things will go downhill.
Even if you obviously have business intents in what you do in SM, you should always approach it with respect, because after all is people you’re going to relate to, not mindless drones.

dan October 2, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Great post on manipulation. There are many smart people out trashing the world without whom PR would become a extinct. I like the comment “In the world of online PR the initial tendency is still the delete and ignore response for most critics”. I have tried to engage people in the PR world. After a while, they always go “radio silent” especially when challenged. If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that most live in a house of cards.

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