Eyes & Ears: Walled Garden Forum Rat Avatars

This post is part 2 of our ongoing series, “Avatar Theory, Common Social Media Participation Models.” We’ve been gathering information confidentially for weeks from marketing peers regarding methods, objectives, risk, ROI and anecdotes as they relate to their social media activity on behalf of clients.

There’s a remarkable lack of agreement as to what’s cool and what’s not. We’ll be sharing commonalities in what we discover, leading up to my SMX East NYC presentation on the “What Is Ethical in Social Media Marketing” panel. It is not our intent to endorse or dismiss anyone’s practices, merely to present information which supports forming your own opinions as to best practices and ethics.

The Walled Garden Forum Rat Avatar is a social media persona designed to monitor the chatter stream of community corners not indexed by search engines. Usually flying below the radar by not revealing a corporate affiliation, this avatar model is only a reporter and does no selling whatsoever.  The hallmark is intelligence gathering.

Because some content is not discoverable by public engines or services like Trackur,  membership and/or participation is required in order to monitor buzz specific to any topic. As with most avatar models we hear that participation of truly interested people, qualified to engage and contribute to the community’s dialog, is more often successful.

Forum rats are “eyes and ears,” reporting to  marketers, including brand names and people. However we note that other avatar types, with varying degrees of subtly or brute force, work to influence opinions. In future installments we’ll examine more aggressive and even malicious avatars.

Critical Piece of Reputation Management
For reputation managers, in one sense, the Internet can be categorized as the great divide: content which search engines index and content which they are not allowed to index. Locked off behind non-searchable walls stand entire sites, corners of communities, pockets of user engagement and other content. The forum rat’s job is to fly under the radar and report threats or opportunities to marketing firms as regard their clients.

“Walled garden” simply means that some content requires a login and there are tiered levels of access. Some content is visible to the general public without being a member. Other content might be visible to all logged in users. Sometimes access to a user’s personal profile or group content is limited to those accepted as “friends” or members …friends with benefits if you will. Walled garden content can’t be Googled.

For instance, search Google for my friend Shana Albert’s Facebook profile. Facebook does not wall off limited versions of user profiles and allows search engines to spider them. It was a big hairy deal in the search world when Facebook announced that they would allow search engines to index public profiles of users.

In the SERPs you’ll find the public version of her profile, visible to anyone even if they’re not members of Facebook.

Try sending Shana a message or view more than a few of her friends from her public profile and you’ll be prompted to join Facebook. Her information and access is “walled off” and data regarding her meanderings is truly limited. You can’t interact with her. You can’t find out what she’s telling her friends about your client.

However, there’s much more detail available about Shana if a) you join Facebook b) She she accepts you as a friend. I’ve blurred out her personal feed in order to protect her privacy. 🙂

A lot more data is available including access to her full friends list, the ability to send messages, engage her with Facebook applications and other fun ways to network.

Most social communities are tiered hybrids of publicly visible content and stuff only available to users. Often there is a level of access only granted to friends.

Facebook is a more complicated community than many forums which do not require friendship to view community chatter. In many, especially “old school” forums, just signing up is enough. That said, The Walled Garden Forum Rat is willing to make friends to engage in reconnaissance.

In some cases in forums and other social communities, internal search requires CAPTCHA which prevents search automation, even when login is feigned technically. The Walled Garden Forum Rat visits his list of assigned communities each day, logs in and mines buzz pockets by searching a list of keywords associated with the client he or she is serving.

The Walled Garden Forum Rat Avatar

  • Not transparent and doesn’t reveal association with clients
  • Lurk and report, fly below the radar, participate selectively, to gain street cred’
  • Loner, limited engagement
  • Never sells anything
  • Does not attempt to influence, accept in extraordinary circumstances
  • Makes few friends in forums which do not require friendship to search and view chatter streams
  • Makes many friends if required to search and view chatter streams
  • Limited or no influence on behalf of clients, selectively engages to counter threats only by gathering information

Our next installment of “Avatar Theory,” Common Social Media Participation Models” will speak to link builder avatars who use DoFollow comment threads. Stay tuned.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Stay Connected