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Social media - the darker side?

I had an e-mail shot the other day from a supplier to the recruitment industry.  They wanted to test the power of viral marketing and were offering an incentive.  All good stuff you might say - great marketing ploy - but then when I read on it actually left quite a nasty taste in my mouth. All you had to do was to mention the supplier on various social networks and you stood a chance of winning a not inconsiderable amount of  their services for free.  So what's so bad about that I hear you cry?  Well what they actually wanted was a plug - not a mention. The examples they gave were announcing on your LinkedIn status that you highly recommended them with their url; telling your friends on facebook that they are your favourite supplier;or that you follow them on twitter and then send out a message to all of your followers saying they should too. "We don't care where and how you give us a mention as long as its clean and legal" they said.

Now don't get me wrong - after all I am in PR and promoting yourself  as a 'must have' resource for the recruitment industry is all well and good. But, when I read a recommendation on Linked In - I'd like to think it's because they know the firm or person involved, have worked with them, and can personally vouch for them. If a friend or colleague or fellow tweeter suggests I follow someone on Twitter, l'd like to think its because they think I'd genuinely find that person interesting.

Isn't this just trying to buy recommendations? And isn't that just a bit sad? Or is it innovative marketing? What do others think?

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