Reputation Management Services Should Practice What They Preach

Online reputation has been measured by in-bound links through Google Ranking, RSS and feed subscribers and now, the number of social media shares on services like Klout and Echo apps. As new reputation systems have emerged, an army of deceptive users have risen up to game them via link farms and exchanges, fake profile generators and most recently, Twitterbots.

It’s no question that social media reputation has become the influencer metric du jour, but we’ve yet to see an all encompassing platform that isn’t gameable. Social stock market site Empire Avenue is certainly no exception.

Founded in Edmonton Canada in late 2009, the site allows users to sync their social media profiles to a Web interface and calculate a personal value and share price. From there you can buy and sell shares in companies and people on a virtual stock market based on the perceived value of their online reputations.

Empire Avenue users earn virtual currency and reputation points in a variety of ways including:

  1. by successfully forecasting and buying stock that sees an increase in social value over time;
  2. by earning endorsements and recommendations; and perhaps most importantly,
  3. by reaching large social media audiences.

But just as Twitter’s mainstream debut marked an increase in follower baiting and follower purchases, Empire Avenue’s rise in popularity has also lead to an increase in abuses.

While the company has been around for two years and last year raised a $200,000 seed round, it’s only recently that a large influx of in-world traders have begun gaming the system. The site’s public chartroom messages display total strangers soliciting endorsements, requesting recommendations and making one-to-one stock trades of each other in order to drive up the in-site value of their brands and increase their virtual coffers.

Basically you’re looking at chatrooms full of virtual collusion and insider trading.

Basically you’re looking at chatrooms full of virtual collusion and insider trading. For an early-stage startup, this may seem like a great problem to have. It’s clear that if users feel the need to cheat your system, then your company is popular enough to matter.

But from a reputation management standpoint, this poses a conundrum. How do you separate the wheat from the chaffe? It’s suspicious that super blogger Robert Scoble’s social stock price is rivaled by unknowns who’ve published less that a dozen pieces of popular content in their lives. As a reputation management system, shouldn’t your own company strive for trust amongst its users?

If engagement in the form of retweets, comments and Facebook likes are the new measurement for online influencers, then Empire Avenue’s intended mechanics make it literal. But in order for any reputation-based community to be meaningful, it needs to mitigate against a land grab mentality and protect itself against unsavory users.

For the company’s sake, I hope it’s able to tweak its mechanics and correct for this. After all, online reputation startups should know better than anyone that success hinges on whether or not your trustworthiness becomes viral amongst key audiences.

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