A recent video circulating online depicted a mass collection of cell phones all neatly slotted side-by-side in one row after another covering an expansive wall. The accompanying story explained that this was a view into a “like factory” operated by a Chinese tech firm—an army of cell phones programmed to generate nonstop “likes” and produce endless “followers” to boost the apparent popularity of social media accounts.
Some readers questioned whether it was fake news. The image did have the hallmark of some dystopian minefield where technology had assumed unchecked power over the ability to manufacture new realities. The truth is, fake or not, we have already been compromised by social media abuses with celebrities buying Twitter followers and YouTube views in obscene numbers, fake news writers becoming more prolific, and “spam bots” acquiring a greater ability to mimic human behavior.
Social media has become critical to how we market and promote views, companies, people and products. And while it may be tempting to speed up the process by buying some fame on the side, fake popularity will never be as good—or as lasting— as the real thing.
At its best, public relations—executed by live humans—can yield powerful results. PR isn’t about creating a message or a company philosophy, it’s about communicating the one you already have. It’s about helping you make an organic connection that endures, not an automated one that could disappear if exposed.
A crack PR team will conduct a detailed assessment of who you are, survey your target audience, identify the nexus between the two, and craft a message that resonates the strongest. An ideal firm will possess high emotional intelligence to help discover or amplify your voice, and find a platform where it can best be heard. They will engage your audience, and inspire them to act.
PR strategists will hunt for the simple story, but apply critical thinking skills to complex organizations. They will assess accuracy, relevance, and context. They will also have an acute understanding of your liabilities, and a defensive plan to activate if your weaknesses are exposed.
Another story that surfaced last month by The Associated Press reported that three men arrested in Thailand acknowledged they were running a like factory, or “click farm” as they are also sometimes called, for the same service named in the video, telling authorities they were paid for the number of likes and views they generated. Police seized 476 cell phones.
That operation may have been shut down, but that doesn’t mean other like factories won’t emerge. But it does offer some indication that, in the battle between live connections and overreaching technology, humanity will survive.