That Time I Found a Catfish MTV Style

catfish blogger
Nev Schulman, Host of MTV’s Catfish

You know that show, Catfish, on MTV?

The one hosted by Nev Schulman that he launched after his famous unbelievable, sign-of-the-times experience covered in a documentary showing his real-life journey?

Well, ICYMI (or if your MTV viewing opportunities are limited these days), It is a reality-based documentary television series airing on MTV about the truths and lies of online dating.”

According to whatis.techtarget.com, a “catfish” is defined as someone who creates a false online identity. Catfishing is common on social networking and online dating sites. Sometimes, a catfish’s sole purpose is to engage in a fantasy. Sometimes, however, the catfish’s intent is to defraud a victim, seek revenge or commit identity theft.

Well folks, we can tell you today this phenomenon is certainly not limited to the personal world of online dating.  This can affect the professional blogging world.  It can affect you, your business, your client’s business and in a way, could contribute to the “fake news” problem.

Recently, the team at Hay There Social Media witnessed this firsthand.

It might sound harmless: Having a “fantasy” person or avatar write a 400-word piece of content for your company’s blog one time or another.  How could that be damaging?

But it can be.

Not only can it water down the value-rich content on your site, it can lack connectedness and actually cause harm from a digital marketing/search perspective.

So, here’s the story of how we uncovered a catfish.  WARNING: Client names, “catfish” character/avatar names as well as any “real” names have been changed to protect the innocent. While we want to share the lesson and methods here, we are not working on an MTV episode, so we will be adhering to some confidentiality standards.

We work with a global brand with an active guest blogging platform. They have the privilege of working with an experienced, knowledgeable community of professionals who regularly contribute guest blog content that speaks to educators. As part of our social media management work, we coordinate all moving parts of the client’s blog. There was one reoccurring blogger who contributed regularly and something just felt “off” about her posts.

What threw up the red flags?  A couple of things:

  • Our client’s blog speaks to educators and parents. We were concerned that this selfie-style image was far too polished/filtered to seem to match the professional description/bio of the person pictured. (I’m being real here and using blatant surface judgement.) As loyal Catfish on MTV viewers will know, you will see on the show, often times a “catfish” will use a perfectly filtered and polished profile photo as their own.
  • This guest blogger was from overseas (which was actually a “weak warning” since the client is a global brand).
  • The content quality. It just felt “hollow.” You know when you hear “I know just enough to be dangerous?” In this case, the copy felt relevant but not overly useful. It’s a fine line so we needed to investigate.

What did we do next? The first thing I did (a DIRECT learning from Nev Schulman’s methods on the show) was to do a Google image search with the profile picture. No results.

Then, (again, following the Catfish on MTV “methodology”) we searched the guest blogger’s name (we will call her “Jane”) on Google, Facebook, Twitter, you name it. And that’s where the plot thickened.

Jane had more than three different bios on the first page of Google. She was “working as an Information & Technology Tutor” at an online tutoring operation.  She was a travel and lifestyle blogger with a passion for exploring new destinations. She was also listed someplace as “currently working as a Lifestyle blogger.”  In her bio, she said she was a productive and profitable Marketing Executive and she loves to share her passion for writing.

We learned there were a number of blogging sites that Jane had contributed to featuring her tutoring, marketing and lifestyle blogging personalities. Not all of them used the profile photo she had submitted for our client’s blog, but there was some “fishy” (excuse the pun) consistency with Jane’s bio/personas appearing on all of the sites.

As for social media, sometimes finding profiles will unveil a fraud. However, just like on the show, Jane’s Facebook profile looked legit. The profile had recent news articles posted, a number of photos of her, a matching name and some friend connections.

From there, we notified the client with our findings. We shared our best guess that this profile photo was a front for an “SEO Catfish.” What does this mean? Jane is NOT a real person and this is certainly not her photo. That she isn’t a travel enthusiast, a marketing executive or a lifestyle blogger. This had the look of someone who wanted to write relatively useful blog content on a myriad of subjects, contributing to legit sites in order to gain SEO credibility for another online operation.

Not only was Jane not a real author, but she was using an innocent person’s profile photo as her own.

We called this an immediate problem because it threatened the integrity of our client’s blog and its content.  Our client is a global brand with decades of positive brand sentiment and matching “SEO credibility.”  But on the SEO side, we knew this could be far more damaging for a number of reasons. Here’s where we bring in an expert to explain.

Here’s what Allison Cooney, an SEO Expert, had to say about how fake guest blog contributors can be so harmful to an established brand – or worse – to a potentially smaller business trying to gain some traction in the online world by doing the right social media activity day in and day out.

“When your listings appear compromised by the discrediting of your third party experts, your customers no longer consider YOU a trusted advisor. If the words, links and reputation, publishing on your behalf, don’t serve your brand, they should not publish for you. Consider: Where are they taking your traffic?  Don’t let your “expert” hijack your traffic, and reputation, for the sake of a simple guest blog post.  Once that party has allegations against their real or fake name online, those search engine rankings may work against your business.”

We immediately removed all content Jane had “guest contributed to” and cut ties with this individual.  An email was even sent to the university Jane said she graduated from to be sure they knew about the catfish and fraudulent claim.

Lessons?  It’s important to keep a diligent eye on all content you allow on your site. The issue is, spammers and catfish are getting better and it can be difficult to spot a fake profile.

If you are small business or brand that allows guest blog content on your site, be sure to vet your contributors CLOSELY. What does this look like? Ask for a phone or video chat. Ask for social media profile links. As for references.

If you personally contribute guest blog content, be sure it is on legit sites that do these things to maintain YOUR online integrity and reputation.

As social media professionals, we are in this work day in and day out and it keeps us on our toes. If you need help curating or creating blog content, we’d love to help. Quality blog content is a MUST for small businesses. Want to learn more?  Hit me up on the socials.

Until then, I won’t be quitting my day job to join Nev Schulman’s Catfish on MTV team (haha sorry, Nev) but I will continue to follow his up-to-the-minute best online investigative practices to keep our clients’ content real, relevant and useful.

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