Tuesday, 26 August 2014

[W3] Some growth hack techniques are wrong and you shouldn't use them. Here's why.

On the grounds of ethics, I disagree with a good portion of what was said in today's growth hacking class. The question I am going to answer here today is: Does the end justifies the means?

In this context, "end" would refer to the final sales figures and "means" is of course, whatever that took place to get there.

I am going to start with a disclaimer first that I agree with a good portion of the presentation. He has very good points, and we ought to learn from other people's successes and failures. Social metrics, A/B testing, targeting authorities/media from the relevant fields for outreach (and some very innovative methods of reaching them), video marketing, etc are all methods that I find interesting and valid.

However, as with everything in life, we ought to step back, and think for ourselves what is the purpose behind these actions, and whether they are right or not. Unfortunately, this isn't always easy and there are many gray areas where our judgement needs to be exercised.

Just because it is legal, doesn't mean it is right to do so.

I am not talking about exploiting bugs, etc, but the more abstract ideas of morals, intent, purposes and values. For example, exploiting the heartbleed bug to spoof others' identity is clearly wrong. Exploiting a bug in Craigslist to mass-post your listings isn't. That's just stupidity on Craigslist's end. It's quite a clever hack though I must admit.

In the case of the presentation today, the example of impersonating as a user on online forums and recommending your own app is clearly wrong. You are misrepresenting yourself and your products to your potential users. While it may seem ingenious or amusing at first, if you give you more thought, what you are essentially doing is deceiving people and employing deceptive sales tactics.

This is very different from presenting yourself as the app developer and selling the benefits to the members on the forum. This is not allowed on most forums either so you will still get banned anyhow. However, you are not trying to misled people into using your product by pretending to be one of them.

Another point that I have major contention with as well is buying your way into the top grossing charts. Downloads and reviews are what users rely on to judge the quality of the app. Manipulating these figures through unethical ways only serve to compromise the integrity (of yourself primarily and then the app).

You can place your product beside popular ones to anchor users' perception. That's a clever trick to make people download. Buying downloads? Hmm, things get a little subjective, but still you aren't directly misleading people, so it can be argued. Buying reviews or writing fake reviews? Now, that's clearly an ethical breach. The intent is to explicitly make people believe that your product is good through deception. Basically you are lying through your teeth. Imagine if buying reviews become a social norm in the future, will these reviews serve any purpose any more? In such a scenario, a seller with bad rating could possibly be the most honest merchant around and every other 5 star ratings are untrustworthy.

Surely, these techniques will make you more successful than your competitors over the same period of time. However, I won't feel proud with this "success" I obtained, embarrassed even. I feel that it is important to be ourselves and maintain a moral compass, even through trying times. While this may limit the intended "success", I would have upheld my values and my conscience, which to me, are more important than material success. At this point, it should be obvious to you that I strongly believe that the end does not justify the means. The means must be justified as well.

That being said, everybody has a different yardstick for ethical issues. It is a sensitive issue and I was not prepared to spark any heated discussion in class. Definitely, you (the reader) will disagree with me at some point in this post and I will be glad to hold a discussion with you on this topic.

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