HTC promises "swag" in exchange for positive U11 publicity to VIP community members (Update)
Update 1: HTC sent us a response clarifying some points in this article. In short, HTC elevate is a community dedicated to HTC's biggest fans. The HTC spokesperson we talked to says: "No one in HTC Elevate is paid anything and only receives the same small bits of swag we already send to the community on a regular basis. No one is forced to say anything they don't believe." Or in other words, while HTC does send gifts to members of the community, these are not specifically given out as an incentive for them to astroturf.
Also, HTC made sure to reiterate a point found inside the elevate post: that it wants to specifically combat negativity from people who have never actually used the phone. While this is a bit of a tall order, considering this is the internet we're talking about, it makes sense for a company that has suffered a reputation slump in the past few years.
Update 2: We've received a screenshot of the updated post (embedded above), which says the company has stopped sending out items in return for positive comments altogether. The original article can be found in its unedited form below.
Say you're a phone manufacturer in pretty bad financial trouble, but you've just released a flagship which desperately needs promoting. What do you do – do you produce an expensive, risky marketing campaign, or do you simply get your community to do it for you on the cheap? Well if you're HTC, it's the latter, it seems: a recent post to HTC elevate, an official, invite-only community for HTC fans, calls on its members to defend the U11 in comment sections and on social media, in exchange for "swag".
Or in other words, astroturfing. From Wikipedia:
The image (as seen on the top of the article) originates from a reddit thread, meaning you should technically take it with a grain of salt – though HTC is no stranger to alternative forms of marketing:
U11 to One M8 users in Australia (see image on the right).
But as for this particular post: it's got some pretty interesting wording, to say the least. It urges the community to "mobilize and combat" negative press and "post regularly". And in exchange, the poster promises: "I'll send some swag goodies here and there!"
This doesn't seem to be a new development, however: one of the bullet points on HTC elevate's website clearly states the service offers "opportunities to partner with HTC and shape the future of the brand", meaning this isn't just an idea the company is testing out, but rather one of the community's intended purposes.
But while we could keep bashing on HTC for a while, it's worth noting that they are far from an exception: back in 2013, Samsung was fined by Taiwan's FTC for doing a suspiciously similar thing. A couple of differences, though: firstly, Samsung was actively paying people to post online, whereas HTC is only suggesting it may send gifts; and secondly, while HTC is using astroturfing to promote its new flagship, Samsung's campaign was, ironically, a defamatory one against HTC.