ICDSoft isn’t giving me $200 to shill for their hosting services but they are paying ten other lucky folks, according an announcement sent to customers on 3/8/2006 via the news section of their hosting control panel (bold sections are my emphasis):
March 8th, 2006 | A “Thank You” to our loyal customers!
Over the past few years, ICDSoft has grown steadily to reach more than 70,000 domains hosted. We fully recognize that a big part of our success is the words of recommendation sent out by our existing customers to other potential clients all over the world. We realize that these recommendations are the best advertisement we could ever have. For this reason, we have decided to extend our gratitude to our customers by rewarding the best reviews of our hosting services.
Such an undertaking was not an easy task however. We started out by seeking and collecting all the reviews of our services that have been posted over the years. An ever bigger challenge was deciding which were the best. All reviews were assessed with several factors in mind: the objectivity of the information provided, the writing style, the popularity of the web site it is posted on, and others. After a great deal of analysis, we have chosen to reward each of the following reviews with $200:
- http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?threadid=345718 (http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showpost.php?p=2656502)
It is important to note that we found many other fantastic reviews, but could not reward them because the domain name of the poster was not provided in the review. We are also sure that there were many reviews out there that we simply could not find. If you have posted a review about our services, you can tell us about it through the “Submit a review” link on the left pane of your hosting Control panel.
We are planning to express our gratitude in a similar fashion in the future as well. Thank you once again for your support!
They don’t explicitly state that they’re paying for positive reviews, but if you follow the listed links it’s clear that they’re not paying for negative ones. You’ve got to wonder if this is the first time they’ve done this, or just the first time they’ve made an official announcement about it. This site is hosted on icdsoft (so if it disappears next week you’ll know why), and they actually are a pretty decent value-oriented host. It almost seems odd that they would need to resort to astroturfing, but increasingly I find that no amount of moral turpitude will surprise me.
Comment from ICDSoft Supervisor, manually copied over from Wordpress:
I recently came upon your post here and I was flattered by its title “ICDSoft Rocks!” > I would like to assure you that your site will not “disappear”, despite the comments you have made.
Regarding your comments for rewarding only positive reviews:
Well, we were unable to find any negative ones out there. Furthermore, if there were negative reviews about our company across the Internet we would not have the extra $2000 at our disposal to give away as rewards :).
In case you had some negative experience with our company, please let us know or post about it here at your blog.
Thank you! ICDSoft Supervisor
My Response comment:
Although I left it unsaid in my original post, the root problem with your paid-review program is lack of transparency. None of the “testimonials” disclaim their financial affiliation with ICDSoft, and folks that read them have no way of knowing that they are paid advertising. Additionally, your announcement of intent to “reward” additional testimonials potentially turns all of your customers into paid, covert market-droids.
This is similar to (although more brazen and dishonest than) referral programs like Dreamhost has been using for some time. They work well until it becomes clear that the flood of positive reviews is being generated by greedy fools caught up in a pyramid scheme rather than genuinely happy customers. The sad truth in this case is that ICDSoft already has many genuinely happy customers offering honest testimonials, but these will become increasingly difficult to ferret out as the paid-review and referral programs become successful. Like Dreamhost, exaggerated reviews will eventually give ICDSoft a reputation as a budget host that promises more than it can deliver.
But referral programs appear to be here to stay. The one thing ICDSoft can do, is to ensure that any such program requires participants to disclose their financial affiliation. This may at least make it possible for independent goodwill to continue to exist alongside your buzz-generating machine.
In spite of disagreeing wholeheartedly with your payment-for-praise program, I applaud you for addressing my comments with a constructive response. It’s far too common to see businesses react to criticism by attempting censorship, and it would have been very easy to take that approach in this case. It shows a lot of faith in your service and business model to openly respond to criticism, and perhaps the market will bear out your faith.
P.S. In the absence of some sort of internet-wide identity authentication system, you’d make it easier for folks like me accept your status as an authentic ICDSoft rep by posting from an ICDSoft IP, rather than a medicom-bg.net system.