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Three Card Monte–Social Media Style

by David Brock on March 23rd, 2010

Everyone knows the classic con game, called Three Card Monte.  It’s a card game where the dealer rearranges cards (usually on a cardboard box to aid in escaping) in an attempt to confuse the player on the location of a specific card.  The player guesses which of three cards is the designated card, if he is right, he wins the bet.  It’s a classic con, in Manhattan, you can see it on virtually any street corner in midtown.  It’s an easy game, it’s easy to be sucked in, and the dealer always wins.

There are three roles in Three Card Monte.  The first is the dealer, that’s pretty clear, his job is to deal the cards, tricking the player (mark) with sleight of hand and deception.  A good dealer has a great patter that draws people in to watch and gets the mark to play.  Three Card Monte wouldn’t work however, without the shill.  That’s someone, seemingly a stranger to the dealer, but actually someone who’s in cahoots with the dealer.  Typically, the shill will walk up the game, pretending to play and win.  After he’s won a lot of money, he walks off, leaving everyone anxious to “take advantage” of the dealer in the same way.  The mark—that’s usually me—is the poor victim who thinks he can beat the dealer.  The dealer may suck the mark in by letting him win a few times, raising his bet, then the dealer takes the mark for all he can.  The dealer is always in control, the mark never has a chance.  Later the dealer and shill have a drink, split the proceeds and laugh about all the marks they conned.

After one or two painful lessons, I stopped playing, but it’s a seductive game to watch—the performance of the dealer and shill is always amazing and amusing.  The naiveté of the marks—there are always a good supply of marks is always consistent.

I tell that story because I’m seeing various forms of Three Card Monte, Social Media Style taking place every day.  Today, I was the unwitting mark in a group discussion in LinkedIn.  Someone raised an interesting discussion about innovation in sales models.  It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, and the specific discussion this “dealer” raised was very relevant to a current project I’m involved in.  I opened the discussion to see one response.  A seemingly independent commenter, (hereafter referred to as the shill), gave a reply referencing a specific website with the specific answers I was interested in.  They hooked me—somehow they realized there were marks in the world.  I went to the website, looked at it, then something looked funny.  One of the executives with the company was the dealer—the person that posed this question looking for answers and insight.  The shill was his partner, the one that identified the website and this great innovation in sales models  (When you looked at their model, it was all smoke and mirrors, had no credibility, but I’ll hold that discussion to another post.). 

Yes, they sucked me in.  They had carefully disguised their company names in the LinkedIn discussion to make it look like they didn’t know each other, but at the website, they were clearly the principals of the company and had worked together for years.  Pretty classic con, they almost sucked me in.  Fortunately, for me, I recognized their trickery and deceitfulness very quickly.

You might be saying, Dave, if you’re just discovering trickery and deceit on the internet, then I have a cousin who is a deposed Nigerian politician with $25Million!

No, I’m not talking about those scams.  I’m talking about the stupid marketing tricks people use in their social media strategies.  I have dozens of these examples.  People thinking they are clever stimulating a false discussion, playing “social media sleight of hand.”  There are too many cheap, apparent and ineffective tricks and short cuts, otherwise smart people use to in their social media programs.

There’s a lot of hype and misdirection in social media and the internet.  There are more scams than anyone would realize.  There’s a lot to be genuinely concerned about and suspicious.  However, there are far too many people just playing stupid marketing games.  The “dealer” and their “shills” may think they are pulling one over on the “marks.”  In my experience, however, most efforts are clumsy, poorly executed, and make those people forever untrustworthy social media sources.

Authenticity and transparency are great ways to build your credibility and following in social media.  It’s no more difficult being genuine, than it is to try stupid marketing tricks.  It’s very easy to be direct in social media.  There are so many platforms for you to sell whatever ideas, products, concepts you have.  Social media is great, it gives us platforms to find new audiences, and if we have something worthwhile to say, we’ll find an audience.  We don’t have to resort to Three Card Monte.

Being genuine, authentic, and transparent helps build trust in your community.  If social media is a key part of your business strategy, let these be the guidelines for what you do.

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  1. So true… Any professional is “genuine, authentic, and transparent” in a face-to-face situation. Why would any other code of conduct be different for social media community? Common sense that is too often overlooked in a vain attempt to stand out.

    • Todd, thanks for the comment, couldn’t agree more. Somehow the distance and the “impersonality” of social media, causes people to do things they wouldn’t do in person.

  2. Geez, Dave, the Nigerian politician is a scam? I’ve been talking to this guy for weeks. He’s about to transfer his 25 mil to my bank account. All I gotta do is send him 15k for the bank transfer fee and to pay off the bank officer. Seems quite legit to me. Maybe you’re wrong about him?

    But I, too, have noticed the avalanche of attempted marketing trickery with social media, but I’m not sure it is any more prevalent than the marketing tricks sellers and companies have tried for centuries out in the physical world. I think maybe the real difference is that the tricks played in the real world often tend to be more polished (having had centuries to be perfected). As time goes by and the tricksters become more polished, the social media marketing tricks will probably become increasingly more difficult to detect—and dangerous.

    • Paul, you’ve made me feel so much better, he’s only asking 10K from me, but since I gave him my AMEX card number, I’ve been noticing these charges……..

      I really tend to agree with you, stupid marketing tricks are nothing new. The pervasiveness of social media/networking, the minimal barriers to entry (ie virtually free) will only increase the volume, audacity, and idiocy in the approaches otherwise smart people would choose. It’s a shame, because it is so simple to be authentic and provide quality stuff through the same channels.

      Like my mailbox at home, where my first top is the trash can to get rid of most of what came in the mail, the first stop for my inbox is my SPAM bucket. Thanks, as always, for the comment. Regards, Dave

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