An interesting read on the "confessions" from a former EA Viral Marketer. I caught this yesterday on Reddit too, and just decided at the last minute to write about it.
This is a known job (mostly outsourced and Work At Home) by many in the gaming industry, but most people don't talk about it. There are a lot of job titles and duties that the industry really doesn't like to discuss. :)
It really doesn't matter if this person is a phony or not as what they say about the job is true. I'd really like someone to come along, though, that can provide real evidence of their job and duties and even provide several real world examples of things they've done.
All Andromeda posted, unfortunately, were public Quarterly Shareholders documents that everyone has access to. And they spent very little talking about their job, and more time attacking the company and it's games. It would have been far more convincing if they had provided real documentation from their job (since there would have been a lot of it, and none of which could have been traced back to them.)
That's why I appreciate some of the recent comments made by Brian Fargo, for example, about the real inner-problems that happen between Developers and Publishers that no one knows about. Now, we finally have a recognizable and trusted name providing proof that what many suspected really does happen.
Andromeda's job is basically conducting creative viral marketing on sites and forums (including /v/), praising their employer, and derailing threads or putting down competitors to deflect and control perception about a game.
You never really know who these people are. They spend years creating online identities, and they have multiple identities on several major and minors forums or blogs. A forum poster on MMO-Champion, for example, might have a dozen identities each with hundreds of posts (or one primary account with thousands and a "good reputation"). They're paid to do this 8+ hours per day, so you can only imagine how much time they spend on sites, forums and blogs building up trust and familiarity over several months or years.
It's a pretty easy job too. And there are different kinds of "marketing" responsibilities.
Some of these professional sockpuppets or shills will primarily engage in praising or controlling the perception of a company or it's game. Others, though, might have the task of attacking competitors, talk trash about their games or generate bad press, try to organize mass "uprisings" against certain companies, constantly attack the reputation of someone who is critical of their employer (any attempt to discredit them, including lies), create bad reviews of competing games (mostly targeting crowds to do it for them), or they engage in unethical practices to deplete the marketing and customer support budgets of competitors.
The key though is manipulating crowd psychology. They want as many people on their side as possible to do the most damage, so they're usually highly social (online) individuals within forums and they use sites like Twitter. They also have multiple accounts, so they're hard to distinguish since each account might have different followers. And, the more followers the better. What's also nice is that they can buy the obedience of many followers by handing out free stuff given to them by their employer. :)
It's really hard to spot these shills though. They engage is casual chatter, talk about their day or their family, movies they watch, etc. And, they're hard to distinguish from simple fanboys. Maybe they even act as fanboys as part of their cover. There probably is a detectable pattern, and a way to find these people, but one would need some real and proven examples of posts from their various identities. I'm sure that some of the more talented viral marketing trolls could probably spot each other though.