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The Dark Patterns of Aimless PR

A practical guide for effective PR in the 21st century

A lot of PR is still very old fashioned. Company A reaches a milestone, so a simple press release goes out. This process is repeated once every few months, turning the message into a dry and disconnected pile of words. And when a press release doesn’t get picked up, company A simply sends out the same message again, only louder and to more people, which creates nothing but unpleasant noise.

PR efforts built solely on louder and more frequent communication will not get the desired exposure. It’s time to break the cycle of meaninglessness, but to do so we need to first define what dark patterns underlie aimless PR. 

In this chapter we’ll go into 5 dark patterns of how public relations is done, how you can recognise them and what their negative effect can be.

Say NAY to the old way of spray and pray

Remember back when taking in information required the conscious effort of picking up a newspaper? Even if you were born before the ’90s, it’s probably been a long while since you popped by the corner store to browse through stacks of magazines – reading bit and pieces before deciding to buy or not to buy.

We no longer need to take time to find information. Smart algorithms, email newsletters and social media supply an endless stream of it. In days of yore, people actually paid attention to most information put in front of them; today, it takes them a split second to know if they find it interesting.

Which makes a big difference: it means that simply putting your message out there doesn’t guarantee it’ll be seen by human eyes. And forcing information on someone will instantly make them dislike you.

Reaching out to the world

We have this belief that as long as the entire world reads about your company, you will immediately be understood and your customer base will automatically grow. And what better way to make this happen than by being published in the biggest, baddest media outlets out there! Makes sense to only reach out to big publications like Business Insider, Mashable and Huffington Post, right?


If you take a gander at the websites of major media, you’ll quickly see that big brands, politics and funny how-to lists dominate the homepages. The most read or sponsored posts are likely to remain front and centre for the longest time as well, making it even harder for you to get noticed. On top of that, it’s difficult to get a feature unless you’re very specific and clear on what you do that’s interesting to the average reader.

Social Media as bad PR

Two of the platforms that allows you to easily reach a large audience are Twitter and Instagram. Their opt-out nature ensures that the masses remain personally approachable – all information shared on the platform is for the world to see. All you have to do is fill in a person’s handle and they’ll receive that magic push notification that’s designed to make you pay attention.

Unless, of course, you start shouting out haphazard messages on platforms or simply tagging people en masse for no apparent reason. Which – trust us – happens more often than you’d think. No-one likes a spammer, so don’t act like one on social media.

My stats seem good, but are my tactics really working?

Google Adwords, Facebook advertising and LinkedIn campaigns: they’re all measured and priced according to reach, clicks and likes. Again, it makes sense to assume that the more money you throw at (digital) campaigns, the more feeds your information will pop up in, and the more people will subsequently pay attention to your company.

If only life were that simple.

Sure, Facebook likes are an easy measurement of success to report to your boss, but a large sudden increase of likes could actually hurt your efforts rather than help your visibility. Because power is no longer just in numbers – it’s now in engagement.

Facebook stats and likes have become a part of your funnel, but you’ll only see the real results if you look past the so-called vanity metrics. If you don’t start tracking and focusing on the actual engagement metrics and conversions, you’ll just continue pouring money into tactics that can do more harm than good.

How click farms ruin your metrics

Maybe you’re sceptical about the bold statement that the number of likes might actually hurt your visibility. But one of the nice science guys from the YouTube channel Veritasium rocked the foundations of Facebook advertising a year ago with a simple Youtube video.

He ran a series of wanted and unwanted experiments, only to find that many of the likes he’d paid for actually cam from click farms trying to stay under the radar. So even if you pay for likes and advertising the official way, most of your likes will still come from empty accounts that don’t look at or care about your brand.

What most people underestimate is the extent to which ‘empty’ likes can damage your online presence.

Facebook’s algorithms work in such a way that they first measure the viral potential of a post by showing it to a small sample of people and seeing how they interact with it.

If even your most active fans don’t like your posts or click on your links, the post will be archived in the ever-growing database of posts pretty much instantly. If your fans do interact with the post, it’s gradually shown to more people. 

Simply showing your message to a lot of people no longer works

There, we said it. Throwing non-targeted information at a large group of people does nothing to help you build a strong brand. If anything, it’s more likely to damage your reputation and visibility.

So if you were about to tweet up a storm directed at no one in particular – please stay your hand, take a breath and reconsider.

Creating content that gets real likes is key. Not to mention all reciprocal benefits your brand can have from real interactions.