Martindale-Hubbell Apologizes For Blog Spam; Suspends Spammer; Promises to Answer Questions

Martindale-Hubbell has apologized for blog spam left on my site, using the comments area of my prior post for that purpose. MH has also agreed to publicly answer questions about the incident.

According to Derek Benton, the Director of International Operations at Martindale Hubbell International, it is not the company’s policy to spam blogs, but that “it appears that a vendor acting on our behalf may have done so.” That vendor/spammer is a British marketing outfit called Conscious Solutions, whose Sales and Marketing Director, David Gilroy, posted in the comments yesterday to take responsibility for what happened.

Conscious Solutions claims on its home page that part of its mission is “search engine optimisation and other online marketing techniques helps drive more revenue into your firm.” Does spamming law blogs drive revenue to MH?

After apologizing, Gilroy went on to write that “we do look for opportunities to comment on blogs, but the comment you identified should NEVER have been posted on ANY blog….”  In other words, it is the clear tactic of the marketers to run around and comment on blogs for the purpose of dropping links.  Bloggers, of course, see our comment areas as forums for discussion, not as walls for graffiti.

Why drop links in the comments of an old, popular post? It surely can’t be for readers, since the post is two years old. It can, therefore, only be intended to increase Google Pagerank.

Note to Gilroy: Comments on this blog, and oh so many others, are coded as “nofollow.” Nofollow is the direction to Google not to give any Google juice to the link. It is my understanding that this is the default on Blogger and many other popular blog platforms. I also expect that, with your expertise is marketing and search engine optimization, you already knew that. So you are not only defacing blogs with spam, but you are also wasting the money of the people that hired you.

[Addendum: Google's Webmaster Central Blog just posted on this subject: Hard Facts About Content Spam, h/t Richard Hornsby]

But let us return to Martindale-Hubbell, since they hired Gilroy’s company. MH’s Benton  went on to say in the comments that  “We’re in the process of getting to the bottom of what happened so that we can do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In the meantime the vendor has been instructed to stop all activity on our behalf.”

My opinion here is that suspension isn’t enough. Defacing law blogs is clearly reprehensible. All the more so since MH is in the law blog business.

The only way to stop blog spam is to publicize the names of the lawyers/companies that hire them. I have that policy noted in the side bar to the right.

There is no choice for MH but to fire the company, and to do it publicly. Because that is the only way to stop the practice. Marketers/spammers should know that they will lose business by spamming, not gain it.

Now on to the last part of Benton’s comment, where wrote that he would be “more than happy to address any other questions you might have, either here or via email at derek dot benton at martindale dot com.”

I prefer to do it here, in public, because I know my blog was not the only one defaced. And a public accounting of what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent it from happening again, is ultimately healthy, even if temporarily painful.

So here are my questions:

1. If MH claims to be a leader in social media, why is it outsourcing the social media to others?

2.  After MH outsourced to Gilroy’s company, did Gilroy outsource it elsewhere?

3.  Will MH make the results of its internal investigation public, so that others can learn from it?

4.  Will MH identify the blogs that were defaced by Gilroy’s company? Because they have that information for you. (Gilroy’s site includes this feature: “We offer the following link building submission service … if you want it, we’ll give you a screenshot for each submission. This way you will know the job has been done really well.”

5.  Will MH follow-up with each of the blogs that were defaced?

6.  I note on your blog that MH is holding a webinar on social media, which is “a series of online events bringing together some of the legal profession’s top social media evangelists to share their knowledge and tips on the practical uses of social media.” (Irony noted.) Will you be using this experience as a teaching moment?

Links to this post

December 11 roundup  
Key Obama regulatory appointees at NHTSA (auto safety) and FTC [commerce, antitrust] used to work for AAJ, the trial lawyers’ lobby [Wood, PoL]; “Adventures in Lawyer Advertising: Muscle, Talent, Results, and Terrible Acting” [Above the
posted by Walter Olson @ December 11, 2009 12:11 AM

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17 Responses Leave a comment

  • Anonymous 2009.12.1 at 18:50 | Quote

    While you are asking, can you aslo ask why attorneys (like me) have received 5 markleting calls in the last month, each of which begins with this is not a marketing call and then proceeds to try to sell Martindale services/products?

  • Alin Wagner-Lahmy 2009.12.1 at 23:10 | Quote

    This is to continue our discussion from your post yesterday.

    Shel Israel, which you probably follow and which I mentioned in my initial comment, said: none of us (‘us’ as in the online community) are ‘experts’ in social media http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2009/11/so-just-whos-a-social-media-expert-.html, just like none of us are experts in phone and email communications (as social media leaders such as Kevin O’keefe, Doug Cornelius and Niki Black pointed out lately in different posts and tweets). The Social Media webinar and chain of events in Martindale Connected this month has one goal: to bring together different legal professionals that work in different areas and roles, and make excellent use of Social Media, and hear from them how they do it so that others in similar roles that want to, can learn. Doug Cornelius, Lee Bryant, Niki Black, Rex Gradeless, Adrian Dayton, the amazing 3 geeks Greg Lambert, Lisa Salazar, Toby Brown and many more I am sure you will agree these are top names in the Legal Social Media world. I don’t think anyone here thinks differently. In the single week we have advertised this webinar, 529 people have already registered for this it, not too bad a number.

    If you will read the Martindale blog and join the Connected community, you will see that ‘social media webinar’ is not a one-off: in past 6 months we have dedicated each month to discuss a different aspect and topic of the legal world: women in law, revolutionary law, inside/outside counsel relationship, and this December: Social Media present and future uses. The purpose of these events is to invite all community members (and to your question of what consists of a legal community, we’re broadcasting these events to all legal community, as you can see if you read the blog and @mhtweets) to discuss timely topics that are relevant to lawyers. We are pursuing these events following comments we heard from Connected members that asked for more content and more engagement, and so far results and feedback from Connected community members to these events are outstanding. This is not the only thing we’re doing to make Connected more engaging stay tuned to the Social Media week and our blog and you will find out.

    Regarding your comment from the previous post about who exactly is our ‘community’: As I mentioned, I would invite you again to read more than the November posts on Martindale blog to find out. The reason why I recommended you ran a search for ‘registration’ is so that you can see the major changes we made to the registration process, are all following community feedback (when ‘community’ is the legal community on twitter, blogs, face to face conversations with lawyers). If you don’t have the time, I would only recommend you read Jon Lin’s post on it http://blog.martindale.com/martindale-hubbell-connected-new-registration-workflow-launches.

    One last thing on a personal note about Martindale Connected. If you follow my personal blog http://www.sleeplessinsocialmedia.com (which I know you don’t know, but I am inviting you to read) you will see I am a big fan of Howard Rheingold, Nancy White and who I perceive as younger generation of them, people like Matt Mullenweg and Chris Pirillo which are leading and creating the most solid community services out there: I am a keen practitioner and believer in Communities of Practice for making one more efficient and productive in their life, in professional development through collaborative knowledge sharing. This is where I personally would like to see Connected grow to deliver better, among other things we have learned are important to the legal community.

    So I invite you again to try our blog, with a different set of glasses. Who knows, it might lead us to other interesting conversions.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2009.12.1 at 23:31 | Quote

    Alin:

    You’re kidding, right? Martindale spams my blog and lord knows how many others, is called to task for it, and you use the comments to pitch your webinar and “Connected” “community”?

    I don’t believe for a second that the irony has escaped you. You have, I believe, simply elected to change the subject.

    Your company has defaced blogs with spam. You are, I think, in a poor spot to be giving advice on community and social media.

    What you are in a good spot to do, however, is answer the questions that were posed. I posed them, after all, at the invitation of your company.

  • Kevin OKeefe 2009.12.1 at 23:31 | Quote

    I can’t but help but feel you’re the right person in the wrong place Alin. I loved the webinar you personally did early this year and enjoy your blog.

    But Martindale’s story of we’re changing is getting old. It’s been going on for years and through CEO’s and management that seem to come and go through a revolving door.

    This latest episode of spamming blogs to improve search for Martindale’s International website was the type of crap I would never think of pulling. I also couldn’t sweep it under the rug and kiss it off as a bad day. For me it was the last straw in watching MH do whatever it can to get more money from lawyers no matter the quality of the service or the tactics used to get it.

  • Mike Mintz 2009.12.2 at 05:26 | Quote

    Hi Eric:

    It has been almost 6-months since I joined the team as community manager for Martindale-Hubbell Connected (US). In that short time we have hosted many events involving social media: SM Policy (July), Using SM to Build Your Career (Aug), and Practical Uses of SM (Dec). As someone put it on Twitter the MH Blog got on a “real platform” (thank G-d!) using my blog tool of choice, Word Press. Also, we have been learning what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to being a big company in the intimate social media space.

    MH is not a perfect company (are there any out there?), and we will make mistakes as we go along. Bringing this to the public forum is the beauty of social media: we can have a conversation about the issues and come to a common solution based on the group conscience. For example, I am a customer evangelist of Apple, usually touting their praises, but a recent incident with my wife’s iPhone prompted a critical blog post from me about the company. Does that mean Apple is no longer good at what they do or that I no longer am an evangelist for them? Certainly not! It just means that I have a forum to vent about what frustrates me and where others can join the conversation if they choose.

    I say all this b/c MH is changing in many ways (yes – this has been said for a while and I see it truly happening), one of which is demonstrated here: we are listening and responding. I post this as a member of the MH team, but also as a fellow blogger who wouldn’t want spam comments either. Having written 3 different blogs since 2005 (first on Blogger then on Word Press), I delete spam comment when I see them and use tools to catch them before they post. Your proposed action plan sounds reasonable and I am sure we’ll hear a response from Derek or someone on the International side soon. Until then, great talking to you and I hope to see you around.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • Eric Turkewitz 2009.12.2 at 07:02 | Quote

    Mike:

    Like Alin before you, you have pitched MH’s expertise in social media.

    So that leaves the burning question of why, if MH has such expertise in social media, it outsourced its social media to another company?

    MH’s claims of expertise make the transgression worse than all others, since your company is in no position to claim ignorance of what goes on with the marketers.

    Here’s the deal: Ethics rules for lawyers cover marketing. So when lawyers outsource their marketing to you, they have outsourced their ethics to you. (see, for example, Outsourcing Marketing = Outsourcing Ethics (5 Problems With Outsourcing Attorney Marketing))

    And MH then proceeded to outsource the marketing (and ethics) of the lawyers that hired it to yet another company, who in turn may have outsourced it even further.

  • Anonymous 2009.12.2 at 07:46 | Quote

    Wow. This seems really over the top and silly. You can delete comments. Why make it into a pressing social issue? I mean, really?

  • Eric Turkewitz 2009.12.2 at 11:31 | Quote

    This seems really over the top and silly. You can delete comments.

    I’m sure there are people in the world who don’t mind if someone sprays graffiti on their house. After all, it can just be cleaned up.

    But I’m not one of those people who let the vandals off the hook so that they can trash someone else’s house.

    Your mileage may vary.

  • Tracey 2009.12.2 at 11:34 | Quote

    These MH knobs continue to spam your blog in comments to a post criticizing them for spamming your blog. I love it! MH is truly shameless.

  • Anonymous 2009.12.2 at 12:05 | Quote

    Eric, over what time scale were these comments were left on the various blogs? All in one week? Over a period of months?

  • Eric Turkewitz 2009.12.2 at 12:11 | Quote

    Eric, over what time scale were these comments were left on the various blogs?

    I didn’t do that analysis. I quickly realized that multiple templates were being used (see the two pdfs that I have.)

    In fact, one of the questions I would like to see MH answer is the one you posed: Just how widespread was the spam campaign?

  • Anonymous 2009.12.2 at 12:19 | Quote

    Just how widespread was the spam campaign?

    Will be very interested to see the answer, obviously key to how much this will dent the MH brand.

    Did they know it was going on? Unless it was very shortlived, and therefore may not have been brought to their attention yet, it could be down to an over-zealous marketing agency…otherwise they have some questions to answer.

    Keep us posted!

  • Anonymous 2009.12.2 at 13:33 | Quote

    If I let MH spam my blog, do I get a free AV rating?

  • Gerry Oginski 2009.12.23 at 08:31 | Quote

    Hi Eric,
    As you know, MH is not the only law-related company to post spam to blogs.

    In fact, there are companies out there, especially in the YouTube world, that actively promote raising your viewer count if you pay for different tier level promotions. “We guarantee to get you 100,000 views for only X dollars…”

    I have long advised people to stay away from these spammers for two key reasons:
    1. It’s dishonest and
    2. I believe it’s unethical for an attorney to artificially inflate their viewership count; this could lead a viewer to think that their video was much more popular than it really was. Self-puffery has no place offline or online.

    Gerry Oginski

  • Eric Turkewitz 2009.12.23 at 09:20 | Quote

    Gerry:

    I hadn’t even considered the issue of viewer counts on videos being artificially inflated. Thanks for that.

    I can see how promoters might also do a similar thing for web sites, by putting “stats” up on the page to show how often people read it to make believe it is more popular than it really is.

    Such conduct, n my opinion, would clearly be deceptive and raise ethical issues.

  • AtlantaLawyerWhiteHat 2009.12.27 at 08:27 | Quote

    My blog is a 4 and i get spammed heavily by mh. The other day. I had one from a friend of mine’s local Atlanta site. I called him and he clearly had no idea MH was doing this.
    Here is another link they tried to send juice to and here is the email address of the poster

    http://www.martindale-hubbell.co.uk/

    priyasenguptadas@gmail.com

    this is the one for my friend’s site. notice the mh. in front of the throwaway email address.shameless

    mh.evankaine@gmail.com

  • Robert Saunders 2010.6.18 at 15:35 | Quote

    Originally Posted By Anonymous
    Wow. This seems really over the top and silly. You can delete comments. Why make it into a pressing social issue? I mean, really?

    Yes you can delete comments, but some comments, though largely promotional in purpose, can often contain blocks of text which are relevant to the conversation at hand.

    As a reader, I can clearly see the promotional aspects of the MH commentaries, but here and there throughout their writings you can see some relevant bits that discuss the new social media marketing tactics.

    As a blogger:

    1. I could delete these comments and then word could spread through other outlets that I delete comments that I don’t agree with; and that could cause a lot of readers and serious commenters from returning to my blog because they don’t respect people who delete comments just because they don’t like the purpose or the content.
    2. Or I could edit the comments to remove what I consider to be purely promotional elements designed to increase the traffic flow of someone else’s site; and, again, word could get out on other outlets that I edit people’s statements, and, again, there is a drop in traffic to my own site/blog.

    Both deleting and editing comments can lower a blogger’s standing in the blogging community. Remember, some bloggers consider themselves the “new journalism/media”.

    Of course, speaking as a blogger, there are many many many comments that are purely promotional spam and their content has nothing whatsoever to do with the post to which they are commenting on. These will likely get deleted without regrets on the part of the blogger. the commenter probably won’t mind either; and no one is likely to mourn the loss of such a comment.

    I don’t particular like it when people promote a poor service or product because they are being paid to do so. Some products are so poor as to be completely ignored by bloggers, journalists, and critics alike, yet they will be ardently promoted positively by promotional commenters because “It’s what they are paid to do” and the “quality of the product is not their concern”.

    In may cases the client of the promotional commenter is just as much to blame as the commenter.

    Furthermore, it just may come to pass that the search engine programmers get wise enough to mathematically recognize promotional comments and render them ‘weightless’ and irrelevant.

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