Dear Crypto Community, It’s Time to Acknowledge Hidden Marketing, Bots, & Astroturfing

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The world of cryptocurrency is a new frontier in a lot of ways. It’s an attempt at redefining our financial systems and how we transact and trade with foreigners abroad. These technologies hold a lot of promise; however, there is one thing that is very evident. Whoever understands these systems and their inter-workings is at a much more significant advantage than their peers. Crypto is the digital equivalent of the wild west where anything and everything that is possible will be tried. The amount of information asymmetry in this space is enormous, and it is actively being used against newer investors to dupe them. The reason this post is being written is to highlight how rampant hidden marketing, bots, and astroturfing is in the crypto industry. Some projects are guilty of very questionable practices. It is essential for the community to start talking about this more because these tactics and/or forms of marketing will only get more sophisticated as time goes on. In the cryptocurrency space, there are a lot of good things that are being worked on, but it is time to dive into the murkier side of it.

Three marketing packages currently available through a site that will promote any crypto, if paid, known as Ninjapromo.IO (Ninja Starter, Ninja Advanced, & Ninja Premium)

Hidden marketing has found widespread usage by projects in this space. Some companies simply exist solely to create interest in other projects. They will have conversations with themselves on Twitter, Telegram, Discord, Reddit, etc. The purpose of these is to make it seem like there is an organic, grassroots amount of interest and support for the projects. All of a sudden people go from entirely uninformed about a project to asking all kinds questions about it. Astroturfing can potentially lead to real market demand on exchanges, which pumps the price, enriching earlier investors if they sell, and leaving newer investors with the bag to hold. Some of the projects being promoted may have very thin trading books, where only a few thousand dollars can have a drastic impact on the price. It is not fair to say that these promotion companies are 100% at fault, but it is imperative that the markets become more transparent and at the least, people are aware of the marketing tactics they are being subjected to.

Many companies offer these promotional services. Three that I am aware of are Ninjapromo.io, VCA Marketing, and Market Makers. Some are very open with their business, whereas the details about others are much harder to ascertain. The picture above is from a marketing service by the name of Ninjapromo.IO. This is from their old site layout where they used to specifically advertise “Hidden Marketing” in the form of creating discussions on the forums, telegram, etc. However, on more recent updates of their site, they have now excluded that exact wording. The internet archive still holds copies of it, though:

ICO Community Management and Hidden Marketing
Raising interest towards the ICO project through discussions on Bitcointalk, Reddit, Telegram using hundreds of… web.archive.org

By using these services, one is able to purchase a variety of options for your ICO that are meant to bring engagement, interest, and eventually, customers who will purchase tokens. Some of the services bragged of having access to “Influencers” on all different platforms, as many as 500 telegram accounts at their disposal, “creating a buzz and/or hype around your project,” to even keeping a project at the top of popular sites like Bitcointalk by bumping threads frequently and using high-trust accounts.

Ninjapromo boasts that they are one of the leaders on the market for Mass Media access, working with more than 35 outlets.

“Promote your project on the best websites, such as Forbes, USATODAY, INC, Business.com, Tech.co, Newsmax, Coinshedule, CCN, Coindesk, TNW, Odysseyonline, Hacked, IBM, Yourstory, investing.com, seekingalpha and others.” All of the current packages include PR where you can get up to 50 press releases & 10 articles talking about your project.

There are a variety of projects advertised as clients on their site. Not many are listed however more can be seen on request.

Three project examples from Ninjapromo- UNIBRIGHT raised $12.6 million dollars, Maecenas raised $15.4 million dollars, and Vertex’s ICO is still ongoing.

Maecenas was created to digitize artwork using blockchain technology, giving people the ability buy shares of ownership. The project received a great deal of press. Some of the outlets that they were featured in were Nasdaq, Forbes, The Cointelegraph, BBVA, CNBC, FINANCIAL TIMES, The Telegraph, International Business Times, and BBC. It’s impossible to ascertain if Ninjapromo directly helped them get this coverage, however, it’s certainly an impressive list of outlets. Despite all of this coverage, the ART token that Maecenas sold in their ICO is only trading on one exchange at the moment, HitBTC, and it’s trading volume in the past 24 hours is a measly $1,259.

Vertex is a platform for vetting ICOs and then letting the users buy those vetted tokens through their platform, using another token, the VTEX token.

“Vertex.Market is the first OTC Digital Asset Platform where institutional as well as retail users can buy and sell any sort of digital asset, without the need of an exchange listing. A secondary market, where liquidity can be found.”

Their ICO is still ongoing and they have also been featured on many media outlets. Some of these include Investing.com, Yahoo Finance, Market Watch, The Business Journal, India Today, Bitcoin.com. It is important to just stick to the facts rather than make any assumptions. One fact that’s certain is they were/are a client of Ninjapromo. Thus, looking into the growth of their telegram channel proves interesting

In one month Vertex’s telegram channel grew by 3,189%

One thing to notice is they had parabolic growth right up until the start of their token sale. From August 1 to September 1 their telegram channel grew by 3,189%. When looking at their Twitter during the same time frame there was also a growth of 902%. However, running their Twitter accounts through SparkToro (a tool for discerning fake followers) shows how much of this growth may have been fake. Please note that they have two accounts. One is geared more toward their Arabic speaking followers, the other is for the rest of the world. This is what the results showed.

Besides just offering their services online, Ninjapromo has even reached out to owners of subreddits to ask if they can advertise there.

As stated earlier, some of these promotional companies operate more in the dark, making it harder to gather information on them. One of these goes by the clever moniker “Market Makers,” advertising “Professional market making for crypto assets.” These services operate by reaching out to “Influencers” or anybody who has a large following to see if they would be interested in promoting an asset. One would think that if someone was selling a service to influence the price of a stock that it would be met with some trepidation.

Here is an example of Market Makers reaching out to someone. In the picture below they reached out to a popular figure on “Crypto Twitter” who goes by the name Crypto Bobby

“Pump of trollboxes or pump of bitcointalk threads brings no direct benefit. However, it helps to attract traders’ attention when we are preparing another manipulation. This makes a flow of traders 2–3 times larger.”

Due to the stealthy modus operandi of some of these companies they make it very hard or nearly impossible to quantify how many projects do business with them. However, know that they exist, and they are potentially involved in any crypto you see being hyped.

T.T. Consulting, another promotional company, operating out of Russia and advertising through Telegram

I think it is neccesary to note here that this is not an accusation of any wrongdoing on the part of these companies or projects. There is no direct evidence of this. However, they are examples of companies that are either offering these marketing services or have used them in the past. It is almost certain that, given the sheer amount of development taking part in this space, that there are companies or projects using similar techniques to behave unethically. The goal of this article is not to accuse any one specific project or company of wrongdoing, but to bring awareness to these hidden marketing techniques and better inform users, consumers, and retail investors of cryptocurrencies what they’re up against. Being aware of all this certainly helps bring context to the bear market of 2018 and paints a picture of a bright future, as long as the community can band together to stay informed and not fall victim to pump-and-dump and other schemes that have plagued financial markets for decades, and now threaten the small but burgeoning cryptocurrency community.