2014-12-23

The Big Gushcloud Exposé


I've been meaning to write this but I've waited more than 1 year to slowly gather all the evidence I need. Finally, here's the result.

This entry is very long. Maybe it will be boring to anyone who isn't a blogger or an advertiser because there are a lot of numbers and it's pretty darn wordy. But everyone should love a good exposé, right?

Here's the background story.


http://gushcloud.com/


What is Gushcloud? If you don't already know, they are kinda like a rival company to Nuffnang, dealing with bloggers, social media, youtube etc.
Now everyone knows my loyalty to Nuffnang. I've been with Nuffnang since its infancy and the boss, Ming, is my good friend. Not everyone knows this either but I was offered a very small amount of shares when I first joined. Some other popular bloggers also were. Start ups offering shares to get people to join them is common practice. However, I don't get dividends. I don't get any say in how the company is run.

Why am I telling you this? Because you have every reason to think I have an ulterior motive for writing this - an unflattering blog entry about a rival company who promotes rival bloggers taking a share of the online advertising pie.

But if you trust me - and I hope you do because I've spent a decade trying to be as honest a blogger as possible - then I hope you believe I only wrote this because I believe lies and immoral practices should be exposed, not for my personal monetary benefit. If you know me, I can't be fucked about earning more money. If I did, I'd be much much richer than I am currently. What I care about is exposing the TRUTH.


So let's start the story from the beginning.


In March 2014 I wrote about on my Dayre about Nuffnang's 7th birthday. I included a paragraph like this:




Now I never mentioned Gushcloud in this btw. There are more than one social media company that starts with G.

The next day, Gushcloud founder Vincent Ha called Boss Ming and blabbered on about suing me. How does he know whether I'm referring to him? Guilty conscience?

Perhaps his company is founded by his love for blowing gushes of hot air but no lawyer's letter came. Instead, he wrote this blog entry

It's boring, preachy and full of back-handed compliments about Gushcloud. Roll my fucking eyes. Don't bother to read it because I will summarize the only important parts below.

I went about gathering evidence. 

First, I created a fake company called SG Private Trainers and created a cute little website for them. You can see my work of art here!!


LOL The random people in the site are the results of me googling "fitness instructor" in Getty images and doing creative cropping. And the business owner's name is Doug Chu S.L., which is an anagram of Gushcloud!! Creative not?!! Can you guess the other anagrams on the site??



 I'm so funny and witty cannot tahan


I used this fake company to buy ads, both banner and instagram, from Gushcloud.

Then, I also went to buy the Financial Reports for Gushcloud for year 2011, 2012 and 2013. They are readily available in ACRA for anyone to buy for $50 each. It's public records.

(Click to see 2011, 2012, 2013)


Ok, let's see the results.


He called me a liar. I'll prove him wrong.




Merry Christmas Gushcloud. :)











Quote from Vincent's blog post




Here's the proof that BOTH statements are UNTRUE and potentially misleading.

Article on The Straits Times on 20th November 2012. CLICK TO READ

Too long didn't read? Here's the important paragraph:



(Churp Churp is sister company of Nuffnang)

Yup, they definitely DID report their earnings on newspaper.

Monthly revenue $170,000?


How much, in actual fact, was Gushcloud's average revenue per month for 2012?



$33,000.

Or $396,005 a year.

How do I know? From the aforementioned Gushcloud financial report of 2012:




Gushcloud had a total revenue (note: not profit, it just means purely what they earned without taking away expenses or the cost of the services) of $396,005. After adding in all their expenses, they have a comprehensive loss of $984,876.


If a company gets $170,000 revenue per month according to Vincent, in a year it will earn slightly more than $2 million.


That's a real yearly revenue of $396,005 to $2 million, does that sound like inflated earnings to you??


Let's just give them the benefit of doubt. They said that their revenue went up and that in February it was only $25,000/mth. Let's imagine that only in November, when this article is published, did their revenue suddenly become $170,000/mth. From January to October it was $25,000.

($25k X 10months) + ($170k X 2months) = $590,000


Tadah, STILL seems like inflation to me!!!


Unless, somehow, Gushcloud's Annual Report isn't accurate, or Straits Times reporter Melissa Sim is misreporting, it seems logical to conclude that Gushcloud DID inflate its earnings on newspapers.



NEXT!












In case you are confused, let me first explain about masking ads.

There is even a term for this dishonest practice, and it's called Astrosurfing. You can read all about it here.


An example of Astrosurfing. Is this ethical?

When a blogger pretends he found xxx product by himself and decides to write a smashing review about it when it's actually paid, that's called astrosurfing - or masking ads. It's dishonest for a blogger to pretend that something they are paid for to advertise was their honest true opinion when it isn't. It's cheating the consumer.

Just like when you flip 8 Days magazine and they give a review of the best chicken rice in Singapore... What if money is exchanged and it's actually a paid review? Or if someone is paid to say a competitor's brand is lousy? Don't you think you deserve to know?

Not that all paid advertorials must automatically be rubbish. In fact, advertorials can very well be sincere and truthful. That's up to the blogger. But at the very least, say you are paid to whore out a product when you ARE paid.

Astrosurfing is ILLEGAL in the States, the UK and Australia. It appears that in Singapore there is no such law yet. However, such a practice is obviously unethical.

Are bloggers or their management companies such mercenaries that even putting an honest "sponsored post" is too much to ask for?



Here's an email written from co-founder of Gushcloud, Althea Lim, to their Gushcloud blogger Eric Lim in 2011:

(Eric forwarded the email to Miyake long ago, who sent it to me)




Twice it was emphasized that Eric is not to expose the ad as paid. 

Does it look like it's a contract to mask an ad? Maybe not in the traditional contract sense but it's still a written contract if it's an agreement in an email.


In case you are wondering, Gushcloud used to be under Barnett Group. And Althea, Freda and Fai (CC-ed) are all still working with Gushcloud till today.

But this happened in 2011.

Maybe somewhere along the way they changed and suddenly became more honest people.


I needed to check if they are still doing this in 2014.

How? Remember my fake company SG Private Trainers? I used that to buy an instagram ad from Gushcloud.

Shockingly enough they fell for it...

Here's part of the email I sent to them:



Wisely, Fai never did reply me explicitly saying they are ok with masking ads, but cannot sure say cannot right?


Second email:




And here's Yilin's instagram ad ($300), in which she pretended to find Sg private trainers all by herself from a banner. She is completely lying! Tadah, caught red-handed Gushcloud! Sneaky sneaky!





Mai geh siao leh


Not only did she not mention it's a paid ad, she pretended that she stumbled upon the client by herself.

It's one thing to mask an ad but it's another to lie? I cannot believe Gushcloud actually agreed to do this.
 

SO. Gushcloud makes their bloggers mask ads? What do you think?

Do they give their bloggers contracts to ask them to mask ads? If no, how else do they get these bloggers to not write that it's an ad to fulfill their promises to clients? That I'll like to know.

p/s: In case you are wondering I have no idea who this Yilin Goh person is and just randomly chose her among Gushcloud's portfolio of bloggers. Suay lor who ask her to be so dishonest.

#toobad #toughtogainbackyourreaderstrust
#hopeitsworthit #hashtagsarefunevenwhentheydontwork






Let's go to the next point.









No Vincent Ha quote on this one but it is OBVIOUSLY very unethical to inflate a blogger's page views to clients.

I've heard from the grapevine that Gushcloud inflates their bloggers' numbers to get clients to pay more but I had no proof, so I wanted to find out myself. How?

I used Doug Chu S.L to enquire about banner ads from Gushcloud.

They sent me their bloggers' page views. I must say I am very impressed! Most of them are so popular!!




Added the little rainbow strip, hopefully can cover the smell of bullshit.


Right... If you have no idea who these people are, you probably share my disbelief of the stats. Honestly, it's not like the numbers are very impressive. It's just that these bloggers aren't.

(At my peak, I could get up to 70k page views per day.  I don't count it in months because the number is just ridiculous: 2.1million. Now, even though my blog is half dead, I still get 6k a day. Postnote: now back to 63485 unique visitors on 23rd Dec when post is publishd!)

I didn't believe these numbers, so I decided to go ahead and buy some banner ads. Since my cash flow is finite, I couldn't buy ads with all of these bloggers. I chose three. Their pictures got a little "X" so you can put faces to the names.


  • Yan Kay Kay: 150k-200k page views per month = 5,000 per day

  • Eric Lim: 30-35k page views per month = 1,000 per day

  • Asyiha Ams: 40k-50k page views per month = 1,500 per day


My programmer friend then did 3 tracking links for me. 

What this means is that the bloggers will put a html code on their sidebars and not only will the banner image appear, the code will also track the number of unique hits, page views, geographic location of the viewers and how long they stay on the page for etc.

This is common enough industry practice for advertisers, but since I foresaw that Gushcloud may be inaccurate and misleading about their bloggers' stats, they might not allow the tracking link. But to my shock they allowed it. O_O

I guess they never thought that a small fry like Doug Chu S.L. will do anything to them. LOL!


Kay Kay's banner ad was bought through Gushcloud at $1,000. (BTW I find that super exorbitant!)


AFTER ONE MONTH OF TRACKING:





KUA KUA KUA........

150,000 versus 28,823!!!


REALLY GUSHCLOUD??

I expected disparity, but not THIS much. They actually blew up the amount by FIVE FREAKING TIMES!!! Actual views is only 20% of what they claimed her views was.

Since I paid $1,000 for 150k views, should I get back a refund of $800 or what???


Maybe this is a one time error by Gushcloud. Let's see other bloggers!


Gushcloud claimed that Eric Lim's blog boast 30,000 views a month.


Then they had the audacity to try to charge me $300 for a banner ad from him.


I didn't wanna pay that so I approached him myself and asked for his stats and cost. He charged me $100 and told me (albeit back in March when I started the sleuthing) that his monthly views was 21,300.

So I bought a banner ad with him with my friend's Ripple's Etsy shop as the client.

After 1 month of tracking, the REAL stats:



OK SERIOUSLY WTF...


30,000 versus 3,174!!



This is I also feel sibeh lau kui for him. The daily unique hits can't even exceed 100, which is so embarrassing. You cannot possibly call yourself a blogger and charge money for ads with that kind of stats.

Even worse than Yan Kay Kay, Eric's actual monthly page views of 3,174 was only about 10% of the 30,000 page views that Gushcloud claimed!!

Ok, maybe these two are a farce. Maybe the rest of Gushcloud's given blogger stats are accurate.

Gushcloud tried to charge me a whooping $500 for a banner ad with Asyiha Ams whom I didn't even know existed before my detective work. (And god is her name hard to spell)

Obviously I'm unwilling to pay the $500 so I approached Asyiha myself.

Before I bought the ad I (also known as Nicole lol) asked her how many daily page views she has.
 


I got a shock. She actually doubled what Gushcloud said her views are.. On a good day that is. Maybe this blogger is actually popular!! Must be I'm old already lah I don't know who the youngster bloggers are.

But good thing about her is that her banner ad is reasonable at $80 per month. Thank you ah Ashiya helped me save $420. Gushcloud you gotta do something about your bloggers cutting you out yo!


ACTUAL VIEWS:




WHAT IS THIS SHIT???


45,000 versus 5,684!


Her lowest daily unique was only a measly 65 visitors a day. I cannot believe that she herself said she had 2,500 per day? That's how far from the truth?


And these ah mao ah kow quack "professional" bloggers and dishonest agencies out there claiming to have such high stats and cheating advertiser's money. Makes me so angry!!!



PS: After a month of banner ads with the three of them plus 1 instagram post from Yilin, I had 3 email inquiries about SG Private Trainers. Whims and Fancy had a grand total of 6 extra hits on their website. I would have to say this is $1480 well spent. NOT.


























Ok check I will!

Now this is harder. There is no concrete way to prove someone bought fake youtube views or fake youtube subscribers. There are, however, some telltale signs, you can read this article if you want to know more.

A little bit more about fake youtube views, subscribes, likes, comments... everything on youtube can be faked nowadays... FOR DIRT CHEAP!! (Ok only dislikes cannot buy)


Example of a fake youtube stats ad:



You can get 20,000 views for just $5 wtf!! For just a very affordable $250 you can get a video that has 1 million views!!

And btw although these websites may claim the million views are "real human views", they aren't, not in the sense you think anyway. It could be bots, or insert-poor-but-overpopulated country citizens clicking their day away mindlessly. They are not watching the video. So when I say "fake stats", I mean that the video is popular because you buy a set amount of popularity, not because it's interesting.

Anyway, recently Gushcloud collaborated with Yan Kay Kay on a Youtube channel called Babe of all Trades. The Channel is owned by Gush Studios.

The videos exploded with inexplicable popularity. 

People started telling me the statistics cannot possibly be real. If it is true that Gushcloud bought fake statistics for the channel, the reason is simple enough. You can charge clients a lot to be featured in a popular youtube channel. And unlike that of blogs, the views, likes and comments are open. You can't lie about the stats, so you have to earn them, or buy them. It's so cheap to buy anyway.

Her statistics were locked, so I had no choice but to personally track the statistics everyday.  

For months, I had a friend who works a deskbound job help me track her views, likes and subscribers everyday on the dot at 11am.


As I said, there is no way to prove that someone buys youtube statistics. I can only show you what I found and have you make your own smart conclusion.


First, let's look at the basic numbers.






So. She has a lot less subscribers than me. And let me just buay paiseh-ly say this. She is a lot less popular too. Especially since my videos are all of Dash and he is... well... popular.

And yet, look at the views... I put my videos and hers side by side according to when they were published.


If you look at the views on her videos vs mine, you will realise that the older videos actually mostly have more views than mine.

But yet, my new videos always get way more hits then hers initially. It is just that after time, her views still keep increasing steadily and mine taper off.

Why?

This is absolutely normal for all videos: When they are freshly launched, they get a lot of views via their subscribers and via the channel owners pushing the video on social media.


After that most people who want to watch it have watched it, and the views taper off. This is universally true except for freak videos that go viral. Most of my videos get about 200-400 views per day the after few weeks.


I don't want to bore you with numbers so I'll just attached the very numerical excel sheet of her views and likes/dislikes HERE. People who like numbers can go look at it.

(PRINTSCREEN OF RECORDED STATS)

Up till today, the 5 month old Episode 1 STILL gets about a thousand views a day. Can you believe it?


Let's look at the views for my video and Babe of all Trade's episode 3 since they were published around same time.




Within the first few days of publishing, my video hit 80,000 views. As you can see, Babe of all Trades ep 3 took a month to get there. The was virtually no initial spike that and the increment is very steady throughout.

You can see from this graph why a lot of her videos are more popular than mine... Because the views remain almost the same everyday while mine taper off.

Most videos don't have views that go a straight line like that, that's just not normal!

Then on 13 October, something weird happened...

The Likes increased steadily by exactly 10 per day!


Wah so uniform!! *claps*

Then on 21st and 22nd November...

SUDDENLY THE VIEWS FOR 
EPISODE 2 AND 3 PLUMMETED.





As you can see, from having about a steady 400-500 views per day for Episode 2, suddenly the views dipped to 52.

Episode 3 was having a steady run of about 1,000 views per day, and suddenly it doubled, then dropped to 123 only.



Yet, the likes remained pretty consistent, no big changes. There was no dislikes at all during that period.

If you ask me - and this is purely my guess - I think the fake views merchant had a glitch on those two days, and the system went down so the numbers there more or less reflect the REAL views, which seem believable.

System maybe compensated by doubling the usual fake views the day before or the day after.

I don't think this is a youtube glitch because the rest of the videos didn't have these drastic dips. And if it's the fake views merchant having a glitch, why didn't it affect the rest of the videos too? Maybe they bought fake stats from different merchants and episode 2 and 3 were from the same merchant. Who knows?

Anyway, as I said it is impossible to prove that youtube statistics are fake. All I can do is point out what stinks of foul play, and let you decide for yourself.

If you look at the stats, you can also see these weird surges in the views - and they don't happen on new video days or when Kaykay blogs/instagrams about the channel.


Maybe someone can explain to me why the numbers so odd...


















I also want to go over other interesting points in their financial reports!!



1) They have a QUALIFIED OPINION

Having a qualified opinion is BAD. Basically, it means that an auditor looked through the accounts, and decided that they cannot stand behind the numbers.

Why does Gushcloud have a Qualified Opinion on their Annual reports?

To paraphase the report in 2012:


  • They supposedly spent $233,444 in operating expenses which are unaccountable for.

  • They supposedly paid $150,252 to GushAd users which they didn't have supporting documents for other than bank transfer statements.


Let's look at the Financial Health of the company:



It's interesting to note that as of the end of 2013 (2014 report not out yet), Gushcloud only has $16,215 in their bank. This amount is very little, imagine they have barely enough next month to pay their staff their salaries!

And as of Dec 2013, the company had a total net liability of $692,268.


Next let's look at the profits and losses:


It is also interesting to note that in 2013 the company did better than it did in 2012.

Here's what I managed to understand from the numbers... In 2012, Gushcloud was aggressively trying to recruit influencers. You can see that the sales numbers are very low compared to the cost of services.

Meaning, for example, they sell an ad for a blogger that cost $100, they take only a 10% cut and give the blogger $90.

That simply doesn't create a profit earning business. After lessing off all expenses including things like staff salaries and office space rental, they are left with a loss of $991,759.


But I suppose it's a good strategy to attract influencers to sign because if you give them more money, all the more they are happy! I'm not sure if this is the right thing to do because you are giving them promises you cannot fulfill... Unless your end game is to spend all your investors' money and give to bloggers?



I know the financial bits very boring so a lot of you fading off 
and starting to play soda crush but bear with me. Here's a weird
photo of Vincent Ha doing a jumpshot.




In 2013 they did more sales and paid off a total of $420,565 to their influencers, which includes Gush Ad users.

However, lessing the expenses, they were left with only $56,216 for their profits, which honestly is quite sad for a company their size.

But this chart is the most interesting of all:




This is the amount of money that Gushcloud still owes their influencers and third party vendors. Why so much? Maybe because with only $16,215 in cash in their bank, it is hard to pay them.





or those thinking of joining


After this post, it is easy to see why advertisers and PR agencies should think twice about working with companies that inflate their numbers, sometimes up to 90%, just to earn a quick buck.

But what does it mean to bloggers and influencers on social media?

I used to dislike all Gushcloud bloggers because I automatically assumed that everyone under them must automatically be in on their... unconventional... ways and agree to using such methods.

But after speaking to some of them, I realised that this isn't true. The bloggers and youtubers signed under them are mostly quite young - flattered to be cherry-picked to be signed, hungry for fame, naive, meek and hoping they can be the next big blogger to be sponsored a car (haha see previous post).

Most importantly of all, they don't know the law.

After, in my opinion, rather one-sided contracts are signed, they think that they are locked in... Whatever your agency asks you to do, you must. They own you. And it's very easy to threaten them with lawsuits, empty or otherwise, because most young kids have no legal counsel of their own to know better.


You've seen the money that Gushcloud owes their bloggers. They will possibly argue that perhaps the money was still with them because bloggers sometimes only withdraw money in a lump sum instead of regularly.

But I've heard from different sources of big name Gushcloud influencers that Gushcloud would owe them payment, for months on end.

I only know what I heard. I don't have access to their bank accounts so I don't know if this is 100% true. But I cannot think why they would lie. Perhaps, those who are or were owed money can back me up after the post is up. And this story tallies with the financial reports.
 

This year, Gushcloud renovated their office. 

They went to source for sponsors. OK SERIOUSLY WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU QUALIFIED TO EVEN GET SPONSORED??? Hello you are not an influencer???

 People nowadays so shameless...



Anyway, two of the sponsors also sponsored my home renovations long ago.

According to one of them, Gushcloud offered up posts from 3 influencers. To my horror, one of the influencers they proposed was their Accounts Manager Freda Poh. WTF??? She isn't even a blogger?? I mean, she blogs, but she isn't doing this for a livelihood and most certainly isn't popular enough to get sponsored things in exchange for her shoutouts!

The two other proposed bloggers - one of them did up a blog entry and the other posted an instagram post.

Since I enquired with both these bloggers and have their price list, I found out that the combined cost of what they did for the sponsor was only $450. I couldn't find Freda's post. The sponsor gave thousands in renovation work in exchange for something worth $450.

I don't know why they agreed to sponsor, but if the bloggers' statistics (including Freda lol) are once again inflated, I don't doubt it sounded like a good deal.

I just cannot believe that a company would skim off their renovation expenses by so buay paiseh-ly making use their bloggers to blog about it.

It's so disgusting. Then the free stuff they kio!!! Fuck lah maybe the staplers and printing ink and toilet paper in their office also sponsored one. I would be SOOOO grossed out if Nuffnang did this to me!!! Thank god they don't do such things!!

I don't know if the bloggers are paid. My guess is no. Even if they are, why the hell should Gushcloud be the ones getting the freebies? That should belong to the bloggers!

Anyway, if you are a Gushcloud blogger and they ask you to do something for a favour, can you say no? If you aren't on good terms with them they just won't push you in future lor. You don't help them they don't help you, right? Once again, my own speculation. Gushcloud could be very impartial and fair for all I know.

At the end of the day, the thing I think is the worst thing for Gushcloud influencers is that if the company does things like asking you to mask ads or inflates your stats on your behalf, it affects your credibility.



When you are caught masking ads, your followers think of you as dishonest. You can't gain that trust back, and it's so embarrassing if you are exposed.

True, just because a blogger is asked to mask an ad doesn't mean he or she has to do it. But it's easy enough to convince a young blogger that it's standard industry practice and everyone else is doing it. (FYI, not true)

When your stats are inflated, clients who have worked with you get high expectations of your results. If it doesn't tally, they simply will never work with you again, even if you leave Gushcloud in future.



So now I don't dislike Gushcloud influencers anymore. I just feel very sorry for them. Sure, some of the bloggers may share the same business strategies as their agency, but I'm guessing that a lot are simply caught in an unpleasant situation.


Goodness knows what I'll do if I were a Gushcloud influencer... I guess I'll quickly withdraw my money now and hope I get paid. Then end my contract (if you are not being properly remunerated for your work, it's enough basis to leave them) and publicly announce I'm not associated with them anymore?


If you are a Gushcloud influencer and you need legal counsel, help, or is owed money, email me. xiaxue@gmail.com






After this entry I hope everyone can see why I feel deeply passionate about what Gushcloud is doing to my industry. Online advertising is taking over traditional advertising by storm. Many advertisers are rushing into it without real knowledge of the players in the industry.

It's so easy for Gushcloud to win over a client from their competitors by inflating their bloggers' stats and boasting how their bloggers are more popular, more effective. They can say whatever they want about their bloggers' pageviews and add a zero to it. After the client pays a bomb for a blog advertorial, they still don't know that the stats are fake.

The same goes for buying fake stats to inflate youtube views. Since a video on Yan Kay Kay's youtube channel gets more views than my channel or even clicknetwork's guide to life videos (rolls eyes*), they can technically charge a client the same price as I do.

But if the stats are fake and client doesn't get any results, wouldn't he think that any youtube channel on par in popularity also isn't effective? Clients can't tell the views are bought because there is no concrete way to tell.

All they know is that online advertising isn't effective. They decide never to engage bloggers again, thinking it doesn't work. And if they got misled by blogging agencies for stats, who is to say other agencies won't cheat them?

Is this fair to the rest of us in the industry who are honest?

Is it fair to the rest of us who actually worked hard to get where we are??

I'll most possibly get a lawyer's letter after writing this. Maybe you noticed that I kept the post more factual than emotional like my usual posts... I have to when the adversaries are so litigious. There's so much more I know and want to say, but with timid witnesses and no solid evidence I can't. I've kept quiet for too long, scared, like others I know of who don't want legal consequences even if they are telling the truth. But fuck that, I'm going ahead because this is information that should be shared. People should know. Others may not have courage, but I'll try to. Because standing up to bullies is the right thing to do.

If you know anyone in the industry, be it in advertising or blogging or even just companies who engage social media influencers, please do share this post with them.

Update: Yilin Goh has since apologized graciously for masking her ad.

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