June 27, 2013

Buzzfeed Infographic Is Devious Tool of For-Profit College Marketer

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The Internet loves infographics. So websites seeking clicks are always looking to run infographics, and marketers are always seeking to supply websites with infographics — infographics that steer people to their products.

Yesterday, super-popular website Buzzfeed allowed one of its contributors to post an infographic sharply criticizing for-profit colleges — as a sector run by “fat cats”; a sector that spends most of its money on executive salaries, profits, and marketing, and very little money on students; a sector that charges much higher prices than traditional colleges; a sector that leaves a high percentage of students deep in debt.

In fact, the infographic is a pretty clear indictment of for-profit colleges and their abuse of students and taxpayers. It concludes by asking “When will the model collapse and the pool become shallow?”

Then, at the bottom, we are informed that this infographic is “Presented by CollegeDegreeSearch.net.” But when you click on CollegeDegreeSearch.net, and express an interest in studying a wide range of subjects, from information technology to medical assisting, the site steers you to … yes, for-profit colleges: Kaplan, Cappella, DeVry, etc. Even though the infographic that brought you to the site just explained that such schools are a very bad deal.

CollegeDegreeSearch.net is clearly not an unbiased service aimed simply at advising students about college choices. It is instead a lead generator that gets paid by colleges to steer students to their schools. And the biggest money to be made is in steering students to wealthy for-profit colleges, which, as the infographic warned, spend a lot of money on marketing.

What’s going on? Not sure. But it just may be that CollegeDegreeSearch.net is using this infographic because it knows that its provocative, progressive message may induce sites like Buzzfeed to run it.  The tough, honest tone may also induce prospective students to believe that CollegeDegreeSearch.net is their fair and honest friend, and that they can trust its recommendations about what college to attend, even when it recommends precisely the kind of schools that its infographic condemned.

That is, indeed, clever marketing, but it is the kind of marketing that tends to confuse and deceive students,  something we have seen again and again by these lead generator companies and their for-profit college clients. Federal Trade Commission, take note.

This article also appears on Huffington Post.


In response to my request for a comment, a Buzzfeed spokesperson wrote:

BuzzFeed is a platform — for our editors and reporters and also for our community. Anyone can post to BuzzFeed.com, including you. Our relationship to community posts is like Twitter’s relationship to tweets — the good ones rise to the top, except that we work to make the shareable ones even better.

The community post in question has 112 views, 5 of which came from huffingtonpost.com.

Although I didn’t expressly criticize Buzzfeed for allowing this item to be posted, and I mentioned that it came from a community member, I further asked Buzzfeed if they have concerns that this member is, unwittingly or not, using the Buzzfeed site to advance a questionable marketing effort to sell a service that has proven harmful to a lot of people.

The owner of CollegeDegreeSearch.net, David Krug, also responded — see the comments below.