The cryptocurrency community is obsessed with Telegram. ICO investors and leaders alike consider the number of participants in a Telegram group to be a bellwether of success — or failure. And like most social platforms with a low entry cost and a high potential return, these ICO groups can easily be manipulated to inflate the importance of the project.
The saturated initial coin offering market has created a social engagement arms race in which platforms are virtually obligated to invest large amounts of time and capital in the creation and maintenance of supporter communities. Large-scale ICOs now work with dedicated ICO marketing agencies in order to heighten exposure and foster positive PR.
While establishing a strong online presence is a de facto requirement in ICO ecosystem, as it helps to mitigate the threat of fraudulent platforms and exit scams, Telegram engagement is now touted as a litmus test that dictates the potential success of any project.
Why do ICOs use Telegram, however? What does any project hope to achieve by creating a Telegram chat group?
What’s So Special About Telegram?
Telegram is an instant messaging service that has emerged as the go-to medium of communication between blockchain project teams and community members or potential investors. As the platform is widely considered to be highly secure, offering end-to-end encryption, it’s popular in the cryptocurrency community.
ICOs are now more or less obligated to launch a Telegram chat in order to allow potential investors to communicate with the development team, ask questions, and chat with other community members about the project. While the idea of a Telegram community is appealing on paper, does it really deliver any tangible benefit to either ICO teams or investors?
Telegram’s Hidden Hostility Alienates Women And Minorities
The reality of Telegram as an engagement tool is often far from expectations.
The platform itself is useful, strong, and well-equipped to serve its purpose: but asking the community to self-police is another matter, and one that other social media platforms have also struggled to contain.
Blockchain-based cloud computing platform DADI, for example, experienced strong traction after launching a dedicated Telegram channel, gathering more than 25,000 users interested in the development of the project.
DADI Product Director Paul Regan outlined the issues experienced by the DADI team with Telegram in a Medium post, highlighting toxic community elements that made maintaining the channel more of a burden than a benefit:
“We’ve seen death threats, racism, sexism, extortion, impersonation, scamming — and a level of vulgarity that would be unacceptable in any context.”
During the DADI sale period the team removed over 18,000 wallet addresses from the channel, eliminated 380 fake admins, and deleted over 250,000 images that were largely pornographic in nature. In order to combat the influence of spammers, hackers, and malicious parties, the team engaged the services of 10 community managers and created a custom bot to help clean up the chaotic chat.
Regan attributes the aggression encountered in the DADI Telegram channel to the depersonalization and anonymity that social media provides, coupled with a “sense of entitlement” experienced by eager investors that were unable to participate in the project.
For many initial coin offerings, a Telegram channel can quickly transform from what appears to be a meaningful way to interact with potential supporters into a PR nightmare. Large-scale Telegram channels are a target rich environment for scammers who impersonate team members and promote pump-and-dump groups, making 24/7 moderation — and the attendant expenses — a necessity.
Scammers aren’t the only issue presented by Telegram channels, however. Highly offensive language and imagery used by project opponents (and straight-up trolls) create a toxic environment for minorities and, in particular, women, reinforcing the “boys club” mentality present in the cryptocurrency community and further alienating women from the blockchain environment.
Is Telegram Really Necessary?
While the cryptocurrency community may expect a Telegram channel as a fundamental element of any promising ICO, there are several successful projects that offer little to no community management. Chainlink, for example, is a highly promising interoperability-focused blockchain platform that places little importance on community interaction, preferring instead to gather interest on the merit of repository commits and developmental progress alone.
Conversely, there are many examples projects that placed a strong emphasis on Telegram engagement, only to result in widespread investor losses and failure — BitConnect, anyone?
And of course, the ICO teams themselves are not blameless. Almost any quick dip into a Reddit sub will reveal the fury of those who claim to have been banned for asking difficult questions the team simply doesn’t want to hear.
Gaming The System
Many commentators have noted that there is sometimes an inexplicable disparity between the number of Telegram or Twitter followers on an ICO project, and the number of engaged Reddit users. The Reddit platform is much harder to game, and when an ICO marketing team bangs away about the size of their Telegram group, it’s often worth comparing it to the social activity on other platform – a simple Google search for “buy Telegram followers” reveals just how easy it is to manufacture an artificial Telegram user base that delivers the appearance of an active community.
For instance, a recent ICO boasted over 100,000 Telegram users, over 40,000 Twitter followers, and 16,000 or more Redditors. But their tweets averaged 15-20 likes (where one might expect over 400, based on a meager 1% engagement rate), and the number of people active on their Reddit sub often dropped to the single digits. It’s hard to reconcile these figures.
It’s also common knowledge within the community that some ICO-specific ‘marketing agencies’ offer “community management” services that often insert “shills” into Telegram discourse in order to enhance investor sentiment, eroding investor trust and making it virtually impossible to discern whether a project has merit based on Telegram channel activity alone.
It’s time the cryptocurrency community in general asks itself: What is a Telegram channel really worth?
Telegram’s functionality was adopted because it provided a secure place to discuss the ICO, to ask questions, and to have them answered. But anyone who has spent time in one might question whether Telegram, despite its billion-dollar ICO, is really still fulfilling that function.
Pumpers, dumpers, shillers, racists, misogynists and other Internet trolls have found a home – temporarily – on Telegram. Hopefully they can be urged to move on to places where they can interact happily with each other, and leave the rest of us alone.
Yes, really, an article about Telegram written by a guy named Sam. He’s our main man. Discuss it in our own group, which we try very hard to keep civil – and useful.