Virtual valets, or how to look good online

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionRecord-breaking yachtsman and boat company chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston says Twitter is "mundane"- but he does have a feed run in his name.

Whether you want to look your best in your holiday snaps without hitting the gym, or boost your World of Warcraft credentials without putting in the hours, there are experts out there whose job it is to make you shine online.

The chances are you will never meet them face to face, but there is an entire industry dedicated to helping individuals and businesses manage their online reputations in their chosen areas of the net - for a price.

World of Warcraft 'arena boosting'

image copyrightother
image captionProfessional gamer Philipp charged up to 490 euros (£420) for his services.

With more than 10 million players worldwide, some of whom play for 12 hours a day or longer, it can be difficult to keep up in the many realms of Blizzard Activision's World of Warcraft game.

While it is completely against the terms and conditions of play, some gamers turn to the services of so called "arena boosters" - professional players who will play on their behalf until their character is in the higher levels of the game.

One former arena booster. called Philipp, told the BBC that, as a teenager and one of the game's top-rated players, he started getting messages from others within the game asking for his help - and his contacts were often from wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia.

"In the beginning I just wanted to help people," he said.

"I was a computer programmer... but I soon realised how much money could be made."

Now aged 25, Philipp no longer works for the company he founded. The services he offered ranged from 150-490 euros (£130-£420), and he employed 10 fellow full-time gamers to share the work.

He claims that despite efforts by Blizzard to crack down on this activity by checking the IP addresses of players - and throwing them out of the game if they are discovered - the business is booming, with arena boosters using proxies and VPNs to avoid detection, or even migrating the account of their clients completely until their service is completed.

"Some of the customers, their friends found out, they got boosted and it affected their reputation," said Philipp.

"But that's the buyer's problem."

He no longer plays World of Warcraft, and now makes money from video streaming his legitimate gaming activities.

"I calculated I spent 20,000 hours on the game - eventually I lost interest," he said.

"I'm happy that I've found another way to make money."

Dane Cobain is a social media specialist at marketing agency FST Group. He runs the social media activities of up to half a dozen clients at a time - but has a record of 15.

Mr Cobain's clients tend to be businesses, but individuals have included a hip hop artist, and, perhaps ironically, a communications coach.

"Individuals are still brands," he said.

image copyrightother
image captionSocial media manager Dane Cobain's clients have included a hip hop artist and a communications coach

"Tone is especially important for them - do you want to use smileys? How serious or playful do you want to be? B2B tends to be more formal."

Mr Cobain's agency offers a range of services, from initial strategic advice to taking over the entire feed. The cost depends on how much support is required, he explained, but the results are often tangible.

"It can be quite hard to prove the ROI [return on investment] of marketing but there are certain things you can do with social media.

"You can prove the numbers of people who came through Facebook for example - you can tie that back to revenue," he said.

Why don't people just do it themselves?

"A big challenge for clients is keeping up to date with all the new things that are coming out," said Mr Cobain.

"A lot of people are still trying to wrap their heads around Twitter and Facebook- then you've got Instagram and Pinterest and even Snapchat is getting big now."


Record-breaking yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is very candid about his decision not to engage personally with Twitter, despite having an account in his own name which was launched at the beginning of the year.

He has around 700 followers and has so far posted 136 tweets.

"I had to be persuaded that Twitter was necessary, and I have no interest in having a Twitter account," he told the BBC.

"However the team at work said I should have one, so I agreed, but on the understanding I did not have to do anything to make it work."

Sir Robin, who was the first sailor to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly and without stopping, is chairman of the Clipper Ventures boat empire.

He says he does write his own tweets, which he then passes on to his office.

"I don't feel I am missing anything when I see how mundane most tweets are," he added.

image copyrightRepixl
image captionRepixl offers budget photo improvements.

James Bradley launched his budget image improvement and restoration service Repixl earlier this year.

He charges under £10 for individual photo restoration and offers a range of low-cost airbrushing services for a couple of pounds.

"People are still on their holidays but airbrushing and editing work is starting to come through," he said.

"They might just be after dinner snaps - but they are also a once-in-a-lifetime memory."

Mr Bradley added that some people find photo editing tools too challenging to use.

"Even the more simple tools are relatively complicated," he said.

"It's all about the human touch - you need someone who understands the picture."

image copyrightRepixl
image captionThe service can tackle older, damaged photos as well as newer ones that just need some cosmetic work

Mr Bradley told the BBC that while he doesn't keep records of his clients' ages, he believes they lean towards the older demographic - but the service is also proving popular with estate agents.

"Lots of them use their phones to take pictures," he said.

"The cameras are amazing but the lens size and the weather still cause problems. They use us to straighten pictures, remove litter from the ground, put a blue sky in the background.

"It's not against the Trades Description Act."

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