You just released a new piece of content and want to give it a little bit of traction on social media. While you could sit and wait for it to grow legs on it’s own, you decide to go the easy route and pay people to like share, retweet, or comment. No harm, no foul, right? You gain a bit of popularity on social media and someone makes a couple of bucks. What’s the big deal?
This tactic, known as black hat social media, can actually be detrimental for your business. Before we get into why buying accounts is a very bad idea, here’s a quick definition and examples of black hat social media.
What Is Black Hat Social Media?
The term “black hat” has been thrown around for years when it comes to describing hackers or shady SEO tactics used to increase a page’s rank. This is usually done by violating search engine’s terms of service. As WordStream notes, “the term ‘black hat’ originated in Western movies to distinguish the ‘bad guys’ from the ‘good guys,’ who wore white hats.”
So, what exactly is black hat social media then?
Brandon Uttley of Social Fresh has pretty clean definition for black hat social media. He defines black hat social media as “any techniques that are essentially designed to game the system.” He also adds that this “typically means going against the terms of service or accepted ‘best practices’ of a network.”
Examples Of Black Hat Social Media
Because the lines between black hat and white hat can become easily blurred, here are some common examples of black hat social media.
- Paying individuals to like, comment, subscribe, click on your social media content.
- Hiring click farms to increase likes and followers.
- Using automated programs to follow and unfollow subscribers.
- Sharing malicious hyperlinks.
- Creating fake social media profiles in order to like, share, comment, or gain information
- Leaving fake negative reviews on a competitors’ page or positive reviews on your own.
While these are just a handful of the most common examples of black hat social media, the practice of buying fans, likes, retweets, or +ones is a go-to tactic. After all, there are brands who still believe that just because they gained 1,000 Facebook likes – by purchasing them, of course – they have a successful social media strategy. In reality, they just paid for something that will do more harm than good.
The Google Effect
Perhaps the biggest concern with black hat social media is how it can affect SEO – and most importantly Google.
Over the years there has been a lot of back-and-forth regarding the impact that Facebook or Twitter has a search engines. Earlier this year, Matt Cutts finally gave a definite answer during one of his Webmaster help videos.
“Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results. But as far as doing special specific work to sort of say “you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook”, to the best of my knowledge we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.”
While social signals may not be a direct part of Google’s algorithm, they still at least have a little bit of influence on SEO. Search Engine Land speculates that if you were to buy fake followers, likes, shares, etc, this “could falsely inflate the content’s level of authority, especially if the profile listing this social interaction is public and crawlable by Google.”
Another point of concern is purchasing reviews. If you’re paying for positive reviews, or leaving negative reviews, then Google will catch on and take those reviews down. If you’re a business owner – specifically a local business – online reviews are extremely important. Research has found that 88% of consumers determine the quality of a business based on reviews.
What if you buy views for your YouTube video? Google will catch on. If you purchase 3,000 views, Google stops at 301K to make sure that there is organic growth. Remember, Google is tracking the behavior of viewers and making sure these views are from people actually watching the clip. As John Rampton notes on Forbes, if Google suspects you of “faking virality” you can be certain that bots aren’t going to share your video.
Even if Google doesn’t crawl social media accounts, both have become intertwined. In fact, Shareaholic discovered that social-media referrals result in over 30% of overall traffic for websites – this is an increase of 15% from last year. Since social media is important for website growth and Google isn’t a fan of spam – the Big G has punished a number of major brands like JC Penney, Expedia, and eBay in the past for black hat practices – this should be common sense. Don’t get involved with any shady practices unless you want to get on Google’s bad side.
Tarnishes Your Authenticity, Credibility, & Reputation
This was touched upon while discussing online reviews, but this is a major area of concern for businesses. After all, authenticity, credibility, and reputation are some of the most important factors for online customers.
When we talk about authenticity, we’re talking about engaging your audience in conversation in order to build community, which in turn will create brand advocates. Your audience wants to interact with actual like-minded people who are sincere and bring something to the table – like information or entertainment. When you pay for social media accounts, you’re not contributing to this organic community. These “fake” friends or followers aren’t contributing anything, and your real customers can see through that.
Besides authenticity, you’re also putting your reputation and credibility at stake. And, as Scott Metcalfe states on Convince and Convert, your reputation should be your number one marketing goal. But if you’re purchasing social media followers, likes, etc., you are in no way improving your reputation. Just imagine the repercussions if you got caught. You could get called out by angry fans – which has happened to everyone from Pepsi to Sean Combs to Newt Gingrich.
In short, when you are putting your reputation at stake, you’re distancing yourself from the people who can actually keep your business running.
Doesn’t Turn a Profit
Finally, black hat social media doesn’t drive sales. While you may have an impressive amount of followers, like, shares, etc., these people won’t stick around for long. And most importantly, they aren’t the ones who are supporting your business. While you’re spending time and money on a “fake” audience, you’re taking away resources that could be devoted to actual marketing efforts – such as where your audience spends their time.
In order to increase sales, you need to be aware of the wants and needs of your audience. You need to know where they live and what their interests. When you have this information, you can create content that your audience is willingly to view and share – which should boost sales. If your business sells winter clothing for women, do you think that men in warmer climates are going to engage and support your company? Focus on your market and not just artificial that have no influence on sales.
How to Prevent Going to the Dark Side
First and foremost, use a little bit of common sense. While there are grey areas when it comes to social media marketing, after reading this you should have a pretty good grip on what’s right and wrong. For example, if you’re using click farms – which are low paid workers in foreign countries – to boost your popularity on Facebook or Twitter, then you’re definitely joining the dark side. Just don’t do it. Stick with white hat tactics.
However, since black hat social media is very real, there will be times when you are approached by someone who promises something that sounds too good to be true – which it probably is. If this happens, then make sure that contact Google and report this as spam. You should also get in touch with the social media platform in question so that this person or company is banned.
Featured Image: Enoc vt via Wikimedia Commons