Black Hat Social Media: How Buying Accounts or Follows Can Hurt Your Business

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Black Hat Social Media: How Buying Accounts Can Hurt Your Business

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?

Black Hat Social Media: How Buying Accounts Can Hurt Your Business

Image Source: Pixabay

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 SEOSearch 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

Albert Costill
Albert Costill is a co-founder of evolvor.com and a freelance writer who has written for brands like ForRent.com and Search Engine Journal. When he’s not writing and brainstorming content ideas, this New Jersey native spends his time traveling, blasting music, and keeping his chocolate lab at bay.
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  • http://nichepartner.com Patrick Partner

    Most people who purchase followers don’t do it for SEO, with the exception of when it is done to like or retweet specific web pages. Most people do it because not many people follow accounts that only have followers in the single/double digits. It is a lot harder(more effort, money) to get people to like your page if nobody else has liked it.

    When you can purchase 1,000 followers or likes for around $2 (Which I would not recommend), it is understandable that most people take the path of least resistance.

  • http://www.jacobmaslow.com Jacob Maslow

    you state that the biggest concern is the harmful SEO effects but don’t really back up that nebulous claim.

    Buying followers is a waste of time and money but won’t harm your SEO.

    • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Albert Costill

      There probably was some hyperbole there Jacob. I’ll own up to that. However, when search engines like Bing consider your social influence, and with Google owning YouTube, it may not be that far fetched that someday – as Miguel noted – buying followers will impact your SEO.

  • http://www.nairobigossips.com/ Zack

    am a little bit confused Albert, despite matt Cutts’ warnings, i have seen hundreds of sites using black hat social media to drive traffic to their sites and they make tons of cash, whats even more confusing is how they rank so well in search and have been in business for a long time. So who should i trust, the experienced blogs ranking well and making a hell lot of money or good practice SEO?

    • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Albert Costill

      You may know sites that make a ton of cash because they use these tactics. But, do they really improve the sales of the small business owner. Wouldn’t it make more sense for a business owner to focus on their 100 Facebook friends who actually purchase products from them or paying for 1,000 likes from people who will never make a purchase?

  • http://www.newcontentcollective.com Miguel Bravo

    One of my main concerns for me wouldn’t be the current effects on SEO, but the potential future effects. Your strategies should always be future proof, and buying likes definitely doesn’t feel future proof.

    The other main concern is lying to your customers. Not a good look for your business if you get caught.

    • http://www.moxiedot.com Kelsey Jones

      I agree! Honesty is the best policy, especially if it can affect your business or customers.

    • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Albert Costill

      Exactly Miguel!

  • Glenn D. Bearsky

    Albert, you lost me – and your credibility – in the last paragraph. Reporting spam sites or services to Google or other social media entities is just negative life energy against perceived ‘Bad Guys’ that you ultimately can’t control. Time’s better spent cultivating the Realness, engagement and depth of your own following – and leave it at that. When did Rat-Finking become a sound business strategy?

    • http://www.moxiedot.com Kelsey Jones

      Hey Glenn, While I get what you are saying, (and I agree that resources should be focused on your own following-building) I think Albert’s point is that we shouldn’t let it “be okay” when sites/spam users are using bad tactics. I do occasionally report span sites and users as a way to at least let them know what they should be looking for.

    • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Albert Costill

      Tattle-telling or “rat-finking” shouldn’t be a part of a business strategy – sorry if that was the impression I gave you. As Kelsey stated, it’s more about not letting these shady practices pass by and protecting your reputation.

  • http://bit.ly/instaliker_1000 JT

    Having split tested pages that have zero followers versus a few thousand, the page with more Followers converts to sales better.

    There is a the concept of “Social Proof”

    When you search YouTube 9 out of 10 times you’ll choose the video with the most Views because you feel it’s more Relevant.

    A site with 10,000 Facebook Followers will get more attention than one with zero followers.

  • http://janisbrix.tumblr.com Janis

    Some good points, but overall this article looks like its been sponsored by Google.

    A little black hat never harmed anyone, especially if its a small product you’re trying to get off the ground. Farmed facebook likes does NO harm whatsoever, search engines do not care about that.

    Things get tricky when it is a serious company and its reputability is on stake. I would never use black hat for a client, unless he’a a big fan of russian roulette.

  • Andrea

    Purchasing followers or likes definitely does not effect your SEO. It helps improve a business’s authority in a market. This can result in a bigger growth of users, press, and profit. Consumers like to purchase items that appear to be already popular. If you use some of these techniques in a smart way they can help you business.

  • http://twitter.com/jay_dutton Jay

    I’ve also see agencies that run multiple pages like and comment on posts with the other business pages they run, creating false engagement. It’s pretty ridiculous.

  • http://joseph-ho.com joseph

    Buying followers is completely waste of time. Engaging your audience is more important!

  • shipon

    Very great article.I think! Honesty is the best policy, especially if it can affect your business or customers.hank you so much for you.