Avoid ‘Black Hat’ or Ill-Planned Social Media Marketing Strategies

by Barry James from Wolf21.com

A cardinal rule of marketing is ‘know your customers.’  In online marketing, a second rule is ‘don’t spam our customers.’  E-mail campaigns have long been a staple of online marketing; however, the proliferation of scam artists (spam artists?) has bred a high degree of cynicism amongst target audiences who are ever more ready to block e-mails from all-too persistent marketers; or, worse yet, report what appears to be dubious marketing from a website as spam. Search titan, Google, frowns on spammers, and you do not want to risk having your business website blacklisted by Google.

Now, as online businesses and marketers have realized the vast potential of social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach their target audience, so too have spammers and ‘phish’ artists. You do not want to have an otherwise well-crafted social media marketing strategy scuppered – risking your site’s viability and online reputation – by being classed amongst such “black hat operators.”

The Economist reports that, “(s)pammers are moving onto social-networking sites such as Facebook because they find e-mail increasingly unrewarding.” “Data from Cisco,” its reported, “(indicates) the volume of e-mail spam began declining slowly in late 2009  . . . and by almost half in the past three months, after the authorities disabled spam networks in Russia and the Netherlands.” Online security firms, it appears have done their job, “with the result that they stop more that 98% [of spam] from reaching its target,” according to the Economist.

Now the shift has begun to popular social media sites. Twitter reportedly estimates that only 1% of their traffic originates from spammers. However, “researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana show that 8% of links published were shady, with most of them leading to scams and the rest to Trojans” the Economist reports. “Links in Twitter messages, they found, are over 20 times more likely to get clicked than those in e-mail spam.”

In an online experiment, security firm, BitDefender, was able to generate up to 100 new Facebook friends a day on phony profiles they created. (Utilizing a profile picture, particularly that of a pretty woman, was the most effective friend generator.) “When the firm’s researchers expanded their requests to strangers who shared even one mutual friend, almost half accepted,” according to the Economist, and, “(w)orse, a quarter of BitDefender’s new friends clicked on links posted by the firm, even when the destination was obscured.” 

With malware and Trojan viruses spreading rapidly on many social media sites, users are sure to become increasingly wary of new contacts. A social media marketing campaign should, therefore, build out organically starting from existing customer lists and offering value-added information, entertainment or opportunities. A campaign run solely to build brand recognition, and offering nothing in return for the time and effort put in by the end-user reading or responding to a marketing reach out (however small that might seem), risks being seen as unwanted spam. The best result to such an approach is likely to be brand diminishment – the very opposite of the intended result – yet, in a worst case scenario, the reputation and viability of a company’s online business may be imperiled.

Again, you do not want your site blacklisted by Google, or any other search engine or social platform. Such an outcome could wipe out years of online marketing efforts, or . . . worse . . . put you out of business.

Barry is a Copywriter and blogger from Wolf21.com. Barry James is a freelance copywriter who covers search engine optimization and social media marketing for Toronto SEO firm, Wolf21.com.