When I went for my first job in social media I was intimidated to say the least. Sure I had used Facebook and Twitter in my personal life but I had never for a second thought that I would be able to take a brand’s name and spin that through social media. When I got to the interview it was obvious that I was nervous. I stammered through my answers and probably shook more than a leaf during a hurricane. But the interviewer asked me questions about services which I had never heard of. She asked how I would use fiverr to boost the business. I had never heard of fiverr and admitted it to her. This start-up opened my eyes to the difference between black and white hat social media.
So what is black hat social media? Well if white hat social media is all about engaging with customers then black hat social media is all about appearing to engage with customers. Black hat is essentially deceiving your customer base to make it look like you have a fantastic social media presence. This can be anything from purchasing a thousand likes for your Facebook page to having customers write fake reviews. What this particular start-up had done was to pay several people on fiverr to record YouTube clips of themselves praising this product. This was despite the fact that their product hadn’t yet made it to market. The plan was to release these videos on the Facebook page and hope that they went viral.
“So what?” I hear you say “They wouldn’t be the first company in the world who convinced people to lie about their product”. Very true. Marketers have been employing sneaky tactics like that for years now. However, social media is different. Social media is all about talking WITH your customers rather than talking TO your customers. It’s about building a rapport, sharing products and offering them great (and speedy) customer service. However above everything else social media is about trust. Brands have very little to leverage on other than their names and if those are tarnished then they’ve got real problems.
After learning of black hat methods I went out and began to try them. I would create fake social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter and then spout out about how amazing and wonderful the product was. It was a complete and total failure. It was a waste of my time and resources and each one brought us exactly 0 sales. Why? Because I would only use the social media profiles to rave about the product and that was it. There was no humanity behind it all. I attracted a few followers (all of them bots) and tried my hand at talking to influencers in social media. All failures. Every. Single. Method. Failed. I failed at the most basics of social media: the part of being social. I didn’t attempt to engage with average people, to build up a community or to contribute in some way to the way the Internet worked. I just went on there as a random person and began to scream how great Product X was. This was the online equivalent of….well…..this
As you can see I had a lot to learn about marketing, and social media marketing at that. But as I delved in deeper and examined exactly what Black Hat social media marketing was I saw that the rabbit hole dug deeper and deeper. I discovered that it was possible to purchase ‘likes’. Initially I thought that this was fantastic. What better way to make people think that you have a great product if there were already a thousand people who had liked it. Then I actually tried it. I purchased several hundred likes for a page that I was managing and I discovered that nothing changed except the money in my bank account. Basically bots from Thailand, India and the Philippines had liked my page….and that was it. Whenever I posted an article it was if I were shouting into an echo chamber filled with a thousand people who just couldn’t hear me. Furthermore with Facebook’s new Edgerank algorithm promoting content that fans actually engage with it seems that purchasing fake fans will ensure that your content will never be seen in your fans newsfeed.
So brands have absolutely nothing to win by employing Black Hat social media methods. They won’t gain new customers, they won’t have their content be seen by their current customers and they won’t get any kind of return on investment. Yet so many people still do it. Why? Because their metrics and idea of success are superficial. If you believe that the sign of a successful social media strategy is a well-like page then of course you’re going to want think that 1000 likes is huge leap forward. Unfortunately social media isn’t like that. It’s not an online ‘measuring contest’. A successful social strategy is one that’s innovative but also falls back on the basics: good customer service, good content and real people.
Anything else is just a waste of time!