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September 1, 2014

Black Hat Social Media: An In-Depth Look

SEO Targeting
Photo Credit: Augur Marketing via flickr

Black hat SEO is a well-known practice these days with a bundle of sneaky methods to trick search engine bots. Since algorithms in the world of search are ever-changing and dynamic, in part to weed out the scammers doing black hat tactics, it’s a hard game to win.

The same is true for black hat social media. By definition, a black hat strategy is anything that focuses on cheating the written and unwritten rules of a given system. In social media, the name of the game is engagement. Black hat tactics, then, aim to fake or purchase such appearances, and some methods go far into the realm of dishonesty. But do these tactics have any long term benefit? You’d be surprised how tricky some of these can be, and chances are, you’ve tried or at least considered trying at least one black hat social media method.

Black Hat Tactic #1: Buying Your Audience

The first one on this list is an obvious one; buying followers or fans for one of the major social media sites. When you stop and consider this tactic, it’s borderline ridiculous, and clearly doesn’t work. Social media is not about the number of followers you have; it’s the level of engagement that audience has with your content. If you buy a list full of fake profiles, those “people” will never buy, support, or even like one single product or post.

Think about it in terms of popularity. If you have to pay a bunch of folks to pretend you’re lovable and worthy of an entourage, it’s not genuine, and these folks have little to no value. The same is true if you’re buying social media popularity. There’s no value if people aren’t truly interested in what you have to say.

Worse yet, if the public becomes aware of your fake followers, it can be devastating. And finally, purchased lists are often wrought with scammers and hackers, and they can wreak havoc on your marketing efforts, pillaging the few genuine followers you may have amassed. When it comes to this black hat method, the message is clear: don’t do it.

Black Hat Tactic #2: Evil, Awful Comment Spam

Spammers who comment en masse on articles and posts are the bane of the internet. They clutter up otherwise legitimate comments with horrible, lying posts like “Oh, great content here, check out my stuff and buy something!” They pretend to care about the topics discussed, then quickly attempt to drive traffic to whatever horrendous site they represent.

I’m sure if you’re reading an article about why black hat tactics are useless, you already know this is a vile and evil practice. Please also understand that clicking these links only encourages such despicable behavior. This, therefore, is another no-brainer: content spam and those who click on their links must be stopped.

Black Hat Tactic #3: Facebook Promotions Sneakily Placed in Feeds

Here’s where things get a bit dicey. Prepare for blurred lines.

Brands are all over Facebook these days, and often are guilty of black hat methods, whether or not they are aware of the offense. Technically speaking, promotions on any Facebook page are prohibited unless submitted through Apps on Facebook, through a Canvas Page or a Page App. Facebook’s User Terms make it very clear that any other promotional attempt is not kosher. And yet it happens all the time. Is this the worst offense? No, not in the least, but it can get your brand in hot water with the social giant if you’re caught red-handed. If you choose to roll the dice, so be it; but first make sure you’re educated so you can weigh the risks.

Black Hat Tactic #4: Promotional Facebook Cover Photos

Since Facebook is the most popular place for black hat social media, #4 lands squarely here as well. This one involves profile photos, or cover photos for brands. Technically speaking, the rules state these cannot be promotional in nature; they are supposed to simply communicate your brand. Very little text is allowed – Facebook (and its users) does not want the site to look like a glorified billboard, and their rules of engagement reflect that tenfold.

You can, however, be crafty. The main thing here is to never advertise a specific sale or promotion, but you can alert users to a new feature or product – either with limited text or photographs. For example, you can post a cover photo that says “Coming on March 15th!” enticing folks to uncover what the big reveal is. You cannot post “Coming on March 15th, a 25% off everything sale!” on your cover photo – but be creative with your promotions and everybody wins.

Black Hat Tactic #5: Lies, Lies, Lies

Remember the recent story about KFC defaming a little girl mauled by a pit bull? By all accounts, that story appears to be a hoax. The family of the three-year-old dog attack victim hit social media hard with accusations that a KFC near their home asked the girl to leave because her scars disturbed their customers. After an in-depth investigation by an independent source, the Laurel Leader-Caller in Laurel, Mississippi, it was shown that the “facts” put forth by the family kept shifting and changing. Even the exact location of the KFC flip-flopped, and they finally landed on a location that had been closed for some time.

In the meantime, the family raised over $135,000, including $30k pledged by KFC when they first thought their employees may have been guilty of discrimination. Regardless, the dog attack was real, and ideally, the little girl got some much needed help. But the lies spread via social media certainly caused unimaginable damages to KFC’s brand.

The moral of the story: blatant disregard for honesty is as black hat as it gets. If this Mississippi family were a brand or company, they would be out of business by now.

Just like black hat SEO, black hat social media holds little to no long-term successes. Your best bet in both arenas is to stick to what you should know best: honestly representing the true value of your company. Social media is indeed your company’s friend; just don’t use it to try to scam your customers.

Are there any black hat social media tactics you think are worthy of the risk?


Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.

14 Responses to “Black Hat Social Media: An In-Depth Look

    avatar SitePenalise says:

    Blog commenting ( hey am i doing black hat right now ??? ) is still a very powerful link building tactic if done right. In france the new trend is to not allow comments that are less than 50 words for example, that filters a lot of bot comments ( like the first one on this blog…

    avatar Troy Johnson says:

    It is ironic that Black Hat tactic #2 is the 1st comment in reaction to this article, passed the scrutiny of the moderator. I guess that answers Tina’s question huh?

    avatar Howard says:

    I have a local SEO “expert” tell me how he purchased 500 FB likes yet it seems common knowledge that FB likes have no bearing on Google ranking. Seems people can get a little over enthusiastic with their SEO efforts.

    avatar Troy Johnson says:

    Any Black Hat tactician, worth their salt, would not broadcast their tactics here.

    I do however know many people that sell their Facebook banner photos to advertisers. Facebook does not appear to do anything about this activity.

    I know people who write articles which are really cloaked advertisements. In fact, a blogger for the Huffington Post justified this activity, because the HuffPost was paying them for the articles they were writing.

    All of these Black Hat tactics weaken the web experience. But they will not go away; indeed they will become more prevalent as a handful of corporations exert even more control over the WWW.

    Troy, excellent points well stated. Thank you for fighting the good fight 🙂

    This is a why Black hat techniques are out there. They exist to show vulnerabilities and alert White hats about issues so they can fix it and prevent future occurrences.

    avatar Bryan says:

    Interesting article and looks like you have 2 spammers out of 3 posts already! I run a forum and am plagued by spammers. If I leave registration open it is flooded by spammers with names like jkkkrs321sslubjhv – so I am forced to having to veto new members personally. Very time consuming but deleting spam members is even more so. If I were to employ Black Hat tactics I would have thousands and thousands of members by now but, as you say, what would be the point?

    avatar Trevor says:

    An excellent article on SEO. I know many big companies using black hat seo techniques, but I always wonder why they dont get penalized? The answer – they pay a lot of money to google for advertising and google’s empire stands on advertising revenues. In my opinion black hat techniques may help you if used cleverly and with caution.

    I just got into social media to get backlinks to my website so this article is a little confusing to me. All I know is I have people sometimes who follow my social media sites which I assume is good white hat technique.

    avatar Naba Now says:

    thanks for another Amazing Post. Really Helpful Post.

    avatar Heidi says:

    In response to Norman Risner, the backlinks may not be as valuable as you may think. Twitter codes them “nofollow” and therefore you’re not going to see any benefit as far as page-rank is concerned. I do use twitter extensively but I need real people to follow, not fakes. Fakes don’t favor, re-tweet, reply, etc helping me spread my message across the web. I guess the idea is that if you show many followers (including fakes) you will entice more real people to follow you and eventually get your message out there. It makes sense that this might pan out in the long run. I currently do not use Facebook pages since it’s really not appropriate for my industry. I do use tumblr and find it to be very useful as a go-between for traffic that I cannot send directly to my website for various reasons.

    Thanks for this update. Some website or blog owners pursue a lot of what I call anti SEO and Social activities all in the name of getting traffic. It can take time to gain the required level of traffic but it does come with hard work and right approach.

    avatar Jamesy says:

    I’ve actually got to disagree with you a little. I started a site and the reason I thought it was good to purchase facebook likes is because people don’t like a group or page that has 1 or 2 likes, it makes it look amateur. Having a few hundred or thousand likes makes it look like your company or website has some real followers and then people are more likely to join the pack.

    avatar Francis Beardsell says:

    Although a few of the posters in their comments to this excellent article have used Black Hat Tactic #2, what’s notable is the absence of the currently “regular” posters who utilise this particular technique. Indeed, some of these posters (whom shall remain nameless – less I bring further unwarranted attention to them), apart from just simply repeating the main crux of the topic back (so as to get a comment/link), do it in such a way as to make it virtually unreadable.

    I’m just thankful that this (and most respectable news sites) automatically nowadays add a “nofollow” tag onto the inevitable links they post. Hopefully, the readers will be savvy enough to not click onto their links.

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