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The problem of black hat social media

To anyone who’s been involved with SEO for any length of time, this isn’t really news. The black hat SEO organisations (the content farmers, blog spammers and dodgy link builders) have been offering fake social media ‘engagement’ for several years. It’s a small step from black hat SEO to black hat social media, the skills, tools and methods are largely the same.

What’s different now is that social media can form a very significant part of the marketer’s budgets and strategies. It’s a key performance indicator for a lot of marketing activity these days, particularly in the B2B arena. Social media is a simple, effective way to gain and measure ‘reach’ with an audience so marketing campaigns are much more likely to be judged on their social media traction than they were just a couple of years ago. This explains the temptation of black hat techniques, we want to look good, to present a successful face to the world and a Twitter profile with 12 followers isn’t ‘cool’ or ‘happening’.

In the longer term black hat social media is simply going to breed distrust. It’s going to destroy the connection that companies hope to build with their clients and create an atmosphere of artificiality around social activity. That can’t be good for anyone, particularly the social media platforms themselves. So, what can be done? A couple of years ago, things were getting so bad for Google that the very integrity of their search results was being called into question. They were at risk of being overrun by manipulated rankings so they met the SEO black hatters head on, making significant (and no doubt very complex) changes to their ranking algorithms. In a stroke, they neutralized the most serious black hat SEO techniques overnight.

Twitter and Facebook face a similar challenge and it’s one they have to take seriously. If they can’t be seen as credible, auditable promotional vehicles then marketers will turn their attention (and budgets) in another direction.