Black Hat Social Media Practices to Avoid

Black Hat Social Media Practices to Avoid

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You might have heard about black hat SEO practices – those unscrupulous shortcuts designed to push your website’s ranking higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs) without doing the work of earning it honestly. Our blog post – “Five Signs of Black Hat SEO to Avoid” – identifies the most common sneaky methods, and provides the reasons it’s advisable for you to keep your optimization techniques on the up-and-up (such as Google penalizing or banning your site, for example).

However, you may not be aware that a dark side also exists for the realm of social media. Yes, black hat social media is a thing. And because it receives less publicity than its SEO counterpart, you could unknowingly engage in such practices, innocently believing them to be a legitimate means of boosting your social media presence.

Such confusion is easy. Social media agencies that play fast and loose with social platform policies offer services like setting up fake Instagram accounts – making it sound like you’re quite the clever one if you sign up, of course! And even though Google loathes black hat social media methods, practitioners who will perform them are easy to find in a simple search.

While black hat SEO seeks to manipulate your website’s position in the SERPs, the main goal of black hat social media is to artificially increase the number of followers on your social media platforms. Other intents may be to post fake positive reviews of your business or – the inexcusably worst yet – post fake negative reviews about your competition.

Whether you want the knowledge of how to recognize the less obvious of these malpractices, or need to be told the consequences if you’re just trying to see what you can get away with, we offer this eye-opening guide to what you should avoid.

Buying Social Media Followers

Of all the black hat social media practices, this is perhaps the most widespread – with the most potential to cause long-term harm to your business’s brand and reputation.

Maybe your business is new to social media and you don’t want to wait to boost the number of followers on your platforms. Or maybe your accounts have been active for a while, but not attracting much attention. No one wants to be the unpopular kid in school, right? Having followers in the double-digits doesn’t look good.

But just like the unpopular kid who tries to buy friends, paying for followers never pays off. According to Social Report, “They’re painfully obvious to spot, do nothing to help your engagement, and could get you shut down by the social network you’re buying them on. Plus … if fake followers don’t get you banned, the network will likely just ban the fake accounts you paid for.”

As an eclincher article points out, “People will know if you’ve bought followers. It’s easy! Just compare the follower count with the number of likes, shares and comments that the account’s content has and you’ll be able to tell if that account has authentic or bought followers.”

In addition to possible penalties leveled by social media platforms, buying followers is self-defeating for another important reason – a lack of engagement with not only your social posts, but your business, as well. The purpose of social media is to engage members of your target audience with your brand, and drive them to your website to embark upon their great journey to becoming your customers.

But fake followers will never be your customers! They will never buy from you, share your social media posts with their own followers, give you glowing reviews, etc. They’re the equivalent of the cardboard fans that sports teams have put in stadium seats instead of real people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is possible to buy engagement, but again, this runs afoul of social platforms’ policies and will make your business look untrustworthy – not to mention that they won’t convert to being your customers, either.

Just as it takes solid strategy, work and patience to achieve a high page ranking, a strong social media following doesn’t happen overnight. It’s better to achieve organic growth by creating good content that people will like and engage with. For optimum results, combine social posts with Facebook Ads and/or Google Ads. Our blog post – “Why Should My Business Invest in Facebook Ads?” – covers the reasons why paid ads actually help reinforce and boost organic social media results.

Organic and paid social media each have advantages, but work best when implemented together. A solid organic strategy improves your online presence and reputation, and a paid strategy increases your brand’s reach and awareness to targeted audiences. So while paid followers won’t help your social media in driving traffic to your website, paid ads definitely can – and are completely white hat!

Creating Fake Social Media Accounts

This deceptive practice is especially popular on Instagram. Known as “zombie accounts,” they are second – or even third – profiles of an individual or brand on Instagram. Such accounts exist only to forward traffic to the main Instagram account. It’s bad enough when practiced by would-be influencers, but says nothing positive about your ethics when done by a business. For all the time and effort that creating and maintaining fake Instagram accounts require, doing it the right way will ultimately achieve better results – and keep you out of trouble with Instagram.

Hashtag Spamming

The social media equivalent of keyword stuffing, hashtag spamming refers to adding numerous hashtags unrelated to your post so that your post will come up when someone searches for those tags. The eclincher article sums it up best. “This doesn’t work, it’s shady, and the platforms – especially Instagram, where it’s most common – will punish you for it.”

Misleading and Deceptive Links

Social Report identifies misleading links as “One of the world’s most annoying black hat social media techniques … The tweet or social media share will promise one kind of content, and then link users to a completely unrelated website through a link shortener. This may drive traffic to these fraudulent links temporarily, but in the end, are often reported to social networks.

“This causes the accounts to get shut down and links blacklisted by the social network. Not to mention the people who click on these links are likely to get frustrated and completely disregard the content.”

Posting Fake Positive Reviews for Your Business

Because most people read online reviews before making a purchase, visiting a restaurant, etc., the temptation to do some deceptive self-promotion on popular review sites may be strong. Resist it. Posting fake reviews also involves creating fake social media accounts – another ethical no-no. If the review sites don’t find out, those who do business with you or dine at your establishment and have an experience that falls short of their expectations based upon the “reviews” aren’t likely to return – and are even more likely to post a very real negative review of their own!

Instead, ask yourself why people aren’t leaving reviews, and how you can improve your product(s) and services. You may just be in need of professional help with reputation management. Our blog post – “How Can Your Business Improve its Online Reputation?” – covers proactive ways to encourage happy customers to write reviews and recommendations. These include the following:

  • Claim your business’s pages on Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp, BBB and Amazon (if applicable).
  • Optimize your website, blog posts, social profiles and emails to provide quick and easy avenues through which to write reviews.
  • Offer incentives – such as discount or coupon codes, entry into a contest for an even bigger prize, or gift cards for coffee, online shopping or cash. But first, be sure to read the policy of each review site. Some ban offering any kind of incentive to encourage reviews – even a free beverage or minor discount.

Or, you may have to take an objective look at your business practices to determine if there’s room for improvement – then fix what needs correction!

Posting Fake Negative Reviews About Your Competitors

We just included this black hat tactic to make a point. Any business owner who does so knows full well that this is wrong, and can severely damage the reputation and livelihood of their targets. Our humble blog post isn’t going to dissuade you. People who engage in unethical practices against their competitors are also going to be unethical in every business dealing – including relationships with vendors and strategic partners. If this describes you (and we certainly hope it doesn’t), please do not respond to our Blatant Self-Promotion that follows.

The Take-Home Message and Our Blatant Self-Promotion

There are no shortcuts to achieving true success. Black hat social media practices can artificially boost the number of followers on your social accounts, but at great potential cost and to no real benefit. Crafting a solid social media strategy is what will ultimately pay off.

Rather than having to go it alone as a busy business owner, our experienced social media marketing team at Virtual Stacks Systems is ready to work with you! And if you’re interested to learn the benefits of Facebook Ads and Google Ads, we can craft campaigns that integrate with your social media campaigns. We also offer review management services to help your business get all of the good – and real – positive reviews it deserves! Contact us today to get started!


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