Black Hat

“Black hat” digital marketing techniques cheat the system and are unethical and often illegal tactics that can harm a brand’s reputation long term, despite the promise of short-term gains.

Working with cash-strapped small businesses, we often get questions about “quick-and-easy” promotional opportunities that seem too good to be true. Especially as digital marketing matures and social media marketing becomes an established channel, it can be difficult for a small business marketer to vet vendors who offer cheap and easy eyeballs for their promotions.

Unfortunately, if digital shortcut sounds too good to be true, it usually is. And while “black hat” digital marketing (tactics that go against policies or attempt to game the system) can provide short-term publicity, the long term consequences — like getting your business blacklisted by Google or Facebook — are simply not worth it.

Our first installment covering digital marketing dangers covered the reasons why small businesses should NOT buy email lists. In this chapter, Brandmuscle Digital Marketing Manager Katie Dolan shares her advice on social media promotions, specifically telling us:

Why Facebook “Blasters” or running your business page from a personal account will hurt your social media efforts:

Social media is no longer the wild west of digital marketing, but that doesn’t mean small businesses won’t run into a few snake oil salesman as they look to keep up with the changes on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and beyond. Facebook’s squelching of organic reach for businesses lit a particular fire for small businesses looking to get  the same reach for their promotional messages as they did in the early days of Facebook without paying for ads.

We’ve covered off on some legitimate ways to reach social audiences despite Facebook’s changes, but here we’ll focus on what NOT to do:

1. Facebook Blaster Pro (and other mass-friending and messaging tools)

Characters from the movie Wedding Crashers

If your brand uses a blaster to “crash” Facebook users, timelines and groups, we promise you won’t come across as charming as these two.

Facebook Blaster and similar tools are black hat plugins that legitimate brands want to steer clear from. “Facebook Blaster Pro” makes the attempt to hide it’s black hat standing where other third party tools, like BlackHat Companion, do not. These tools provide the ability to blast out a large number of posts, buy and gain followers/friends, send mass direct messages and other spammy techniques that are against Facebook’s user agreement policies. They cheat the system and they will get your business banned from the social channel.

WHY IS THIS BAD?
Think about this way: most Facebook users are on the platform to connect with family and friends. We like to say that Facebook is the digital version of a large wedding: people “attend” (log on) to have fun and see what close friends and family are doing. In this analogy, Facebook Blaster Pro is the wedding crasher, but instead of just showing up uninvited, brands using a blaster service are also shouting promotional messages. It’s a blatant invasion of privacy that will do more harm than good to your brand by alienating customers from your local business and the national brand they represent.

In addition to the misguided principle of blasting, there are plenty of examples of pages that Facebook has shut down or disabled because they used these tools to spam users and groups.

2. Using personal pages versus business pages and joining Groups

Utilizing Facebook personal pages for your business is prohibited by Facebook and the accounts will be shut down once Facebook finds out. This will be sooner rather than later if you’re using a Facebook Blaster tool, but either way, the efforts you put into a personal page dressed up to promote your business will be rendered useless once Facebook suspends the account.

WHY IS THIS BAD?
The reason Facebook doesn’t allow businesses to join Groups is to keep the integrity and true benefits of Groups, which is to share knowledge, experiences, reviews, education, etc.  LinkedIn has the same restrictions with its groups. Groups are meant to facilitate commercial-free conversations between people. If businesses were able to join groups, it would become a nightmare of overly promotional content, sales messages and spam that would lead users to stop using groups altogether.

Alternative ways to grow your local social media presence:

Instead of busting their way into a private conversation or blasting unsolicited promotions into a channel normally reserved for friends and family, we suggest a few viable alternatives for small businesses looking to succeed in social media:

Promote your social media efforts through legitimate tactics including in-store signage, links on websites, engaging current customers and encouraging people to Like and Share your content. This type of promotion stands a better chance of truly connecting with customers and leaving a positive experience at every touchpoint.

Use valuable social content to reach consumers organically (it’s still possible!). Although the percentage of consumers you can reach on Facebook has been reduced dramatically since mid-2014, brands posting content that adds value for its audience will still reach a percentage of fans. The better (i.e., more social) the content, the more people it will reach. See #1 and #2 on this post for more ideas.

Advertise on social. Social ads are a great compliment to a strong organic content strategy.  Properly designed social media ads can help small businesses target specific types of consumers based on interests, demographics, locations, activity and more. Many small businesses have taken to social advertising to reach new customers and target an audience they couldn’t reach through organic means. There is a cost involved, but dollar-for-dollar, social media advertising is hard to beat and investments made this way will bear favorable short- and long-term result compared to blackhat techniques.

Have you thought about using something like Facebook Blaster? Have other ideas for reaching audiences on social media? Share your thoughts in the comments below.