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Lowdown on Spamming Social Media

Posted on Dec 29th, 2006
Written by Lee Odden
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    The sheer irony of this post nearly kills me as I’ve had it in my queue to post for a few weeks now. In a presentation I gave at SES Chicago, a video interview with WebProNews and in previous blog posts, I have articulated both a naive confidence in the social news communities at being able to capably police spam as well as reasons not to spam social media in the first place.

    And yet the effort was made within the digg community to disallow any stories from Online Marketing Blog from being submitted to digg with no chance of a human evaluation of the situation or process of reinclusion. digg has taken a DMOZ style persona in handling such matters with the puzzling part being domain names can be banned as a result of actions that have nothing to do with the owner of the web site. At least Google and Yahoo are mature enough to have a review and reinclusion processes in place

    This post will present 5 ways people are spamming social media so companies can be aware of the snake oil being pitched by “churn and burn” as well as “disposable marketing” types. It will also present 5 reasons you should not spam social media so the risks and consequences can be properly understood.

    Spamming social media sites has been a hot topic ever since they first came onto the scene. “Gaming” Digg, Youtube and other social sites has and continues to attract overly aggressive marketers trying to exploit loopholes even though cheaters are easily spotted.

    And while these sites have taken measures to fix these problems, albeit not always effectively, it seems like people find ways to sidestep any new algorithm or filtering changes. So how are overzealous marketers spamming social media? Here are five different ways people are taking advantage of social communities.

    1. Buy Your Way To the Top
    The oldest trick in the book: buying your way in. There are sites that pay Diggers to vote for stories or allow you to buy some diggs. If you’re not willing to shell out any cash, Spike the Vote allows you to do daily Digging “missions” for points, which you can then exchange for diggs.

    2. Posts About the Social Media Site or Popular Topics
    Making a creative headline to some newsy story about a popular topic is an almost surefire way to get to the front page of news sites. Google is universally a great topic because a) everyone knows what it is and b) nearly everyone is interested in what the search engine does. For tech sites like Digg, Apple and Microsoft get rockstar treatment and usually make it to the front page as well. Sites like Reddit tend to have more politically-oriented news on their front page.

    Depending on the social media site, your best bet is to think about what category you’re in, find the biggest name/company in the category, and find news about that. The goal is to appeal to the most amount of people possible. For example: If you’re in the politics section of Netscape, news about President Bush will always get significant attention. As I write this, 8 out of 25 top stories have “Bush” in the title.

    Another method is appealing to the community as a whole. Every community loves to see posts about itself, whether good or bad. This method continually works because everyone within the community is interested and invested in the site.

    3. Outrageous, Made-Up Posts
    An example of this happening recently was with Digg and a post about PS3s being recalled. It fooled hundreds of Digg users to “digg it”, and thousands more to click through to the site. One reason why this is so effective is because people don’t always read the stories before voting. It’s not uncommon for people to just vote on a headline they find interesting, without even reading the article.

    4. Beating the System with Scripts
    This can be easier than you think. All it takes to game Youtube is a refreshing script that refreshes the page constantly. Diggers have used scripts to auto-post comments to their stories to push them to the front page. Almost any social network can be tricked with a little programming. You just have to find the system’s weakness.

    5. Making Friends
    If you make a lot of friends and get them to vote on your news submission, you’ve just gotten your story or video on the front page. Most social sites enable and even encourage this type of activity too. Why shouldn’t you vote for your friends? There’s even a site to help facilitate creating friends for the sole purpose of voting on each other’s stories.

    So as you can see, there’s no shortage of ways to get to the top of these social media sites. But does it really benefit you to “game” them? Not in the long OR the short run in most cases. As a counter to the tactics above, here is a list of 5 reasons why you shouldn’t try to spam social media sites.

    1. Prepare To Be Banned
    If used correctly social media can bring in great traffic to websites. Techcrunch noted that many startups receive a good portion of the traffic from StumbleUpon alone, and one entrepreneur even confirmed that the social browsing tool is responsible for 15% of his site’s traffic. Losing that kind of flow to your site can be seriously damaging. Social media sites have no problem with banning members who look suspicious.

    2. Spam Usually Brings the Wrong Kind of Traffic
    If you’re planning on spamming, odds are that you’re doing it to make a quick buck. Yet most users who use social media sites are fairly tech-savvy and won’t click on your ads. Brian Clark would rather have a bookmark from than Digg traffic any day.

    But it’s important to realize that flash in the pan web traffic means very little other than high server load if they never come back. Diggers aren’t much for clicking ads, and they often don’t stick around long enough to decide to subscribe.

    You’re not going to find any of these duped users subscribing to your site’s feed, so don’t expect any return visits either.

    3. The Rules Are Always Changing

    Social sites constantly change their algorithm to keep spam out of their system. What worked last month probably won’t work next month. And they have a huge leg up on traditional search engines with spotting spam because social communities have thousands (millions in the case of and StumbleUpon) of eyeballs who can spot and report it.

    4. Even If You Do Succeed In Spamming Social Media, You’ll Just Upset Their Users.
    There is much more negative impact in spamming a community than spamming a search engine. When you spam a search engine, users will just click away from your site, and you’ll get banned. When you spam a community, the users retaliate. Which brings me to the final reason…

    5. Threats to your livelihood
    When you make a loyal, active community look foolish, they don’t take it very well. Remember the story about PS3’s being recalled that tricked hundreds of Digg users? The originator had his name and home address posted on the world wide web, his email spammed, and threats of bodily harm. Even if he’s only playing a joke, nobody likes a spammer. Especially a passionate user base.

    While there are many opportunities to spam social media sites, in the end it’s not really worth it. Communities are self-policing and only going to be getting better at catching spam. Their traffic doesn’t really click on ads, and they definitely won’t subscribe to your site if you spam them. The best way to get to the top of these powerful community-driven sites is (and always will be) to create killer content.

    Glen Stansberry also contributed to this post.