Why Social Media Automation Is Black Hat

If you have worked in marketing in the last decade, you’ve heard of the term Social Media Automation. I know I’m not the first person to uncover this, but I’m here to talk about why much of Social Media Automation is black hat.

Throughout my whole career in digital marketing, the concept of black hat was tied to the SEO trade, which is where I got my start. From dealing with the cleanup on websites from disastrous black hat campaigns ran by desperate agencies, to seeing current competitors in the drug rehab industry getting away with black hat techniques— I’ve come across it so many times in SEO.

But what about black hat in Social Media?

After leaving Fanatics, every client I ran SEO services for would often expect me to manage their social media. Prior to that, other than creating content for social media campaigns, my experience using social media spanned back to the 90’s when the only social media was online forums or your AOL profile. I was part of many communities online, like Rate My Info and other random forums, where I actually kept in touch with many people from all over the world. I was in college at MTSU when Facebook was first available to only college students. Basically, I was using social media when it was taboo and you didn’t tell people about it. They were my friends at times where I didn’t really feel like I had any and for that, I consider myself a social media purist.

What is Black Hat Social Media and Why Does It Exist?

I define black hat social media as any technique that is essentially designed to game the system. Black hat practices on social media generally incorporate automation, taking the person out of the seemingly essential equation of personal, one-to-one (or one-to-many) communications that one expects with true social media. A great example of this is automated DMs for new followers on Twitter.

The number one reason why it’s such a huge part of social media now is pressure. From a professional standpoint, there is major pressure from C-level managers looking at the number of followers. For many CEO’s of companies, the number of followers of their companies is a vanity number. It’s ego driven and doesn’t really reflect the true performance of social media. Regardless, social media managers or specialists face the reality that there are only so many hours in the day, and doing everything purely, manually and organically doesn’t always work out so well

For budding entrepreneurs or entertainers, it’s all about that chase to be verified and sponsored. You’d be surprised at how many brands and regular ass people are using black hat social media automation. Everyone from up-and-coming stand up comedians fighting for their big break to mommy bloggers exploiting their children at the hopes of getting sponsorships, I’ve witnessed it time after time and I’ve even seen people I know personally using these techniques to grow their “personal brand.”

EXAMPLES OF BLACK HAT SOCIAL MEDIA

It’s tough sometimes to draw the line between what is black hat per se vs. just plain bad practices that are not generally recommended for true social engagement.

Here are just a few growing techniques I’ve seen that are black hat in my book:

Buying followers, likes, and views

So, you want friends, but you have nothing of substance to offer. What’s a poor guy or gal to do? Just buy them! Never mind that these are likely all bogus fans who won’t engage or convert into paying customers, what matters are how many followers you have. That determines your value, right?

Just look around social media, specifically on Twitter and Instagram where hashtags are used heavily, and you will come across a case of black hat social media. I see it everyday. One person I witnessed was so desperate to become verified on Twitter that they created a fake account and bought hundreds of thousands of followers for that fake account and programmed it to post automatically in intervals. They let that account build an identity for several months while maintaining their “real” Twitter account. After giving the other account enough time to grow, they used their real account to signal to Twitter that they’d had their identity stolen and needed to be ‘verified’ because someone was out there impersonating them. Yes, someone really did this… and it worked.

The unfortunate truth of all of this is that there is something inherently important about follower counts. It’s human nature when you’re checking out a company or “influencer” to instantly judge them based on how popular they are. It’s dumb, but it’s hard-wired into each of us. Unless you are plugged in to see the difference between a bloated account vs. an organically grown account with substance, you will miss it.

Regardless, people rely on social media automation to grow, instead of relying on their natural, organic talents. It’s sad, actually.

Botting for automated following, likes, and replies

It’s very easy these days to use free services to automatically target and follow people, thank people for following or send out messages based on hashtag alerts, geography, and other criteria.

The number of bots available out there is staggering and the thing is, they actually work. If your sole goal is to increase the number of followers you have so that you can appear to be an influencer, then fine. But be prepared to have this huge discrepancy of likes to followers on your content.

If you are smart enough, you can find people on social media botting it up. It’s not hard. In fact, I recently did a test (that I personally found hilarious) which displayed the volume of regular ass people trying to be famous by using this hashtag automation technique.

Basically, I posted three black pictures, that provided no substance and used a series of hashtags that I found on Tagblender, a source for the most popular hashtags.

1 of 3 of exposing social media automation. I will make people I don't know like or comment on this photo.

A post shared by 🚫 (@themarshallmalone) on

2 of 3 of exposing social media automation. I will make people I don't know like or comment on this photo.

A post shared by 🚫 (@themarshallmalone) on

3 of 3 of exposing social media automation. I will make people I don't know like or comment on this photo.

A post shared by 🚫 (@themarshallmalone) on

As you can see, these pictures provided absolutely no value, but my follower count shot up almost 100 and I recieved up to 131 likes with several comments. I’ve since removed the hashtags to stop the influx of notifications on my phone.

To wrap it all up, I followed up with a video with a character I like to refer as the Demotivational Social Media Thought Leader:

As you can see, I programmed this with some hashtags and at the time of posting this, there is a view to like discrepancy, with me having more likes than views. I find all of this so hilarious, but equally upsetting that many people have not caught on to this. I’m not sure if the leaders of Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, and the other networks will crack down on this, but I sure as Hell hope they do, so that social media purists like me can go back to connecting with real people.

Not All Social Media Automation Is Black Hat

Okay, I’m a realist and I understand the pressures of managing a companies social media presence. To be fair, not all automation is black hat or unethical. If you are using scheduling software, such as Sprout Social or Hootsuite, then to me, that’s totally ethical. I have to use those tools in my own job at times. With those, you are actually curating the content. You are manually selecting things to share. It’s not the same as autoresponders and botting techniques.

A Message To All Social Media “Influencers”

You talk too much. You talk about yourself all the time. You commentate on everything you see just like a sports commentator. You talk about your personal story constantly as if its important. You talk about other peoples personal story as if their life is more or less important than others. You have built a world and culture that undervalues silence and as a result you’ve lost sight of the subtle things that make life beautiful. The movement of the clouds. The feel of the rain. Feeling and appreciating boredom rather than running away from it. The sound of your thoughts bouncing around in our skull and not actually Tweeting it. Imagine if you took the time to understand your body and mind. By doing so, you might lead a revolution that would help everyone to start understanding each other.