If all those totally historically accurate movies about the Old West have taught us anything, it’s that job security was not a major issue for sheriffs and their deputies. A near endless supply of cattle rustlers, masked bandits and stagecoach robbers seemed to flow through every town across the American frontier.
Today, ethical, “white hat” digital marketers face a similar challenge in keeping up with their “black hat” counterparts, especially as black hat practitioners develop new ways to cheat at Instagram and on other popular social media platforms.
In my last post, I provided an overview of white hat vs. black hat SEO strategies in a discussion about ethical SEO practices. I explained how white hat techniques are used to organically boost engagement, and how black hat experts prefer using short-sighted workarounds that can cause considerable harm to a client’s web presence.
The very same “bad dotcombres” now have the barrel of their six-shooters aimed at Instagram. Black hat social media is a reality that must be accounted for if organizations wish to improve engagement on Instagram without getting penalized as a result.
How Bad Dotcombres Cheat at Instagram
Keyword stuffing, hidden text placement and spammy blog content are common examples of black hat strategies used to game search engines, but these techniques are less effective in making an impact on Instagram.
Black hat social media professionals have developed their own approaches to working around Instagram’s user guidelines to boost likes, views and followers.
Some of the most widely adopted black hat Instagram strategies include:
Buying Instagram Followers
In recent years, Instagram has updated its algorithms so that individuals with more followers enjoy wider visibility among Instagram’s user base. Sites that guarantee followers (via spam accounts) in exchange for cash have become extremely common. Black hat digital marketers can use these sites to rapidly ramp up a client’s number of followers.
Using Bots to Fake Engagement
Many black hat social media adherents recommend automated follow-unfollow programs to save their clients the legwork required to boost engagement on Instagram organically. Instagram has begun to crack down on these websites, however, so the future of this strategy appears limited.
Joining Instagram Pods
A “pod” refers to a group of Instagram users who agree to regularly like, share and comment on each other’s posts. Some digital marketers may use pods to guarantee that their clients receive (the appearance of) substantial weekly organic engagement.
Paying for Guest Posts
One popular way for Instagram users to expand their audience is to be featured on a popular blog as a guest poster. Unfortunately, many accounts with numerous followers now actively offer guest posts for a price, effectively charging fellow users for an exposure opportunity. Some black hat digital marketers encourage their clients to take advantage of these services in lieu of tailoring content to an existing audience.
To summarize the four major ways some marketers and individuals cheat Instagram, check out the following infographic and share it with your followers:
Instagram Marshals a Response
Google has already responded to several attempts by users to game their algorithms, and Instagram is now taking steps to limit the effectiveness of black hat tactics on the platform. As Instagram’s efforts to control black hat strategies become more aggressive and its algorithms grow more sophisticated, it is only a matter of time before these techniques actually hurt the users who deploy them.
For example, Instagram has recently taken action against the most popular services used to automate accounts and gain followers. Sites like Instagress, Archie.co and Robogram, once widely used to mimic organic user engagement, have been shut down upon request from Instagram. Organizations that took advantage of these sites, especially at the insistence of a black hat digital marketer, are now forced to develop new strategies for consistently attracting followers.
Furthermore, black hat social media professionals that are used to purchasing followers may soon be in for a rude awakening. As recently as 2014, Instagram preformed a network-wide purge of spam accounts, with special attention paid toward accounts used to boost follower numbers.
Celebrities like the singer Akon lost significant chunks of their Instagram followings after the spam purge, suggesting that any brand that relies on fake followers may see its perceived influence evaporate overnight the next time Instagram decides to cut down on spam accounts.
Cut Black Hat Social Media Off at The Pass
Want to stop bad dotcombres from peddling their wares at your wagon wheel? Understanding black hat social media tactics, as well as how to spot unethical digital marketers, is still the best way to keep your brand’s Instagram presence on the straight and narrow.
Here are a few tips for finding a digital marketing expert that can enhance your social media presence organically. An ethical digital marketer will encourage potential clients to:
Beware Unrealistic Expectations
Social media success takes time. Hard work and intentional research is necessary to identify a brand’s audience, develop a strategy for engaging these users, and convert these interactions into followers and regular engagement. It is unlikely that digital marketers promising thousands of followers in a few days are gaining these followers in line with Instagram’s rules of service.
Understand Instagram’s Evolution
As a platform, Instagram has made changes again and again to its user experience. In the past, social feeds were populated by content that was posted most recently. Today, content that appears in a user’s feed is curated based on Instagram’s impressions of what each user finds most interesting.
An ethical digital marketer will be familiar with these recent changes and can recommend social engagement strategies that reflect the next stage in Instagram’s development.
Recover Existing Opportunities
Just because a company’s Instagram engagement has mostly been driven by automation doesn’t mean that the results of this approach are worthless. There are times when artificial engagement gets a brand closer to his desired audience.
This strategy, however, is not built for the long term. An experienced, ethical digital marketer can help companies make the most of black hat results and convert those short-term gains into long-term successes.
Opt for White Hat Social Media Practices
Still have questions about black hat social media, problematic SEO practices or finding a digital marketing expert you can trust? At Eminent SEO, our mission is to make this type of information as accessible and easy to understand as possible. Revisit or bookmark our blog for the latest news and advice on properly enhancing your brand through social media and search engines.