There seems to be a lot of misconception that social media marketing isn’t ethical. Almost daily, I come across bloggers who denounce SMM as spam or suggest that social media marketers are poisoning the community well. In reality, they either aren’t properly educated or perhaps only see the "bad apples" of social media marketing.
This whole gaming of digg/Netscape/MySpace is being called SMO–social media optimization. That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard of. Anyone who hires an SMO firm is an idiot. The whole point of social media is TO BE REAL NOT FAKE!!! Just be yourself and participate… that’s all it takes (and note, participation is not just putting in your own links, it’s voting/commenting on/submitting other people’s content too!).
In Danny Sullivan’s rebuttal to Jason, he touched on the ethics of social media marketing and why it’s not all bad like everyone seems to think:
DO NOT make the mistake you’ve already made with SEOs and start out wrong with the social media optimization crowd. That group can help encourage and support social media search engines in the same way that many SEOs already serve as an active, engaged, non-gaming support structure for the major search engines.
It seems that some people have blinders on and can’t see past the marketers who are spamming. They don’t realize that in addition to the spammers, there are an equal amount of those of us who are working with companies to create and promote valuable content to the community in an ethical way. We help create content that provides real worth, whether it’s a funny viral video submitted to YouTube for entertainment or a good article submitted to Digg.
Those shouting from their soapboxes that it’s just about "being real" and "creating good content" imply that if you promote content, even in an ethical way, it’s somehow wrong. But the social media sites themselves encourage people to submit and promote. Just look at how these links to buttons at Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Netscape and del.icio.us all encourage people to actively get their content found.
There is nothing wrong with promoting content, so long as you aren’t cheating the system. Actively promoting content is also important because unlike what those on soapboxes would have you believe, success doesn’t always just happen.
Creating good content alone is not enough; it would be like throwing a gold needle in a haystack and telling someone to go find it. There are things you can and should do to help them find that needle.
It’s just like SEO. If you don’t know how to make your site search engine friendly, then people might not ever find your valuable content, since it doesn’t get indexed. Content can also be made social media friendly. This can give content a chance for success when it may have had no chance at all – despite perhaps being great material.
SEO doesn’t guarantee top rankings. Similarly, social media optimization or social media marketing doesn’t guarantee a win. It remains up to the community to decide what becomes popular. If your content truly does not provide value to the community, it quickly gets demoted.
Here are a few things that you should NOT do when it comes to social media marketing:
- Creating multiple accounts to promote your content
- Joining groups where all the members help promote each other’s content regardless of quality
- Contacting top members and offering to pay them to promote your content
- Auto refreshing pages to increase view counts
Those are just a few things I would avoid if you’re trying to be an "ethical" or "white hat" social media marketer. The exact rules do vary from social media site to social media site, so it is important to become familiar with a particular site before trying to promote your content. The best way to do is this is to become an active member.
The proper way to promote your content is to submit your piece and let the community decide what direction it should go. If your content is good enough, it will spread and become popular. There are other things you can do such as adding links within your content to encourage readers to vote. Research the social media sites you plan on submitting to, that way you can get an understanding of what kind of content is popular on those sites.
If you are not sure what kind of content to create or how to promote it, then consider hiring experienced members of these social communities to guide you on optimizing your content and what the most efficient and ethical ways to promote them are. Most of the social media marketers that are "white hat" are actually active members in these communities themselves.
Cameron Olthuis is director of marketing and design for ACS and writes regularly on social media issues through the company’s blog, Pronet Advertising. The Let’s Get Social column appears Tuesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.