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Lee Odden

Thoughts on White Hat Black Hat Social Media

By Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Search Engine Strategies, Social Media

blackwhiteSES San Jose is done and I mean done for good. The recent conference finished up last Thursday (with post conference training on Friday) and next year, SES will return to its roots in San Francisco. I think this is a great move for many reasons, but more about that later.

During SES  I presented a half day DMA workshop on incorporating SEO into social media efforts, moderated a ClickZ panel on real-time marketing, presented link building tips on a blog & feed SEO panel and participated on a discussion panel about white hat & black hat social media with Dave Evans as moderator and panelists:  Beth Harte, Chris Bennett and Dave Snyder.

As a marketer, I think it’s essential to test and to “push to see what pushes back” in many areas, to see what the real boundaries are. No one gains a competitive advantage by unquestioningly following “the rules”.
Managing risk and expectations is a very big part of client relations, especially in channels that are not mature. It’s been the stance from search marketing “black hats” that as long as there’s disclosure to the client what the risks of certain tactics are and the client agrees, it’s ok.
That’s fine when you’re dealing with something like search, where the variables at play are mostly to do with bots and ranking algorithms. With social media, the numerous platforms, communities and individuals involved make expectation and risk management a lot more complex.  Yes, I am saying social media markeitng can be (not always be) more complex than SEO.
I don’t think there are many experienced (10+ years) search marketers that haven’t used what are now known as “black hat” tactics at some point in time. And you know what? Whether those tactics were used as a test or with a client, they’re better for it.
Now let’s turn our attention to social media. Can the same be said for experienced social media marketers? Who will be better prepared to serve as an effective client marketing advocate than those who have experimented? How can an agency provide guidance on boundaries in the social media space unless they’ve done some “push to see what pushes back” of their own?
The responsible thing to do is not only fully disclose to clients what the implications are for certain approaches or specific tactics, but it’s also incumbent upon social media marketers to have actually tried those tactics themselves.
What do you think? Are there ethical issues with testing tactics (not clients) on the social web that push boundaries?

You can get the full review of the session here from Adam’s liveblog post, but I wanted to share a few thoughts that were not discussed. I opened with my observation of what the notion of black hat means to most people who are in that business: Shortcuts to marketing online to getting better results faster.  Unfortunately, short-cutting brings risks as well as rewards. In the case of social media, I think the risks are far greater than with search marketing.

One perspective that I didn’t get a chance to discuss was the importance of testing with any kind of marketing: search or social media. And I mean testing in an experimental sense. The kind of testing that would be too risky to do with your own brand.

I do not believe “rules” published by platforms need to be followed without question. Many platforms in the social media space are so new, they really have no idea what’s best for the community.

As a marketer, I think it’s essential to test things on your own sites and to “push to see what pushes back” in many areas, to see what the real boundaries are. No one gains a competitive advantage by unquestioningly following “the rules”.

Managing risk and expectations is a very big part of client relations, especially in channels that are not mature. It’s been the stance from search marketing “black hats” that as long as there’s disclosure to the client what the risks of certain tactics are and the client agrees, it’s okay.

That’s fine when you’re dealing with something like search, where the variables at play are mostly to do with bots and ranking algorithms. With social media, the numerous platforms, communities and individuals involved make expectation and risk management a lot more complex.  Yes, I am saying social media marketing can be (not always) more complex than SEO.

I don’t think there are many experienced (10+ years) search marketers that haven’t used what are now known as “black hat” tactics at some point in time. And you know what? Whether those tactics were used as a test or with a client, they’re better for it.

Now let’s turn our attention to social media. Can the same be said for experienced social media marketers? Who will be better prepared to serve as an effective client marketing advocate than those who have experimented? How can an agency provide guidance on boundaries in the social media space unless they’ve done some “push to see what pushes back” of their own?

The responsible thing to do is not only fully disclose to clients what the implications are for certain approaches or specific tactics, but it’s also incumbent upon social media marketers to have actually tried those tactics themselves.

What do you think? Are there ethical issues with testing tactics (not clients) on the social web that push boundaries?


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