Lee Odden

Lowdown on Spamming Social Media

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

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 Del.icio.us 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 Del.icio.us 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.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Lee – excellent post. One thing I realized though – your title says “Do’s and Don’ts of Spamming Social Media”. What are the “Do’s” of spamming social media? 😉

  2. Hey Chris, I was actually in a rush and that’s not the right title. 🙁

  3. Avatar Balazs Balint says

    Hi Lee,
    This is a very important, hot topic I think. I couldn’t read through the whole post, so just a short incidence: I think I was informally banned out from DMOZ caused by a personal affair(not any illegal or unetchical online activity). Not a nice story.

  4. Unfortunately, where there’s a place (or space), marketers will find a way. As someone who enjoys exploring social media, as both an individual and an employee, I constantly reassess what I’m doing. Sometimes I feel that the definitions of spam are often redefined, causing me to be more and more cautious.

    I know I’ve missed a few legitimate opportunities to promote my employer’s Web site, but I also know that a bad reputation haunts you online forever. I want to attract potential new users, but the only decent way to do it is to contribute useful content, then weave in a short mention of the business, if appropriate.

    Walking the fine line can be difficult at times. Still, I can’t understand folks who don’t even try. On behalf of those of us who are making an honest effort to respect the online community, we don’t want to be lumped in with serial spammers.

    Notice, I didn’t mention my employer in this post because it’s not contextually relevant. But I could have…and that’s the fine line I’m talking about.

    ~ Kim

  5. thatSEOguy, I don’t think there’s anyting new or particularly effective in the list of “how to’s”. The point is to shed some light on these tactics so companies know what to watch out for.

  6. Excellent post. Ironically, though, I think some people who are looking for ways to spam the social media sites have also found your article useful.

  7. Avatar Wayne Hurlbert says

    This is a very important post on a topic that is not receiving enough attention. As long as there are search engines, directories, or internet communities, there will be someone trying to “game” them. This post provides some ideas on how to combat the spammers and gamers who prefer to cheat their way to the top. This is timely and valuable advice for everyone using the various social media.

  8. Hi Lee,

    I have experienced this first hand when you talk about having sites banned from social bookmarking networks. I have had two sites banned so far with out warning and without me ever posting on them.

    I am not sure why it happened but when you look at the tools supplied and the tos of some of these sites you can see that if someone mass submits your site meaning every page then you “meaning the site” is going to be banned.

    All your competitor has to do is import a xml file with your complete site on it and that site is banned not the user he is free to register again using a different account and hence no penalty to him but a site banned that he does not even control or own.

    I am not going to list the network site here but I will release to you through email.

    Great site by the way…

  9. Avatar Balazs Balint says

    I can’t help thinking about the value chain of social media projects. They are quite similar to the value production of community project developments like Apache or OpenCms. Just have a look at it! For instance I need a content management system. I find an open source, GPL software. I learn how to use it, and if I need some developement I tell my developers to it. Then I share the added value with others. But I’m not an altruist. I biult specific proffesion by using and developing the software that can be converted into profit by ny company. The same is with social media. The site based on user-producted content are also projects developing not software but content. Let’s suppose I’m interested in marketing. I want to get familiar with different points of view about marketing related issues. I start searching and I find this site. I start reading posts and comments about different topics. with one word: I learn. But of course I have thoughts about theese topics and I start to share theese thoughts- developing the project.
    For me community projects seem to be like a joint-stock company. The only difference is that your share depends on the work you invest. In this context spamming means gaining more value than your divident. There is no community that supports this.
    Just a question for spammers: Do you want to be a cheat? Or you want to be an aapreciated member of a community? This is really simple, isn’t it?


    Digg.com is getting cocky and banning small web sites just because digg’s users submit them to digg and digg’s moderators don’t like it. Scifidigg.com is the latest victim of Digg’s “We are big, you are small and we can do whatever we want” attitude.
    First some background.
    After running the website Scifi2u.com for the last year we realised there was a demand for a scifi digg type website – 6 Days ago ScifiDigg.com was born and is powered by open source Pligg and the YouTube API.
    So what went wrong?
    The site went live on the 22 March 2007. People submitted stories and video links to digg and other sites del.icio.us, Yahoo, Simply and Reddit. Having a submit button makes submitting very easy and fast but that could be a problem.
    Let’s get to the point
    Digg’s moderators decided that since the link pointed to my site and the posts are mainly videos from YouTube ScifiDigg should be banned from digg and no other links from scifidigg.com can be posted to digg.
    Digg’s response
    I contacted digg to find out what happened and why they blocked my site. The response I got from them was that my site violated their terms of use, by copying another site. I explained to them that although the video is streamed by YouTube we give the facility for original coments to be added.
    The response I got was that they do not allow sites that copy other sites to be submitted to digg. I told them that according to their rules they should also ban Yahoo news, since it does not have an original content but republish articles from PCWorld, Reuters, MACWorld and others. Also falls under this category other major sites like neowin.net, blink.nu and many more that are doing exactly the same infact they should ban YouTube because the video content is often copied from other video websites. But hey, they are big sites and digg can’t pick on them without repercussion, like they can pick on small blogs that try to establish themselves.
    So what have we learned?
    · Digg’s users don’t really determine what gets promoted, but digg’s moderators do.
    · Digg have a different set of rules for small site and different rules for big sites, even though both are doing the same.
    · Digg will ban a small site just because one of its user’s submitted an article that other digg members liked and promoted, but moderator didn’t like the link.
    · Digg will not listen to reason when told that the site did not violate its TOS.

    I am going to create a Digg.com clone http://www.BannedDigg.com Watch this space!!!


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