There are several ways that unscrupulous companies or digital agencies can immorally obtain or misrepresent information about online engagement.
These methods include misrepresentation of their audience or fans and obtaining information using unethical or even illegal means.
The right way to go about improving your online presence is to create content that is valuable and useful for your fans, to engage with them in a constructive and proactive way and to be completely open and transparent about the way that you gather and use information.
The following tactics represent the wrong way to go about it:
Lying with statistics
Infographics are one of the worst offenders for providing half-baked ideas or misleading information and statistics as fact.
Aside from taking advantage of the laziness of online readers, the presentation of statistics and “facts” in general can be problematic, unless the reader is willing to check sources and ensure that the information being provided is reliable.
An unscrupulous digital marketing agency could intentionally misreport or misinterpret Google Analytics reports to a client in order to exaggerate the success of a campaign for which they had been hired.
Likewise, one of measures for a brand’s success in social media is the number of followers or “Likes” your profile has. Artificially inflating this number is a way of making your brand seem more popular and engaged than it really is. This can be done by:
- Paying people for Facebook Likes, blog comments or follows on Twitter.
- Creating fake accounts which interact with and share your posts, a tactic that Orangina were accused of employing.
This is probably done in order to improve Edgerank in Facebook, the algorithm employed by Facebook to determine what importance to give your posts in a fan’s newsfeed.
Black Hat Social Media
The term Black Hat as applied to social media, generally means the practise of violating a platform’s terms and conditions, as well as the unspoken rules of decency online, in order to more easily and cost-effectively spread your message or reach fans online.
Black Hat tactics which can impact the success of more morally grounded digital media campaigns include:
- Using a personal profile instead of a business page
- Running a Facebook competition directly on a page instead of through an app
Caution should also be employed when signing up to third party applications in order to monitor and track your online presence. It’s worth asking the question:
When you are allowing these apps access to your social media accounts, just how much information are you giving them?
Invasive Tracking Techniques
One of the most difficult balances to achieve when measuring interaction online is to ensure that any tracking techniques used give useful results, but do not infringe on a user’s privacy.
One of the most nefarious uses of tracking technology, of which relatively few users know about, is that of Flash cookies. These are cookies, or “Local Shared Objects” which are created by Adobe’s Flash plugin. They store more information than traditional cookies, can’t be deleted in browser preferences and are used to re-create (“re-spawn”) cookies the user may have already deleted, keeping the original unique ID intact.
Bleachbit is an open source tool for Linux and Windows users which can kill Flash cookies.
If you want to learn more about Black Hat tactics and become morally reprehensible, this is a good resource: http://www.blackhatworld.com/