Social Media’s Dirty Little Secret

When Sphinn first came out, I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Finally, a place where I could read all the best search engine marketing, pay-per-click and social media news. Good-bye Digg. Hello Sphinn.

I recommend Sphinn as a resource to every single newbie SEO I know. After all, this is the closest to peer review we have in the search engine marketing world. The content should be good. Actually, since SEOs are supposed to be content specialists, it should be great.

I am here to say that lately, it’s been anything but great. As I write this, there are at least 6 articles on the front page of Sphinn that most likely got there through manipulation – not actual peer review. Bad articles are getting to the front page. Digg is the same way. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the ugly secret of social media.

Ok, so this brings me to another topic – and one that I have done a 180 on in the past 6 months. Sphinn is the perfect example for why social media, in it’s current form, will eventually fall on itself and die.

At it’s best, Social Media is a celebration of the best content there is. Peer reviewed for accuracy, entertainment and usefulness. The cream rises to the top, as they say. At it’s worst, Social media could be a collection of self-congratulatory content from quasi internet celebrities  who are dehydrated from the extended circle jerk of Digging, Sphinning and Redditing (is that the term) their friends. That would still be ok with me. The content that is getting to the top was still "peer reviewed" even if the peers are merely admirers or friends of the content originator.

The dirt secret of social media is the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands of individuals successfully gaming these systems. These folks use multiple profiles, bots, scripts and other items at their disposal to push content – either theirs or their clients – to the top. So much for the "people’s utopia" or "ultimate transperancy" that social media promised  just  one year ago.  With some savvy, there are those that can push anything to the top, and also those who know how to bring down things as well.

How do I know? Well lets just say I’ve been privvy to this type of thing. Many in the Social Media Community who speak of "community trust" are the ones who are behind the push of useless crap to the top.

Ok, have I been on my soapbox long enough. Here’s my request…use the merit of your content (or even your reputation) to get your content to the top of the social media heap. Don’t cheat. Don’t lie. Don’t use 1,423 profiles on 200 IP classes with e-mails all over the place to get there. You’re ruining it for the rest of us who want to use the information for purposes other than self-congratulation or short-term moentary gain.

Now, let the comments fly.


  1. You know it is the age-old issue you speak of…
    I think Eddie Guerrero said it best when he said “Cheat to win” – difference is – he never won anything worth speaking of… and worse – where is her now…

    Cheaters will always be there – the beauty of the internet and social media – and networks – and word of mouth/mouse is that we all learn pretty quickly who the corner cutters and cheat to win’ers are and those that are cheating their way to the top fall just as quickly into the great abyss that is “was”.

    Work hard – give back – take the high road and do not sacrifice your integrity for a glimpse of the top – work hard for a permanent stay there!


  2. I wrote about this issue on the Vizion blog after Digg implemented their changes:

    Since I still feel the same way, I’ll just repeat myself:

    The reality is that just like with any voting system, Digg can and will be manipulated. As long as individual users have the power to affect the outcome, they will attempt to undermine the quality of the result for personal gain.

    Unfortunately what we’re learning here is that the same forces that make social media powerful also present a fundamental weakness. Can you give users influence while ensuring that they operate in the spirit you intended? History tends to make me skeptical. The real question is: can Digg maintain the benefits of social media while preventing damaging manipulation?

  3. digg and Sphinn … and all of these guys focusing on the short term build-it-and-cash-out mentality … built it with the assumption that it WAS a game. So should we really be surprised that other people are looking to play the game in ways that were never intended?

    It’s as Steve Rubel writes: “…Both marketers and publishers continue to focus on reach, they are missing the big picture. Trust is by far a more important metric, one that clearly rules when it comes to influence.”

    If and when the market values trust, then the wheel will turn. Until then, people will just have to accept that there will always be people that are better at cheating than we are.

  4. Hopefully this will get through your Spam catcher. Thanks for the provocative post. Please would you allow me to share these links with your readers as they lend further perspective (I would have left anchor text but this blog does not allow HTML comments:

  5. who cares about getting to the top of Digg or Sphinn – just create GOOD content and it will spread

    that’s the real secret, creating things that are smart, creative and engage people intellectually

    and it builds a good relationship

    everyone gaming the system is as bad as spammers…ignore them

  6. “I recommend Sphinn as a resource to every single newbie SEO I know.”

    even though i read the whole blog post.. i could have stopped here.. you recommended a resource, wait, an UNPROVEN resource to “every single newbie SEO I know”.

    Had this been disinformation, ala KGB or politburo, then i would have given you props..

    but i honestly don’t think you are that smart.. and honestly most fo the peopl ein the room think the same thing when you speak, eveyrone is just too polite to tell you. OR maybe it’s just that you volunteer for everything and speak at the drop of the hat to spew forth wisdom you have no personal knowledge of..

    of course what you neglected to tell them is that you can do the same thing on Google (notes) and Yahoo! (Buzz) now.

    Now run out and tell “every single newbie SEO” to mis-use it and screw it up for the rest of us..

  7. Blackhat,

    I quickly debated on whether or not to delete your comment, but I have kept it up because I certainly wouldn’t want to ever be accused of hiding anything. However, if you want to comment on my blog again, may I suggest the following:

    1. Identify yourself. You look like a coward. I don’t mind if you disagree with me or even think I’m a fraud – but if you don’t tell me who you are I can’t understand the context from which you speak. Did I fire you once upon a time? Take your woman? Steal a speaking engagement from you? Let me know.
    2. Learn to spell. Dude, are you illiterate?
    3. Make a cogent point. Except for the fact that you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, you didn’t tell me what you thought. I couldn’t understand if you hated Sphinn, or liked it. And what are you talking about with Google and Yahoo? Maybe I’m just not as smart as you, but the fact that you fail to communicate effectively is certainly not my fault.

    Now that we’re clear, I invite you to continue to visit this blog and I would even offer to take you out to lunch if you are in Dallas. I like meeting people who don’t like me. It keeps things interesting. But if you plan to reamain a coward behind anonymous screenames, please leave me alone.

  8. has many similarities to the dot- com days of the late 1990s

  9. I’m just reading this now after it was forwarded my way as I missed it earlier. Yes, this stuff goes on all the time. Two caveats though:

    1) There are different degrees of manipulation. Sometimes the content that’s ‘manipulated’ deserves the top spots, and the manipulation’s doing everyone else a favor. Sometimes the manipulation comes from the cliques/cabals that hold the most power on the site as the active user base, and sometimes it’s needed to fight those very cabals.

    2) The sites you mentioned, and other social bookmarking sites, remain incredibly valuable regardless. “Great content” is in the eye of the beholder, but I find enough that’s valuable to keep me going back for more.

  10. In digital PR, there’s an open rule of transparency. The social media ethnic that everyone, especially professionals should abide to. But yes, sadly, I agree with you that alot of people treats the digital platform as a stage to perform, both for fun and profit. In fact, I myself have come across a few experiential marketing and PR agencies that will register a few profiles and attempt to create a “talking point” among the different profiles. Although consumers are smart enough nowadays, but it will still be hard to differentiate or identity the million of users like this. And I do expect at a certain point of time, social media simply loses its reliability and thus its foothold, then collapse.

  11. Green Hat says:

    The same people who produce infomercials and tell the public they can get rich with a website or by investing in real estate thrive on those of us who want open internet properties. It is about them, not about you or us. We all need to wake up. The value of content is in direct relation to the credentials and experience of a creator with a verified background.

    Say I’m Matt Bacak (The Powerful Promoter). I run one email campaign and generate about $2 mm. I take part of that money and invest it in a bunch of guys who thrive on winning on the internet. They build a new system that, using accounts and scripts lets me push almost anything to the top of the a site. I run a new campaign and recover my investment in less than three weeks. It is too easy – like shooting fish in a barrel.

    People with deep pockets and no sense of propriety are always going to take advantage of open systems. Always. Shall I repeat that – Always.

    Wake up, there is no tech utopia – get a grip. My generation loves to take advantage of yours and will do so for a long time to come. There is nothing you can do about it in a world where anonymity is the name of the game.

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