Black Hat vs White Hat – What You Need to Know

So you have a blog/twitter/Facebook/Google+ and you’re looking to grow. That’s great! Maybe you want to work with brands, or get speaking gigs, or maybe you just want to be an all around Social Media Heavyweight. No matter what your goals are, when you want to grow your numbers there are two ways to do it – black hat and white hat.

First of all, what do “black hat” and “white hat” even mean? Well, if you’re looking for a history of the phrases, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for an explanation, stick around. ;) Traditionally, black hat and white hat have been used when talking about link building and SEO, but I’m going to expand on that to include growing Facebook fans, twitter followers, Klout score, etc. Basically it can apply to any kind of numbers game online – be it page views, followers, fans or page rank.

Black Hat

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Black hat refers to your shady dealings. Illegal raffles, TOS (terms of service) violations, link buying, bots and the like. It’s the techniques that kind of sit wrong with you, the ones you wouldn’t proudly tweet about, the ones that are unethical. Here are some examples – but keep in mind that this is far from an exhaustive list.

* Mass following people on twitter, waiting for them to follow you back, and then unfollowing them so that you’re ratio of followers to following is artificially high.

* Paying blogs with a higher page rank (or more page views) to link to your site.

* Setting up a script to create fake Facebook profiles and having them all like your page.

* Using invisible or hidden text to rank higher in search engine results.

White Hat

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Okay, so we talked about what not to do, but what should you do to increase your influence and reach online? Well I’m so glad you asked. :) This is where white hat list building comes in. These are the organic ways of growing your followers, the “best practices” and the way to build a strong community of active participants who really care about your message. Doesn’t that sound better than a bunch of uninterested people or spam-bots? Here are some examples of white hat list building. Again, this is far from a full list! There are TONS of ways to build a strong community – this is just a few examples to illustrate the difference between black hat and white hat.

* Participate in twitter chats for topics you’re passionate about. #crafterminds (Mon 4pm EST) and #BlogChat (Sun 9pm EST) are two of my favorites, but there are a LOT out there. Try out a few, see which ones you like best, and start chatting!

* Ask questions and talk to people. Don’t just broadcast, listen.

* Learn the lay of the land. Posting every five minutes is all good and well on twitter, but on Facebook it will annoy people. If you’re not familiar with a particular social network, take some time to get the feel of the culture so you don’t make a major faux pas.

* Make sure your content is SEO optimized! This is super simple and can be done with a variety of plug-ins for your blog.

Bottom Line

While it should be obvious that you should never break the law or violate any TOS, there are some things that aren’t direct violations, but are still shady. One example is the mass twitter follow/unfollow that I talked about above. When it comes to situations like that, you really just have to ask yourself if you feel comfortable with what you’re doing. Do you feel like you’re behaving ethically? Would you write a blog post about your efforts? Would you tweet about your methods? If the answer to those questions is “no” – you may be doing something black hat.

At the end of the day, quality is more important than quantity. And yes, I know that the big brands look at your numbers. So let’s say you went black hat and got a huge following – your numbers are out of this world. You land a huge campaign working with a well-known, national brand. And it falls flat. Because you don’t have quality, you just have quantity. Without a strong, engaged community you won’t be able to drive results – clicks, purchases, tweets, conversation – and then the big brand deals will fall by the wayside.

So take your time, don’t try to rush to get numbers. Build your community slowly and focus on high quality interactions and conversations. The numbers/deals/advertising/etc will flow from there.

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