Pandas, Penguins and Social Media – Are We headed for a Meltdown?

I just read a great article by +Eli Fennel about how to use social media.  It was a refreshing take on the world of social networking and how to be successful in this new world of online relationship building.  His advice: Use social media however you want! The crux of his message that is if you talk about and share what you’re passionate about you’ll find yourself enjoying social networking and a natural outcome will be success.

He also points out that we’re in a worrisome time in which many people are posting because they “have to” or worse yet they’re artificially building a network of followers and sharers. It reminds me of the pre-panda and pre-penguin days in SEO when the most pervasive tactics were to generate loads of weak but keyword rich content and build as many inbound links as possible.

Article directories and link farms invaded the internet and polluted search results with links to low quality websites. It didn’t take Google long to figure out that people were gaming the system to gain visibility in search results and take action. In 2011 they rolled out the first of many Panda updates. Panda’s purpose was to remove sites with duplicate content and weak or “thin” content. Thousands of sites were hit and even large, well-known sites lost over 70% of their traffic overnight.

In April of 2012 Google rolled out the Penguin algorithm change and they have continued to update it every few months. The latest major update to Penguin was in May of 2013 and has more than a few website owners scrambling to clean up inbound links. The Penguin updates penalize sites that keyword stuff text links across thousands of sites, links from spammy link farms and article directories, excessive link exchanges, and buying or selling links to pass PageRank.

You might be wondering why anyone would approach SEO with tactics that are now being penalized by Google. The answer is simple – because it worked. Many of the tactics weren’t black hat SEO to begin with, but were later abused as a way to increase visibility in search engine results.

So how does this relate to social media?

The main objectives of social media marketing aren’t all that different than the goals of search engine optimization.

Social media is used to:

  • Drive Traffic
  • Boost Sales
  • Increase Brand Awareness
  • Generate Leads
  • Manage Brand Reputation
  • Influence Opinions

Sounds a lot like SEO doesn’t it?

Are We headed for a Social Media Meltdown?

Ink sunflower in sepia and bright colors

Be genuine in your social networking. Share what you’re passionate about and engage with sincerity.

What concerns me is the approach many people seem to be taking is very similar to the pre-panda and pre-penguin SEO tactics.  I’m seeing lots of thin content, or in other words posts, tweets, and shares that provide no value. Posting quotes all day long or setting up auto-updates just to “be active” in social isn’t going to cut it.

It won’t take long for people to figure out that you’re not being genuine and that means they will quickly lose trust in you. Trust is that all important factor when it comes to doing business with someone.

I’m also seeing a lot of activity such as reciprocal sharing, amassing lots of followers without true engagement, and profiles that are empty or rarely updated. I’ve started getting almost daily emails from people promoting services that will “gain me thousands of followers overnight.”

Again it won’t take long for people to see through these schemes and realize that the efforts are solely around building visibility and not about being genuine.

I have no doubt that these tactics work just like they did for SEO. I also believe that they’re going to come back to bite, and bite hard. It seems likely that at some point Google will drop the hammer and the folks with weak social content, are not engaged, and have a low quality circle of followers will be devalued and the reputation of their brand is at risk of being hurt.

Are we headed for a panda/penguin-like meltdown in the world of social media? Only Google knows for sure. The safest bet and the best approach to social is to be genuine, share what you’re passionate about, and engage with sincerity.

In other words, be yourself.

  • Brilliant, Beth, this is going to be my go-to article for people who start asking me questions regarding follower count and these “thin” types of “engagement tricks” (because it’s just that: a trick, not sustainable in the long term).

    • Stephan, thank you so much for taking time to read and comment. It’s very much appreciated. This has been on my mind for quite some time now. Glad you found the post helpful.

      Couldn’t agree with you more that it’s a “trick” and not sustainable!

  • Great post Beth. Just finished a four week workshop for a keen group of small business owners and the key message, no matter what the channel, provide relevant and interesting information that benefits your prospects and customers. There It was approx 20 competitors in the room and each of them had such unique and varied stories they could be telling. Not only will being inauthentic eventual hurt your business, if you get any to start with, the costs for having to constantly acquire new customers will bury you. Best to do it right (Social and SEO) from the get go, or not do it at all.

    • Thanks Gordon! As always I appreciate your comments and support 🙂

      What a great story about a group of ‘competitors’ learning together that they each have a unique story to tell and a unique audience to serve.

      Love it!