As search and social marketing continue to merge, it is tempting to try to sway your reputation and rank by creating false likes, follows, and reviews. Sometimes even the reverse happens and negative reviews are falsified…like in 2007, when the CEO of Whole Foods was outed for using an alias to bash his competitor on Yahoo forums (interesting note: he bought that competitor later).

There is a growing sentiment that, if you don’t do it, you will be drowned out by all those who do. Their argument is strong. Everyone is indeed doing it.

  • In the music business buying fake fans and youtube views is standard practice
  • Kevin Ashton’s recent sockpuppet “Santiago Swallow” garnered 80,000 twitter followers and completely fooled Kred and Klout, two online influence measurement tools
  • Just google the phrase “buy facebook likes”

To head this off, you must frame your initial strategy sessions with three principles: authenticity, production and measurement. Who will do the work? What content will they produce and for what purposes? How will this be measured and reported? By keeping a laser, almost myopic focus on these three questions, you can steer clients away from trying to game the system.

Who will do the work

Starting with who helps establish scale earlier. Typically clients don’t hire new personnel when they come to an agency for help…that’s why they use an agency. In this case, that has to be put aside. Someone from within the company must have ultimate editorial responsibility that includes planning and publishing oversight. If the client can’t perform those tasks, the project is not sustainable or scalable.

What content and for what purpose

Creating content for content sakes is at the heart of the fake view count and sockpuppet problem. It must serve a purpose beyond “attracting search traffic and links.” Ideally, your web content tactics should make workflow better and jobs easier, not the other way around. A few good places to start:

  • Sales and marketing: Any material fit to print can be modified for online.
  • Educational: Video demonstrations, online copies of manuals, and forums for your clients to ask questions all serve a high purpose but widen your web footprint.
  • Trends: Monitor your industry and its players for newsworthy events and comment on them.

What to measure

Before any business owner agrees to fund a marketing campaign, they want to know one, simple thing: What are they getting for the money. If the first two questions have been addressed, measurement metrics should be self-evident. In the above examples, some measurable goals could include:

  • Sales and marketing: More high quality leads already familiar with online sales material as measured by online form completions and call tracking numbers.
  • Educational: Decrease support calls and web inquiries. Improved customer sentiment in social media.
  • Trends: Increased new visits, returning readership, and newsletter subscriptions.

Avoid the Dark Side

Hopefully the above concepts show that proper online campaigns strategy leverages existing efforts and goes beyond “content for content’s sake.” Find existing content and get it online to benefit your clients’ existing customers and better inform those who aren’t.