Social media has become an integral part of search engine optimization. Though it’s hard to hear it straight from Google, it’s quite apparent that social signals have become a major factor in ranking ever since they’ve rolled out algorithm updates like Penguin and Panda.
Due to the big hits caused from these updates, it’s common to find advice pointing individuals toward the use of social media to improve brand awareness, community interaction, and (in theory) the chance to increase search rankings through these social signals and mentions.
But lurking in the underbelly of the social media landscape are threats that present a far greater danger than we could have ever imagined.
Social, Reputation, and the Game Changer
In 2013, the Twitter feed of the Associated Press was hacked. A single tweet went out before the account was suspended. This tweet mentioned that the president had been injured by an explosion at the White House. Though completely false, this caused a massive ripple. The S&P dropped 0.9% which resulted in over $130 billion in stock value to plummet and vanish within seconds.
Consider your role as a search engine optimization professional.
No amount of keyword optimization, content production, and advertising could keep up with the spread of disinformation such as that of the Associated Press event.
What we’re dealing with here is a fundamental shift in how people absorb information. It comes to us so rapidly that users of the platforms react before they understand.
It means that the game has changed.
Placing all effort into optimizing a website isn’t good enough in these social times. One has to wonder what the point of a high ranking website if below it are countless negative reviews, status updates sharing disinformation, and YouTube videos belittling the brand.
Social media, albeit an amazing tool for connecting with others, has also unleashed a beast that can destroy reputations as easily as they are formed.
The Growing Problem within Social Media
The allure of social media is that it’s available on free platforms to anyone willing to give it a try. A good majority of individuals use it sincerely to communicate with friends, family, and connections but there are those that use it maliciously to attack brands, destroy reputations, and exploit individuals.
The following are just a few examples of how social media (and its users) have been conned:
· It’s cheap and easy to buy fake followers. It doesn’t matter that they’re not real because their only purpose is to inflate the follower count. Individuals (and companies) do this to create a false sense of popularity. People, after all, are more likely to follow celebrity-type individuals than those with only a few. By exploiting the numbers a brand/individual may then use their power of influence (granted to them through this false sense of popularity) to push disinformation, mediocre products, or stir trouble with others.
· The proliferation of short URL’s have led to a host of security issues. These links may disguise malicious files, web pages, or scripts which could exploit those clicking through the seemingly safe link.
· Parody accounts, though some funny, can be misinterpreted and thought to be the person or brand they represent. One wrong update and suddenly the individual/brand needs to go into full PR mode explaining it was not from the official channels but by then it’s often too late, it’s spread too quickly, and the damage has been done.
To protect themselves from these problems, it’s now recommended web users invest in tools to prevent and thwart social network security threats through virus detection, guards against identity theft, safe search, and more.
Welcome to the Social (Engineered) Future
The use of social media will continue to grow with each passing year and with it will come those that choose to use the medium as a purpose of malicious intent. It could be an individual vindictive about another which results in slander. It could be disinformation about a brand which sends them into free fall. It could be a full-out attack which causes a total loss of control and downward spiral into chaos.
Social media, ultimately, is good but lurking in the underbelly are some very dangerous threats.
Think twice before you post. Ensure passwords are robust. Create a strategy to handle false reports. Your reputation is on the line. SEO can only do so much in terms of keeping you at the top of the listings but it will soon be social media which determines whether that effort is put to good use … or to waste.