The Ugly Side of Social Media Part 2: Crap

by Shannon Paul on January 12, 2010

While many social media consultants like to sing Kum Bay Ya over the ways the web Democratizes everything from content to business processes, there’s a side effect that’s difficult to ignore when everyone shows up: crap content and crap sites. Some might even argue that so much crowdsourcing paves a straight path to mediocrity, but that’s another post altogether.

There are a few different types of crap every social media professional will encounter in the day-to-day activities of his or her job (and I’m not talking about the stuff accumulating in your inbox).

Last week I wrote about how social media engagement can lead to a false sense of entitlement. That post was part one of a new series I’ve decided to write on the ugly side of social media.

Why is crap important?

Well, even if it’s a little unpleasant, it’s important to sift through this stuff in order to quantify why it’s crap to the higher-ups and to get your analytics insights in good shape. Taking credit for a massive amount of “mentions” that aren’t the result of real outreach might get you in trouble later since this sort of thing is way outside of your control.

Long story short: A mention isn’t always an actual mention even when your social media monitoring software or Google alert picks it up.

MFA aka Made for AdSense

Stoney deGeyter provides a lot of insight into the impact of MFAs on search over on the Search Engine Guide, but for my purpose here, I will tell you that the more valuable your paid keywords are for your industry, the more you will run into these sites. They often look like blogs or news-related sites from 100 yards away, but the content is either extremely bland OR it’s great and there are absolutely no subscribers, no About page, no comments, etc. If it’s more on the generic side, posts will typically be short (sometimes just a headline) and do little to inform or explain anything.  Please note: a lot of these sites also scrape content (see below).

Ugly Side Effect: Looks like a mention, but really isn’t. Sites like this will often tag your company name along with several of your competitors in attempt to generate ads. Really scary to consider: your company might actually be paying to advertise through AdSense on sites like this without even realizing.

Blatant Scrapers

Sites like this will often intentionally post (read: plagiarize) duplicate content from your blog or website. Deep linking to other content on your site can sometimes make this work to your advantage, but often sites like this will strip out any links you’ve already embedded in your content.

Ugly Side Effect: Offers an exact duplicate of your stuff! Plus, when sites strip out links you’ve embedded in your content, not only does this show up as a sort of fake online mention, it makes useless any attempts to increase your own search engine optimization and encourage engagement with other content on your own site. To make matters worse, some will even embed their own (often spammy) links into your precious content whenever generic, non-branded keywords are used. Plus, to the unsavvy web-searcher, sites like this might actually look like they’re somehow affiliated with your brand.

However, a lot of scrapers rely on bots that pull in content via your RSS feed and actually leave your embedded links intact. This RSS footer WordPress plugin will at least let readers of the content know where it originated – it will let you insert custom link/anchor text into the bottom of each post on your RSS feed.

Unwitting Scrapers

A lot of scraping is done rather unwittingly. Newbies to the social space will think they’re reblogging a piece of content in a respectful manner, but they don’t provide quality anchor text. I search for a lot of information on social media information and encounter a lot of reblogged posts on sites like Posterous that rank in Google’s search index when the original post is nowhere in sight.

Users of Posterous, Tumblr, etc. I respect the type of content curation you’re providing to your friends, but please go through the trouble of NOT posting the entire article — instead offer some encouragement to read more on the originating site. Another alternative can be to embed the link to the individual post into the headline text. This will at least tell Google and other search engines that the original piece of content is the original. Please note I don’t really use sites like this to curate online content so I’m not sure what the actual steps are to avoid scraping content to your profile.

Ugly Side Effect:Domains on sites like Posterous or reblogged blogs can sometimes rank higher in search indexes than the originating post. I think this may be a flaw in how sites like this are indexed, but still… if you’re going to curate information and collect content, please at least provide good link attribution.

Understanding the Difference

Others in your organization may or may not understand the difference between scraped content (bad) and shared content (good). The nuances between REAL social mentions and FAKE social mentions are up to you to decipher based on your goals and strategy. There are a lot of benefits to be derived from real word of mouth, linking and content sharing, but those benefits can’t really be counted, or weighted in the same way, when the content has been scraped and repurposed — especially if it strips out valuable links.

The Internet never ceases to surprise me; if it qualifies as weird, chances are someone’s trying it out online.

Since 2010 is the year social media gets operational, let’s commiserate. Let me know what kind of crap you encounter in your day to day. How can we do our best to get to the actual value of social media engagement and get real about the ugly side effects? Are we ready to admit that some types of mentions shouldn’t count at all?

If you think I’ve got this all wrong, let me know. Should all mentions count in measurements of social media success? Is spam and junk content just a natural side effect of successful online buzz?
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Photo Credit: jaxxon

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{ 2 comments }

January 13, 2010 Elmer

You bring up some excellent points here and I think you hit the nail on the head.

You accurately describe some sites I’ve encountered lately which scrape some of our content all the while linking to what appear to be affiliate sites selling totally unrelated products.

While at first glance these posts look like nice mentions of our products, a deeper look shows them to be completely meaningless and (I believe) possibly harmful to our legitimate online efforts.

January 13, 2010 Mona Nomura

I love this…and I think a lot of people who clip stuff via aggregators don’t know they are messing with indexing behaviors. And there are people like me, who forget I aggregate into a service (i.e. social median) and scrape my own stuff hahahaha #loser

And please don’t get me started on linkfarms. Ugh.

My thing is, though, I need to understand Google’s new algo that implements real time. I really don’t know how they are differentiating spam from real content.

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