I was emailed today by a reader, who pointed me to a blog post she’d just seen. She noticed something VERY suspicious… an exploit was being used to trick the blog’s readers.

As a lot of people get taken in by this exploit, I thought I would answer her question here.

How a poorly written post got over 3000 shares on social networks

I am not going to call out the blogger my reader noticed, who was using this trick. It’s not my style. Also, it’s a common trick and I don’t want to single out one person for using it.

So, what did my reader see?

  • The post in question was published just 4 days ago.
  • It has over 3000 shares across the various social networks.
  • However, only 4 people commented on it.
  • It’s just a generic post, poorly written and littered with errors. Other posts on that blog are of the same quality and they also get thousands of re-shares.
  • The blog carries ads for get rich products and was not professionally designed. It’s extremely hard to read.
  • Yet… it got over 3000 shares.

To put that 3000 number into context, it was more shares than Copyblogger and Seth Godin’s blog managed, combined, with their posts on the same day! They are 2 of the most read marketing blogs in the world, with massive audiences.

Here’s how the trick works

The blogger in question is one of many, who has found a way to game the system by joining automated, social re-share networks. These are groups of Internet marketers, who use software / apps to automatically re-share everything that everyone in their network publishes. By joining a handful of such networks, with a few hundred in each, you get hundreds or thousands of reshares for anything you publish.

Why do they do this? Because it fools most people into thinking the blogger and their work are popular and valued. It’s all about the power of Social Proof.

Re-share networks and fake social proof

The number of shares a blog post gets on social networks is used by readers, as a way to assess the value of the content and the ability of the writer. They look at those huge numbers and assume the information in the blog post must be great (otherwise why would so many people share it?). The answer, of course, is that it wasn’t people who re-shared it… it was software!

Other’s then legitimately re-share the post, even if they think it’s crap, simply because they see it’s (apparently) so popular and assume they must be wrong.

As you probably know, you can buy Twitter followers and Facebook fans. Well, you can also pay for a series of automated Twitter and Facebook accounts to retweet and ‘like’ your posts. These are slightly different from re-share networks and even harder to spot. A simple search on Google shows just how common these services are.

With re-share numbers so valuable, it was only a matter of time before internet marketers figured out a way to game the system. Anyone can do it now. Some, like the blogger in question, have taken this to ridiculous lengths. Most join only a few, small re-share networks, to make it less obvious.

Trust your instincts or pay the price

The reader who contacted me, trusted her instincts. She knew that a dull blog post, on a cheap looking blog, with just 4 people commenting, does not get 3000 legitimate social network shares.

You too must use your instinct. Don’t automatically assume that you can trust information you read online, because it has a massive number of retweets, likes, pluses and pins etc. If something seems like bullshit, go with your gut.

In short: Before you trust a blogger or what they write, look beyond their social network numbers. Anyone can get hundreds of re-shares and the practice is spreading. Trust your instincts.

PS: Here are some tips on how to spot the fakes.

Marketing