Social networking sites, such as Digg, del.icio.us and Stumbleupon offer great opportunities for people with similar interests to come together in order to make friendships, network and share and discover websites across the internet.
Or at least that is the theory behind their conception.
However, webmasters, in their constant search for incoming links and visitors have become better and better at scamming these sites into ranking their sites well in order to provide these benefits to them.
Most social networking sites, at least the ones I am aware of, have added the rel=no follow tag to all outbound links on their sites.
Not only does this protect them from linking to bad neighbourhoods but it also negates the link popularity benefits for webmasters too.
However, the issue with visitors is not so easy to control – if a site is popular then the social networking users are going to visit.
How do social sites get scammed?
So how does a social network get scammed into making a website or web page more popular and visit-worthy than it should naturally be?
Taking Digg for the first example, they work on the principle that internet surfers find a newsworthy piece of information, “digg it” and then the rest of the community can digg it some more or bury it.
This can be manipulated (and has been) by, firstly, webmasters “digging” their own sites to get the ball rolling and then, secondly, by said webmasters encouraging friends to further digg it, offering fellow webmasters reciprocal diggs to do the same or simply by offering others cash to add their diggs to the equation.
Another social networking site, Stumbleupon.com, works in a slightly different manner – surfers install their toolbar which then gives them a thumbs up and a thumbs down icon with which to rate sites that they visit at random (though certain categories of sites can be selected) from those that stumbleupon has in it’s index.
The surfer clicks on a “stumble” icon on their toolbar and this takes them through the selected genre of sites they have chosen.
The popularity of the sites in each category affects how soon and how often they “randomly” appear.
This popularity is determined by both the number of “thumbs up” the site has received and also by the number of friends the discover of the site has within the stumbleupon community.
The scam here is for webmasters to join groups on webmaster forums, or specific websites that have cropped up recently, to exchange stumbles.
By rating each others’ sites and by building huge internal groups of friends these webmasters can almost guarantee attracting several thousand visitors per day to the pages of their sites that they choose to have stumbled.
These visitors can be attracted within an hour of starting the process!
For webmasters who have quality and unique content these visitors can be invaluable.
They may not be targeted enough to convert or to be interested in on-site advertising, whether contextual or not, but they will often bookmark sites for later viewing or link to them from sites that will provide link popularity.
Therefore it would be hard to condemn webmasters for manipulating the social networking sites as it is, in their minds at least, a valid marketing method.
However, by gaming the social networking sites in this manner they are very much detracting them from their intended purpose of allowing users to discover the content they are interested in for themselves.
Time will tell if this will ultimately backfire and cause the number of surfers using such sites to decline.
What are your views on webmasters using social media in this way?
Is it a good means of promotion or does it go totally against what these sites stand for?