I had a conversation with a CEO the other day that asked me about a particular event marketing strategy that he saw an organization using on LinkedIn. My response was simple. That marketer is a cheater, and cheaters don't win in the end.
So what exactly was this person doing on Linkedin that warranted such a strong statement? The truth is, they didn't break any rules and they weren't doing anything that anyone has said they shouldn't. They were using LinkedIn's publishing feature — which allows users to self-publish content and directly distribute it to their entire network — to simply provide a link that led back to their event listing and website (i.e. the publishing was simply click-bait to get a link back to their event website). For those that may not be overly familiar with LinkedIn or the feature I'm discussing, the publishing feature is designed to let users publish content and then provide a notification to every single person in their network; which provides great reach for active LinkedIn users. So by publishing a post with a flashy title simply to bring people to a link — rather than actual content — this marketer has pulled a bait-and-switch.
This all sounds pretty clever on the part of the event marketer, right? Sure, there's a little bit of gaming the system involved, but LinkedIn doesn't prevent it from happening (yet), and I'm sure a lot of people clicked that link; thus the effort was successful.
The problem is that when it comes to all forms of digital marketing, marketers who have gamed the system usually pay a price at some point. It's kind of like a comedian that steals jokes. They will likely get a few laughs in the beginning, but once the audience and various promoters find out that they're a joke thief they won't find any more opportunities with that material; or worse, they could be blackballed from doing any material at all in the future.
What does event marketing cheating look like?
Cheating in digital and event marketing goes far beyond social platforms, but I should probably take this opportunity to tell you a little about what cheating looks like and how some marketers have paid for it in the past. The most blatant cheating with the most far-reaching effects goes on in search engine optimization (SEO). For almost a decade, marketers have sought to improve how their website, event or product displays and is discovered in organic search engine results. In the beginning, there were very few rules, but that has since changed dramatically.
Fast forward to 2015, and we see Google largely dominating the rules, algorithms and methods by which organic search takes place. One of the greatest shifts in organic search rankings that occurred over the past 3 years has been Google's discipline of black hat SEO techniques. What is a black hat technique you may ask? A black hat technique is any form of SEO practice that is specifically designed to cheat, game or improperly represent what is actually displayed or represented by any given web page or domain. The most common offenses have included keyword stuffing, duplicate content production (to index more pages than a site really has), robot backlinks, dishonest URL redirects and other strategies that are designed to mislead humans and machines alike into thinking that a web destination is something that it's not. However, as we all know, Google is pretty smart.
Since 2012, Google has aggressively rolled out algorithm updates and functionality changes that have largely stifled all the black hat techniques listed above. Furthermore, Google just unrolled a brand new artificial intelligence designed to improve search for users and further prevent black hat techniques from influencing organic results. In fact, in most cases these black hat techniques will cause the respective web destinations using them to be heavily penalized.
These changes have had wide-reaching effects in the search-marketing industry. Marketers who had once relied on black hat techniques for a lot of their results were suddenly crippled in two different ways. First, they were now being penalized for the things that had once made them successful. Second, they had invested years in a digital strategy that was now working against them, and had invested almost no time in the things that could positively affect them today. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, this isn't the only time this has happened.
No more funny business on Facebook
Facebook used to be a hidden secret of many event marketers. Rather than simply creating an event listing inside of a page or account, super-clever marketers would create a whole new account specifically for each event. This allowed them the ability to sponsor posts more effectively, create a greater reach and utilize the functionality that users have, but that event listings on Facebook often lacked.
Unfortunately for those benefiting from this strategy, Facebook has really put their foot down on any and all businesses/organizations that were misusing their application. Facebook has recently rounded up all business profiles that were using personal (human) accounts and forced them into business or organization accounts (where reach is severely capped unless sponsorship is paid). For those that continued to try to find ways around this, Facebook ultimately suspended all of their accounts indefinitely. An example includes a business that was simply using their event planners name as the first name on Facebook and the businesses name as the last name. The result: suspension; along with all 4,300 of that accounts followers (which included customers and prospects that used it for information).
Once again, marketers that tried to game the system and misuse a platform were severely punished. Many event marketers became reliant on this strategy and used this a primary system to communicate with groups, customers and prospects. When the platform adjusted to prevent misuse, these markets were left out in the cold, and in many cases the businesses suffered for a very long time until proper marketing processes could be installed.
"I don't want to cheat. I want to play by the rules. Tell me how."
The good news is that common sense often prevails in these instances. Event marketing professionals should think more about how they want to PARTICIPATE in social media, event communities and organic search; rather than how they can utilize it. Historically, when marketers have tried to game the system it usually comes back to haunt them. Whether or not this happens with our friends that were using the LinkedIn publishing feature off-spec in our opening example remains to be seen. But, if history has taught us anything it's that all web platforms dislike their system being used improperly. Eventually, they tend to find ways to prevent misuse.
The pro's at Ungerboeck Digital understand how this all works. We get it, it can seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. The secret is implementing the right strategies on the right platforms. These are different for every event business and your past experiences can often determine where you should invest time and where you should avoid wasting resources. Contact our team today to learn more about strategies that play by the rules.