Let’s start with a warning: Reading this may cause your hat to roll off. Your black hat, gray hat or white hat, I mean.
Somehow, there is still a lot of talk about social media marketing that is done the proper way, and social media marketing that is done the wrong way. And terms like “black hat” or “white hat” social media marketing are often used to describe these proper and improper strategies.
The problem here is: What is seen by many as the proper, white hat way of doing social media marketing is simply not enough most of the time. And as a marketer, the appropriate way of doing your job is the way that leads to the best results. Often, just doing what others say is morally right just won’t cut it.
Here is one example:
Many social media marketing consultants still believe that the Follow-Unfollow strategy to grow an audience on a social media account, is somehow morally wrong. The truth is: On some social networks, it is almost impossible to succeed without it these days.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should just open your new Twitter account and start randomly following people. You still have to make sure that your Twitter account provides value to your target audience, you have to make sure that you target the right audience with your follow activity and you need to stay within Twitter’s limits doing so. If you do that, no one will ever have a problem with your activity. And before the flame war in the comments starts again: It’s not against Twitter’s terms either – as long as you don’t overdo it.
There are a lot of tools that can help with growing your social media accounts in various ways. From full automation of Pinterest accounts to automatic Follow-Unfollow activity on Instagram, everything seems to be possible.
And many of these tools can easily be labeled black hat because they either allow you to very easily break some social networks terms – or even provide non-compliance as a feature.
And there are situations where I believe it to be entirely legitimate to use these tools!
Sure, I wouldn’t knowingly use them to break Twitter’s rules with my main Twitter account – having a Twitter account with over 140,000 followers and being ranked on influencer lists makes this too much of a risk.
But, when I’m starting a new account for instance – what’s the harm in getting a bit of a kick start to the point when it becomes valuable?
So, let’s start, here are some gray to black hat social media tools that you should know about even if you decide not to use them!
Instagram may just be the hottest thing for social media marketers at the moment. Why? Because it is still cool enough for everybody to use, yet large enough to provide you with a big audience. Also, the Instagram crowd is a very active group.
Oh, and let’s be honest here: An Instagram account with a certain number of followers provides a fun experience to the owner: Running around with your Smartphone taking pictures while marketing your business is a lot more entertaining than sitting in an office and thinking about the best headline for a Tweet…
The key quote in the lengthy paragraph above was “… with a certain number of followers…”
Getting this certain number of followers is not as easy as some social media experts make it sound: Sure, you can grow your Instagram account manually by using a lot of Hashtags on your photos, and maybe even some manual follow and unfollow activity, but there is a limit to what you can achieve by that. Especially since there is no way of seeing quickly which accounts were the last you followed and whether these followed back or not.
Follow.Social is an Instagram tool that automatically follows and unfollows other Instagram accounts in order to generate followers for your account. It is also capable of automatically liking certain photos. It also allows you to set up advanced targeting by focusing on users that post regarding specific hashtags, are located in certain areas around the world, have a maximum or minimum amount of followers, and so on.
The tool works differently from how similar tools work on Twitter for instance (like our recommended tool ManageFlitter): There is no manual action required whatsoever. Instead, you set an amount of Follows to do (for example 700) and a speed of operation and the tool will then start following. Once it has completed the 700, it will start unfollowing. And then start from the beginning again.
Another great feature of the tool is that it allows you to send automatic messages to your new followers.
Does Instagram Care? As of now, it seems that Instagram doesn’t care about you automating your account – as long as you stay within certain limits. So don’t go in and follow 5000 people on the highest speed settings – this will lead to bans or reduced functionality of your Instagram account.
What does it cost? For a single Instagram account, you get the complete Follow.Social experience for $7.50 per month – or you can use it for 3 accounts for $15. It’s a steal for what you get.
Do I recommend it? I’ve used this tool for a new Instagram account in the past, and it worked like a charm. I’ve not had any actions against my account from Instagram whatsoever. So, yes, I would recommend it. Just use common sense when using it.
Alternatives: There are various other tools specialized on these techniques on Instagram. All of them are more expensive and I have never used any of them. Follow.Social works well for me, so I’m not going to recommend alternatives.
One technique for gathering followers on Instagram that is commonly mentioned is using the #Follow4Follow hashtag. This is essentially a hashtag under which people unite that promise to follow back everyone who follows them. I’m not a big fan of using this technique on any network as it only leads to very untargeted communities. Even this might not be as “immoral” as using tools like Follow.Social – I prefer using a tool that helps me build a targeted audience I can provide value to.
Another alternative might be Mass Planner which you can read about below.
Pinterest can be a huge traffic source for your business – and for some affiliate marketers, it is also a huge income source. However, Pinterest can also be a huge time eater – and many (if not most) people do not have massive success even if they seem to be doing all the same things as everybody else.
One key element about Pinterest is that it is not just a social network, but also a search engine – a search engine that will return an endless magazine about your search term.
Pinterest is very visual – so without visuals, you won’t get the return you need from Pinterest, and no black hat tool can exclusively help with that. At least not if you still want to have a little bit of “social” in your social activity. If you use PinBot, it is actually possible to run a Pinterest account (or even many) without doing anything manually, including the graphics.
I’m not a fan of tools like PinBot, but if all you want is traffic to run an affiliate marketing site in niches like fashion, fitness, or similar, PinBot can be a tremendous help!
PinBot is an application that you buy, download and install on your home computer. It needs to be running to run your automation tasks – it’s not a web service like Follow.Social.
But, just like Follow.Social, PinBot will handle your follow unfollow activity according to your rules and searches. It can also handle 99% of your activity by scraping and pinning images from sites like Flickr, and repinning what other people posted to your boards. PinBot will also send automated direct messages on Pinterest. All of this works by adding keywords to a list that PinBot will use for its research.
Now comes the important part – PinBot will add URLs to your pins. You can specify a percentage of URLs that will include one of your URLs, and the rest will be done automagically.
If you’ve paid close attention to what I described above, you will find that PinBot may be a fire-and-forget marketing solution for some people. It just includes everything that can be automated on this social network.
Does Pinterest Care? I don’t know – maybe not at the moment. But I do admit that I believe that Pinterest may care in the future. However, since PinBot is a local tool that doesn’t use any API for many of its features, it is a bit harder to track its activity for the technicians at Pinterest. When Twitter decided to come down hard on some black hat Twitter tools, they could simply remove API access and everything was handled. PinBot seems to be slightly safer.
What does it cost? $98 for a permanent license. No recurring fees. Not bad.
Do I recommend it? This is the million dollar question, right? Well, it depends. If you are willing to set up an affiliate business, have found a profitable niche and are able to set up various websites and all you need is constant traffic to these sites, then PinBot may be worth a try. However, there is no guarantee that it will work wonders for you! Some people have massive success with it, for others it doesn’t work at all.
I used an older version of PinBot a while back – it worked reliably. However, PinBot is not a simple solution for the average blogger or to build traffic to any website. And even if you run a great niche, Pinterest has an algorithm that seems to be pretty unpredictable. So don’t expect that all you need to throw at it is PinBot.
Alternatives: There are other Pinterest Bots out there – but PinBot seems to be by far the most advanced. However, if you are active on more than one social network, have a look at MassPlanner – see below.
This tool is simply crazy. I will never say that I recommend this tool for one simple reason: Mass Planner is dangerous to use.
However, the sheer amount of features and the sheer amount of networks supported makes this a tool of interest to any social media marketer.
Mass Planner is similar to PinBot in that it comes as a Desktop tool that you have to download and install. It is not similar in that it does not just support one network but many:
Mass Planner supports almost every possible little bit of automation you can squeeze out of these networks. And that includes a lot of things that are illegal on these networks according to their terms.
One example: Twitter prohibits automatic Follow and Unfollow activity. Tools like ManageFlitter (which we recommend!), solve this by allowing you to rapidly click the Follow button to actually do the activity manually.
Mass Planner allows you to completely automate the process – something Twitter explicitly forbids. There are many of these features hidden in Mass Planners feature set.
If you’ve got a lot of Twitter accounts in Mass Planner, Twitter may detect your activity and ban your accounts, as may any other network.
On the positive side, Mass Planner does provide you with the options you would need to avoid detection, such as using proxy servers for different accounts. But these can also cost money, and they can be a pain to set up.
For instance, it’s Instagram features beat Follow.Social, it is on par with PinBot on Pinterest. It has every little automation feature that I’ve ever used or seen for Twitter automation. For Facebook automation, it is the only full-scale automation solution I know of (only missing the viral content identification options of PostPlanner). It’s the only LinkedIn automation tool that I would ever use.
In short, Mass Planner is a social media growth hacking tool that is the wet dream of many social media marketer.
However, careless use will lead to your accounts getting damaged or banned.
Do the networks care? Hell YES. Twitter already removed various similar tools from the earth by removing API access. Many people got their social media accounts banned through careless use of similar tools. You’ve been warned.
What’s the cost? 9.95 per month for 2 accounts per network, 19.95 per month for unlimited accounts. For the number of features, it’s a steal.
Do I recommend it? No… I will never say I recommend Mass Planner publicly. It’s too dangerous for beginners. It’s too dangerous for people not knowing what they are doing. However, if you know what you are doing, are careful and don’t put your personal and highly influential Twitter account on autopilot, … it’s worth a thought. Just be very… very… careful!
In other words: If you need success without work and only have 20 bucks a month – it’s worth a look. Repeat: Be careful.
Alternatives: I’m currently not a client of Mass Planner – that means I’m using various alternatives for some features it provides. However – if you are serious about getting complete social media automation, there is no way around Mass Planner.
Yes, the use of these tools can get you in trouble… No, it’s not a good idea relying completely on automation. Yes, you still need to make sure your accounts provide value.
This article is not there to say you should use these tools. It’s there to show you what is possible and to allow you to make an informed decision about using – or not using – so-called black hat tools.
So, don’t go running around saying: Jonathan said I should do this… Ok?
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