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7 Ways People Are Gaming Social Media

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In the world of online self-promotion, people will do some crazy things to get ahead.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL The world of business is both a fast-paced and a sleazy place, and it always has been. From snake-oil peddlers to used-car dealers to that guy from the beginning of Aladdin, people will do just about anything to get a leg up on the competition-and often pull one over on their customers, too. Nothing's changed, of course, in the brave new world of social media. The gadgets we use might be newer and shinier than they were back when we thought ketchup could cure gout, but that just means there are brilliant (and sometimes devious) new tactics springing up every day to take advantage of new media. Here's a look at seven ways people are gaming social media in order to take advantage of the platforms (among other things).
Professionally-Taken Profile Photos
Vanity, thy name is everybody. We all obsess over the way we present ourselves online (I know I'm not the only person who carefully selects and crops his profile photo), but some people take it to another level, hiring professional photographers and retouchers to take profile pictures for them. Sites like LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) are especially susceptible to this, since appearing professional is paramount on a business site, but I've even seen this tactic used on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and-unconscionably, I think-on dating sites like OkCupid and others. Sure, this approach might look good, but some social media experts warn that too professional a picture can be off-putting; customers and friends alike want to believe they're dealing with a real human being.
Hiring Professional Tweeters
While some of us get stern looks from our editors for being on Twitter all day, others make a living doing the exact same thing. It's not just big businesses who can afford to hire tweeters, either; Chicago-based Garrett Popcorn has employed a Twitter pro for three years now. This is actually a pretty above-board move, and it has several great benefits for companies who take part: constant contact with customers, a unified voice across social media platforms (since the tweeter, often a "social media manager," is usually in charge of the Facebook page as well), and really close and conversational relationships with customers. It's a strange job to see advertised, though: Companies have even started including a minimum number of Twitter followers as prerequisites for such positions.
Using a Professional Resume Writer
Imagine how good their resumes must be. With the proliferation of business-related social media sites like LinkedIn and job-search sites like Monster (NYSE:MWW), having a killer resume online is more important than ever. That's why many people turn to the pros, who offer everything from basic editing services ($100) to a full write-up ($250) and who, for an extra fee, will write not just your LinkedIn page but also your cover letter. The Internet's equivalent of the underachieving stoner who would write your lab reports for twenty bucks in high school, these services range from ethical (resume polishing) to incredibly unethical (cover letter writing), but they're certainly not going away any time soon. This article, which absolutely rocked the academic world two years ago, shows that the business is both profitable and in high demand.
Hiring an SEO Consultant
Professional tweeting is nothing. Try professional Googling (NASDAQ:GOOG). Search engine optimization is a huge priority for companies hoping to drive traffic to their websites and social media pages. For some companies, though, simply relying on terrific content and word of mouth (yes, Homestar Runner, we all miss you) isn't enough, and the SEO tactics can get downright dastardly. SEO consultants can organize meaningless keyword-driven content that links to their companies' websites and even start flame wars with the sole purpose of "link baiting," or creating high-energy conversation around big names and lots of links. It's gaming the system at best and rampant social manipulation at worst. Of course, there are plenty of scrupulous SEO consultants who specialize in nothing more than driving traffic and knowing how to use keywords, but there are also plenty of dirty tricks that are out there for those who know how to use them.
Buying Facebook Friends
Well, they say money can't buy happiness, but it can certainly buy a whole lot of things, including the appearance of popularity. In the real world, you might have to buy a few rounds of drinks for a whole bar to get that sort of respect, but online, all it takes is a few clicks and a credit card. We won't advertise the sites themselves (this being an incredibly sleazy thing to do), but they're out there if you look for them. Facebook, though, ain't no dummy, and its metric for social media clout is sensitive to large numbers of fake fans who don't do things like share links or "like" posts. Fan activity, not just fan presence, is a big part of how pages are measured on Facebook. Which is why you might be better off…
Buying Twitter Followers
Yeah, it sounds really sleazy, but despite Twitter's best efforts, the site actually does a pretty poor job identifying and shutting down bots and followers-for-hire. Various investigations have found absolutely massive amounts of fake Twitter followers on some of the site's most prominent accounts: Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber. Even Twitter itself was found to have plenty of fakes. (Shockingly, it appears the one real thing about Kim Kardashian is her Twitter fan base.) Now, this obviously doesn't mean that the president is logging onto creepy Russian websites and paying the requisite hundred bucks, only that for sites looking to use bots to drive traffic, retweeting an Obama edict or a Bieber shout-out is a good way to get some pageviews. For those who do buy fake followers, there are plenty of features available: Unlike fake Facebook fans, Twitter bots can favorite, retweet, and even reply…for an extra fee.
Buying Twitter Followers and Facebook Friends for Someone Else
Okay, this has got to be the most sinister thing of all. Most of these fake-follower websites don't require a Twitter password to buy followers for an account (and who would give their password to a sketchy website like that anyway?), so you don't need to be the operator of an account to buy fake followers for it. Want to make Mitt Romney look bad? Buy him really obviously fake followers and give them all the same profile picture. Because Twitter is sometimes slow to close down fake accounts and buying followers is incredibly easy, this is a pretty effective strategy for messing with people. Best part? It's nearly untraceable, meaning that a suddenly and horribly popular account holder will be pounding his fists on his MacBook while you gleefully watch his real followers shake their heads at his lack of ethics.

Not that you should do this at all. Just saying it'd be really easy and really fun and you wouldn't get in trouble.
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