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What Is “Black Hat” Influencer Marketing?

Tom Yawney
Written By
Tom Yawney
Published On
Jun 06, 2017

There is an old saying that appropriately describes the evolving landscape of the Influencer Marketing industry

‘Opportunity creates the thief.” Let me explain…

For the first time in history, everyone with access to the Internet has a platform to produce and distribute content at a global scale. That’s right, the gatekeepers of traditional media have lost their leverage, and they no longer hold the keys to “fame.” Nowadays, anyone can become “Internet famous.

But just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it’s easy.

To become a legitimate social media Influencer, you need self awareness, you need to produce world class content, and you need to tap into appropriate online communities. You might need some luck along the way, too.

Simply put, it takes a great deal of hard work, and even more patience – and patience isn’t a strong suit of humanity. We tend to follow the path of least resistance, and we look for instant gratification.

“Black Hat” Influencer marketing refers to underhanded social media tactics that allow users to create the illusion of having a strong engagement and/or social following.

So is it possible to “go viral” without putting in the work, and/or being patient? Sure, it can happen. Just think of “Dart Guy” from the Toronto Maple Leafs 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff run.

Dart Guy

“Dart Guy” didn’t have a content strategy. He just happened to be standing with a painted face, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, when a TV camera panned by his section during the NHL playoffs. The internet immediately took notice, and “Dart Guy” quickly became the next contestant on “going viral.” Interestingly enough, he parlayed that exposure into a anti-smoking marketing campaign with Nicorette. Not bad.

But I digress back to the question at hand…

Is it possible to “go viral” without putting in hard work, and/or being patient? We can definitely see it’s possible, but going viral is very different than becoming a social media Influencer. I would humbly submit that the true essence of being a legitimate social Influencer is sustainability.

The true essence of being a legitimate social Influencer is sustainability.

Anyone can momentarily catch lightning in a bottle and become a viral sensation through luck, timing, and circumstance. But that’s not a long term strategy, and the attention won’t last long in our modern breakneck news cycle.

So how do people become social Influencers when they don’t want to put in the work?

Let’s go back to the quote that opened this blog…

“Opportunity creates the thief.”

In professional sports, people are willing to take performance enhancing drugs because if they avoid getting caught, they can get rich. The same can now be said of Influencer Marketing. Put up big numbers related to engagement and reach, and you can get rich.

That’s right, this new opportunity in Influencer Marketing is creating many thieves. Because similar to professional sports, there are plenty of ways to cheat.

Athletes have steroids, EPO, stem cell therapy and more. Similarly, social Influencers can purchase followers, buy “Likes”, fake engagement rates, and much more.

These underhanded social tactics de-value Influencer Marketing as a service, and threaten to compromise thousands of dollars being put towards campaigns. But the worst part is these tactics often go unnoticed, and perhaps that’s because it has never had a name… so let’s give it one.

Black Hat Influencer Marketing

The digital strategy connoisseurs amongst you will recognize this is a nostalgic tie back to “Black Hat SEO,” which is the process acquiring first page Google search results by stealing content, keyword stuffing, and spamming the Internet to acquire back-links.

For both Influencer Marketing and SEO, the merits of this “Black Hat” approach is short term gain. But in both cases, it leads to major problems down the road.

With all this in mind, let’s review some of the tactics that are considered “Black Hat Influencer Marketing”:

Black Hat Tactic #1 – Buying Followers

The quickest way to build an artificial following, and to be labelled as a social media Influencer, is to purchase followers.

A quick Google search will yield a variety of companies and platforms that will help you “build a following.” In reality, and in most cases, these companies will create thousands of fake user profiles, and they will allow you to buy a following.

It might look good to see a high follower count, but there is no substance since the accounts are fake.


One red flag to look for is the ratio of posts to followers. It’s questionably when someone has less than 100 posts and a massive following. There are also software tools available that evaluate the legitimacy of a users following.

Black Hat Tactic #2 – Buying Engagement

Similar to buying “Followers,” users can also purchase Likes and Comments

This creates the illusion of having a highly engaged social community, when the reality is nothing in truly happening.


It’s easy to uncover fake engagement. All you have to do is look at the accounts of the users that are liking and commenting on each post. If these users are following a ton of people and they don’t produce any content (nor have followers of their own), it’s highly likely that the accounts are fake.

Black Hat Tactic #3 – Creating Fake Communities

Some people can go the extra mile with their “Black Hat Influencer Marketing” efforts by creating hundreds of accounts on their own. Then they use software tools to create a “community hub” where they engage with all their own channels.

Once again, this creates the illusion of influence and engagement.


This one is a little bit more difficult to uncover. It typically requires a deeper dive with software tools to identify on-going trends amongst the same accounts – i.e the same generic comments being used by the same accounts.

Black Hat Tactic #4 – Manufacturing High Engagement Levels

This tactic teeters on the edge of Black Hat Influencer marketing, and simply being prudent in managing the standards of your profile.

Some Influencers will delete posts that lack engagement. The idea is to create the illusion of having a highly engaged community by deleting any posts that fall short of a certain standard – usually 5% or more. Engagement is calculated as likes/shares/comments divided by the amount of followers.

The problem here is the Influencer is creating a mis-leading community marketplace. Brands will expect this Influencer to hit their typical engagement levels, and they could be in for a shock if the content is ignored by the community. After all, in this scenario you can’t simply delete the post to save face.


Once again, this is a trickier tactic to uncover. It requires a critical eye, and sometimes software tools are needed to uncover the history of the account.


So there you go! Black Hat Influencer Marketing is real, and it is not spectacular for those who are burned.

Professional athletes face drug testing to ensure they are playing clean. Similarly, professional Influencer Marketing companies use critical thought and software programs to separate the real from the fake.

Influencer Marketing represents a huge opportunity for Brands and content creators alike, so it’s important to ensure every campaign is founded in research and detailed strategy. That will help you avoid the pitfalls of “Black Hat Influencer Marketing.”



  • Tom Yawney

    Tom Yawney is the Director of Business Development at The Influence Agency, and has a passion for digital marketing trends, technology, and futurism.

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  • Tom Yawney

    Tom Yawney is the Director of Business Development at The Influence Agency, and has a passion for digital marketing trends, technology, and futurism.

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