Desperation is never attractive, even when it comes to brands. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that brands have stooped so low as to actually buy Facebook likes (25,000 guaranteed for the low, low price of $1,757!). Who knew in a marketing medium based on transparency and honesty, brands would zip up their hoodies, dawn a fake beard, put on their sunglasses and travel to the seedy underworld of black hat social media to inflate their social metrics?

Fraud in the world of digital marketing isn’t something new, of course. We’ve written about Amazon rewarding reviewers with freebies calling into question how reliable consumer feedback is. There are also message boards dedicated to the art of black hat SEO where users can chat about buying YouTube views, blog cloning, article spinning, keyword stuffing, Google +1 trading and more techniques that will make your skin crawl (I hope).

The Fate of a Black Hat Social Media Marketer

Any savvy marketer would recognize this practice as, well, just silly. Just because you have fans doesn’t mean they’re actually actively engaged or interested. And it certainly doesn’t guarantee it will drive purchase. Seth Godin has written extensively about the double-edged sword of chasing followers. The value of your audience is entirely reliant on their level of engagement, so passive Facebook fans just boost your ego, not your brand’s worth.

But more importantly, those engaging in black-hat social media are committing downright fraud. They are lying if they tell the world that they have a certain number of fans, when those fans aren’t mildly engaged and many may not even be human. And they will be caught. With the rise of apps like Klout and PeerIndex, the public can measure the effect a brand has on its audience, but even those technologies can be gamed.

Once found out, how do you think the public will view these brands? They’ll certainly lose credibility from the public’s perspective.

Even if they don’t get caught, per say, they’ll quickly find that all fans aren’t created equal and simply clicking “like” doesn’t promise social mentions, purchases, or evangelism, especially if that user doesn’t have a pulse!

The Moral High Ground

Not all brands are involved in this shady underworld of black-hat social media. A few have been extremely transparent throughout the process and personally engaged with consumers, listening and responding accordingly. For example, Burberry launched a Facebook page last year that included Burberry Acoustic, a feature dedicated to entertain users with musical performances from up-and-coming artists. As of November 2010, the brand had more than two million fans. Today, by keeping the content relevant and up to day, these numbers are quickly approaching 100,000,000.

For further reading, check out our free eBook about effective Facebook audience generation techniques.

What do you think of black hat social media techniques? Do you think any major brands are taking part?