Cape Town - It's happened to all of us. You're minding your own business surfing your favourite social network and there's a provocative video being shared or a compelling link. And you click - and instantly regret it.
Link bait has been around since the early days of the internet and search engines were the primary target in the 90s. But fast forward a couple of decades and social networks have emerged as ideal targets because of the glued eyeballs they generate.
Spammers and unscrupulous marketers have used the medium to generate a number of clicks, but an industry expert warned that the use of bait could seriously damage the brand.
"It will ruin your brand among consumers, although this type of advertising does increase CTR [click through rate] - 'false clicks'," Chanel MacKay, digital media director at Acceleration Media told News24.
Typically, some marketers will post a video link on Facebook with a headline like "See what she does in high school every day" but to view the video one has to first share it on the social network.
Often the video is different to what users expect, but the company has achieved its goal of getting people to click on the link that may or may not also be used to install malware on PCs.
In terms of advertising, links that proclaim "the seven foods that models never eat" could lead one to a fraudulent fitness website where all the links result in a sales pitch for diet pills.
Some marketers are also not averse about using the images of famous personalities like Sir Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in baited advertising to sell what appears to be glorified pyramid scheme programmes.
Ostensibly this practice is to generate CTRs in the online environment where people don't traditionally click on obvious ads - it is especially acute in a country like SA where the online market for firms is small, yet they have to compete for eyeballs with giants like Google and Facebook.
MacKay said that the rate of clicks was not as important as the message and marketers should have a clear idea of the purpose of online messaging.
"The low CTRs are not the problem; it's all about what the advertisers' objectives are and how you measure them. However, if this is a strategy you want to follow, your advertising message has to be clear and not deceptive to entice a user's click."
Social networks represent a natural fit for spam-like marketing, said MacKay, as marketers look to exploit the medium which holds the attention of several million internet users per day.
"Spam-like messaging is derived from contextual marketing - so naturally it appears that social networks are representing a shift in their marketing, when in actual fact, it's the advertisers that are evolving their marketing efforts," she said.
MacKay advised people to be careful about clicking on links and be on the lookout for signs that the content may be legitimate.
"Consumers need to look out for the advertiser logo to ensure that the banner offer is legit. If they are not able to associate with the brand, rather google it as opposed to clicking on it, as there are many companies using banners as a portal for forced app downloads or icon drops (gambling)."
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