It’s practically impossible for anyone who spends a significant amount of time online not to see those ads promising to make you an instant social media star. “Buy thousands of Twitter followers!” “Get 1000 Facebook friends fast!” There are even services that promise to push your content to the top of popular social bookmarking sites. In an attempt to “keep up with the Jones” (Internet-style), many have succumbed to such services, but the payoff may not be what they expected. The Shortcut to Nowhere… For companies with limited resources to invest in their social media marketing, especially small and home-based businesses, the option to quickly and effortlessly build an online following may be very enticing. After all, if you follow the major marketing trends and are listening to the thought leaders in your industry, there is just more and more that you must do these days in order to make a decent living from your business, let alone be successful at it. Moreover, if you are operating under difficult economic conditions (and many major economies are struggling these days), then you may be tempted to cut corners, not just in social media, but in other areas of your business. While seeking to lower expenses and gain legitimate assistance with your social media strategies are valid efforts to stay competitive and profitable, trying to “game the system” or take advantage of your customers’ ignorance is likely to backfire- especially these days. Though there may be a select few who successfully manage to make a profit off shady and unethical business practices, the majority don’t. Here are three reasons why: 1. Once you’re stuck with a bad name it may be hard to shake it. Unless you can afford to spend a significant amount of time and money on damage control, cheating and dishonesty exposes you and your business to a great deal of risk. One major slip up can lead to a deluge of negative publicity which can spread through a host of social networks like wildfire. Don’t underestimate the power of social media! Remember the prank video made by two Domino’s Pizza workers a couple of years ago? The pizza company’s slow response caused a significant amount of damage to its brand- even though the video was quickly exposed as a fake. A good reputation, both online and off, have become very valuable assets- especially now when many consumers and business buyers are making more of an effort to get the best deal from reputable, reliable companies. 2. Sincerity and building customer relationships are profitable strategies. The effect of trust on consumer purchasing has been well-documented by various studies, such as this one conducted at the University of Buffalo, New York. Most small business owners cannot afford to produce a glitzy ad campaign, and even the low-budget, guerrilla-type marketing techniques have their limits. The often quoted advantage of being a small business is its enhanced ability to cultivate and maintain customer relationships (something that can be challenging for bigger companies where personnel and operations tend to be more spread out.) So, don’t risk ruining these valuable assets with questionable business practices. 3. Cheating often covers up other problems that may be hurting your business. The fact is that those who feel the need to cheat are typically the ones that are running companies riddled with low quality products or services, poor management, and inadequate planning and research. I am a big fan to telling people that not everyone is cut out to be a small business owner. If your business is struggling and you are at a loss for legitimate ways to improve operations or performance, then it’s better to move on to something else rather than trying to cheat your way to perceived profitability. Bottom line: when it comes to running a business, you must be willing to invest adequate time, money, and effort to make it successful; in business, as in most things in life, there are no shortcuts. Thoughts?