The Digital Marketing Mafia: A Breakdown

Modern Marketing


If you’ve ever received emails selling Viagra, one hundred Facebook likes, or the classic Nigerian businessman wanting your bank details, you’ve glimpsed the underbelly of digital marketing.

Digital marketing can be a powerful tool in any industry (including the financial industry and the healthcare industry) but today I’d like to discuss one of the dangers — what I call the “Digital Marketing Mafia.” These organized syndicates are far more insidious than the low-level criminals — and you may be using their services without even knowing it.

Here’s a complete breakdown of the Digital Marketing Mafia:

mafia family tree

Bots (aka The Associates)

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A bot is much like an associate of the Mafia: it is the tool that lets the system operate. Bots are automated applications that set up hundreds of fake profiles on a variety of websites. After they are done, they bring those profiles to “life” so that they carry out illegal activity.

It is possible to build a bot to replicate any repetitive task, like commenting on blogs, creating email accounts and profiles, bookmarking on social media and even submitting articles.

Many websites set up bot detectors, such as CAPTCHAs (“Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”). You’ve probably encountered these — they ask users to input a series of letters, numbers, or words to prove that they aren’t bots. However, bot profiles are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Some of them are impossible to distinguish from actual people. They even make friends on Facebook, and post updates!

Bot Makers (aka The Soldiers)


These are the programmers who set bots loose in the digital marketing world. Bots are fast and cheap to make, because bot makers collaborate on underground bulletin boards and forums to pick up the skills.

If you are talented at making bots, you can bring in a fairly decent income. Bot makers earn money by creating bots for clients, as well as by selling the services of their own bots.

Bots as a Service (aka The Capos)

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Many bot makers have a difficult time finding a steady revenue stream, because what they do is illicit in nature. However, just as in the Mafia, leaders emerge and assemble a group of bot makers to create a service. They provide a front, such as an online tool, to appear legitimate and offer the services of their bot makers.

The focus of capos is on increasing business value, such as boosting social media rankings, attacking the rankings of competitor websites, and increasing SEO performance.

“Legitimate” Business (aka The Boss)

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Some “legitimate” businesses use these services/tools as a part of their digital marketing campaigns. These businesses then contract their services out to other companies, who often have no idea how their marketing results are generated. This is a very common model in digital marketing, particularly in offshore SEO.

The takeaway? The next time you engage a digital marketing agency, explore their methods for generating results before signing any contracts. The actual tactics that your potential vendor uses may surprise you. There are legitimate, ethical ways to increase your digital marketing profile. Choose a provider that you can trust.

Ever had a run-in with the “Digital Marketing Mafia”? What steps have you taken to keep your business legitimate, especially if you rely on outside contractors? Let us know in the comments below.