Picture me sitting at my desk, listening to my client explain the spikes in their Facebook trend data as I silently scream thinking about the mess that we’ll have to clean up.
“Skot! Our page has THOUSANDS of new likes on it. SOOO many more people are going to see our posts now! They’ll refer their friends! And share our content! And ultimately buy our stuff! Plus, when we talk to investors, we’ll look like we have a HUGE fan base!”
Maybe you didn’t know that buying likes (or followers) is possible, but sadly, it is. There are intermediary companies that recruit and pay people (about 10 cents per like) to like pages. And there are software programs that generate fake accounts used to puff up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. So is Facebook, for example, doing anything about this? Well, kind of. They claim to be cracking down on the practice but there have been some cases where Facebook eliminated likes from a company’s page, only to eliminate some real fans as well. Once likes have been purchased, it’s difficult to tell which ones are real and which ones aren’t.
The chart below shows my client’s like growth from September 2012 to September 2013. There was a huge jump at the beginning of 2013—in just two weeks they acquired (bought) 12,000 new fans. Over the course of the next eight months they lost 1,000, suddenly acquired 15,000, lost 3,000, and (wait, we’re not done yet!) acquired 30,000 more fans. Uh huh.
OK, so they claim to have over 58,000 ‘people’ reading their posts. Take a closer look at the stats and the problems begin to emerge. My client’s demographic is mostly female, ages 25-35. The next chart clearly shows that males, aged 18-24 increased from 15% of their fan base to 58% after the first buy. Females, ages 25-35 dropped from 12% of their fan base to just 3%. If you’re going to buy fake people at least buy the right fake people.
It gets worse. My client is based in the United States. They’re a retail business with several brick and mortar stores that rely heavily on local foot traffic. You might guess from the chart below that fans (or robots) in Istanbul and Jakarta are not likely to do much for their bottom line or brand (unless they’re thinking of expanding overseas, of course). The line they should really care about shows a 23% increase in fans in their actual geographic location, which is a good thing. And it’s the only honest thing about this chart.
As long as it looks like there are a ton of fans when that big investor comes along, who cares where they came from. Right? Wrong. Looking at a simple data chart reveals spikes, but a quick click on the ‘likes’ icon on a Facebook page reveals the truth. Right now, for my client, only 144 of their 58,000 ‘fans’ are actually engaged. That’s .002%. And that’s not good.
All of this creates other problems. As their digital agency, it’s impossible for us to form a legitimate baseline in order to measure future success. They could lose another 3,000 fans over the course of the next few weeks, but we’d have no idea whether those are legitimate people who are tired of their posts or if they’re robots that ran out of power. Sure, they may experience an increase in the number of legitimate fans (as shown in the last chart), but overall fan growth will be tainted by list buys.
This is why buying Facebook Likes is a bad idea for your brand.
For brands, authenticity is huge. Trust is huge. Violating trust not only makes you look shady, but it can get you and your business in a lot of trouble, if not with the Facebook / Twitter police, then for sure with potential investors and/or actual customers or fans. Best bet? Grow your fan base the good old fashioned way. Engage with people via your social media platforms, market your social presence, and for crying out loud, create good content that makes actual HUMAN BEINGS want to ‘like’ you.
Skot Waldron 11.06.13