Numbers. We all love them. Pageviews, ‘uniques’, subscribers and of course Facebook fans and Twitter followers. The higher they are, the more your business can be validated.
However, what once used to be a metric to judge how useful your business is to the audience you cater to, by way of number of people liking or following you, has now come to mean fake it till you make it.
To be fair, getting genuine fans and followers isn’t an easy or a straight-forward task. There’s no magic formula or shortcuts to gaining huge popularity on social media. It takes a strategic approach of constantly meting out good content, promoting it in the right audience, and being consistent with your niche.
This can be daunting for the average marketer who’d rather just fast-track their way to social media superiority by buying their way into it. Just Google “buy Facebook fans” and “Twitter followers”, and you’ll be bombarded with hundreds of such services. Ads like the one below are a common sight on many Facebook groups.
A fan AND two followers at less than a rupee? Who needs to bother with good content when you can just buy 10,000 followers for less than a weekend trip? Admittedly, the temptation is hard to resist.
However, buying your social media audience could do more harm than good and here’s why.
Those fans are
likely most definitely going to be fake accounts or bots. Real people don’t get calls to ‘like a page” for a rupee. When there’s a need, there’s a business. There are real businesses, or “Click Farms” and “Like vendors” that earn a livelihood from creating thousands of fake social media profiles whose only job is to like pages, follow Twitter and Instagram accounts and heck, even liking and commenting on posts!
Is there a “legitimate” way to buy fans?
Yes, surprisingly. Facebook itself encourages you to “promote your page” to get more likes, why even helpfully suggesting the amount to give to Facebook.
While on the face of it, you’d think that Facebook promoting your page within your specified targets would get you fans who genuinely care about what you have to offer, this is always not the case. While promoting your page to get likes is definitely way more legitimate than straight up buying these fans from the Like Vendors, even Facebook cannot guarantee these likes are going to be from a useful audience. Watch this video by Veritasium on how ‘legitimate’ likes work, or rather don’t work.
So how do fake fans hurt you?
If all you want the social media fans for is validation to outsiders of your business, then maybe yes you need those numbers, but even then people can tell when you have fake fans (But more on that later. ) But if the whole purpose of you needing those numbers is to widen your pool of audience that consumes your content and can potentially be business bringers, then no. You might as well have donated that money. Like mentioned, these “fans” are fake profiles created in social media fan mills and once their job of liking your page or following you is done, they might as well be dead. So, even if you roll out a magnum opus on the page, and see no traction, don’t blame the system. Your fans are fake. Phony. Not Real.
Secondly, social media especially Facebook fortunately, is essentially a merit-based system. The more traction and engagement a page or post gets, the more Facebook’s algorithm decides to show to the others. So, if your posts have been constantly getting no engagement, thanks to the inactive fake fans, your future content, however good, is likely to fall on deaf ears. This is so destructive, that to reverse the damage you will need to completely turn around your social media content and invite traction, from real, legit accounts. And this won’t be easy. Ask the brands who when starting up, invested in hundreds of thousands of paid fans, only now to suffer from the side effects. The worst part is, there’s no way to get rid of those fake fans and salvage your bad engagement rates, without of coursing deleting your page and starting all over anew.
It’s highly unethical on three accounts.
A. You are likely going to sell your services to potential advertisers or worse, potential investors based on your social media stats. However, not every potential advertiser or investor is savvy enough to call your bluff. Lucky for you, but ethical? Someone’s investing significant amount of ad money in you going by your numbers to see impact, get engagement, and ultimately create a brand recall – a feat a bunch of fake accounts from Bangladesh are hardly going to accomplish.
B. It’s unfair for the other legit guys. While you may have bought your way into a huge social media following, there are others who have garnered their following purely organically, i.e. through constant good and useful content, which involves a lot of hard work. If they lose out on the opportunities to monetise their genuine following, over your fake numbers, it’s not a healthy level playing field anymore.
c. It’s bad for the publishing industry on the whole. If the end of the day, it’s spends vs quality, why would anyone be encouraged to produce good content? You can just buy your fans, and prove your worth. No one needs to spend days into breaking that exposé, conducting those interviews, shooting those documentaries, doing all that research, making those hilarious videos.
How can people tell if you have fake fans and followers?
While most people not familiar with the nuances of social media possibly can’t, it only takes some amount of dedicated observation on your account to identify patterns that point to fake or bought fans.
High numbers, but no engagement: Of course, the first biggest giveaway is when you have a huge number of fans and followers, but no traction or from irrelevant audience. Unless, you choose to “boost” your post, you would see likes, but from accounts of rather questionable relevance to the brand. Over time, when fewer and fewer people genuinely interact with you, Facebook deems you be useless and your organic reach keeps on plummeting.
Industry of the company/brand: There are some industries that beg an audience. People latch on to pages of media websites like the BBC or All India Bhakchod (AIB) and Buzzfeed because of their awesome content that exponentially gets more traction through virality. Why would or should a company page have as many fans. People are on social media to catch up with friends and family and consume content. Not to be informed on the latest product by a brand, much less sold one.
However, it boggles my mind to see when even Business-To-Business (B2b) industries flaunt hundreds of thousands of fans. Since when did the average person become interested in a rice manufacturer?
The names and profiles of the fans and followers: If you suspect foul play in a brand’s social media numbers, just analyse their followers and fans. Do you see a lot of “fake sounding” or foreign names that look out of place given the brand’s niche or geography? Red flag for fake numbers right there.
The timeline of social media numbers gain: A brand had 1000 fans until yesterday and you wake up to see a 100k fans magically sprouted on the page today. Unless a recent post has broken the floodgates of virality and reached 100x people, a sudden and huge spike in the numbers is a clear sign of having acquired them illegitimately. Startups portal Inc42 has done a great job on analysing the sudden fan following on another media website, exposing how the latter’s numbers grew overnight and from accounts of rather questionable authenticity.
So, what does one brand do? Like mentioned, while there’s no short cut to social media popularity, the thing to keep in mind is, do you even need those many fans or followers? Would you rather have 100 genuine fans who want and will pay for your product, or a 10000 fake ones that blindly boost your social media stats while hurting your engagement. Especially when smart people already can tell the fake ones apart.
So, do yourself or your client a favour and avoid buying fans and followers at any rate, however tempting it may seem.