The Beatles once sang that money can’t buy you love. But what it can buy is likes – social media likes in particular.
Today, if you want to add credibility to your social accounts, you can do so by purchasing likes and followers. The use of bots and click farms is on the rise across all major social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. But while buying engagement can help up your vanity metrics, most would argue it’s not a viable digital marketing strategy for your business.
We explore the case for fakes and why genuine engagement will always be more valuable.
There are a few methods for buying social media followers. Generally a user or business will either:
If you’re thinking, ‘wait a minute, this sounds familiar’, that’s probably because you’ve been followed by fake accounts yourself. Often, if you follow a celebrity or well-known influencer, you’ll instantly receive heaps of follow requests in return, and this is all about building up the massive network of fakes across social media.
Earlier this year, Instagram announced that it had one billion active monthly users. It wasn’t long, however, until critics pointed out how many of those ‘active users’ were really fake accounts. And it’s true – fake engagement has hit Instagram hardest, especially after the network reworked its algorithm, making it more difficult for less popular accounts to get much engagement.
But fake likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter are also common. Both networks came under fire last year when it was revealed that thousands of fake accounts were created to spread false news stories and spread inflammatory messages during the 2016 US elections.
Scott @funder just interviewed @WendySiegelman on the #DworkinReport and she revealed the $93 million dollar question that dominates her concerns about the #TrumpRussia campaign's use of stolen Facebook data and shady data companies.#TheResistancehttps://t.co/ncYerYJcNg— Grant Stern (@grantstern) July 2, 2018
It’s clear: purchased followers don’t exist merely to boost an influencer’s ego, they can play a significant role in business and even global politics. In many ways, bots are reshaping the way people feel about social media altogether. In the past, Facebook has estimated that roughly 11 per cent of their profiles were fake. This is a massive level of inauthenticity and one bound to make many users doubt the validity of anything they see on social media. In the past, a lot of likes were enough to make you feel a certain level of trust about an organisation. Now, however, it’s hard to tell if this number is legitimate.
Many platforms are cracking down, hoping to slow the spread of fake engagement. Twitter has implemented new AI tactics to identify bot-like behaviour and Instagram and Facebook have adopted similar practices. It’s difficult to say, however, if major social networks can truly combat the problem when fakes are so easy and inexpensive to procure.
So does it ever make sense to jump on the bandwagon and purchase a few followers? Some might say yes and here’s why:
No one trusts a business with no likes
You discover a brand on Facebook. Their service looks great, they’ve got good pictures and an optimised profile. But wait a minute – less than 100 likes? In most cases, you assume they’re illegitimate or inexperienced and move on.
That’s why new businesses or those developing their social presence consider buying fakes. While it’s not a long-term strategy, it can help them gain a following when they’re just getting started.
Vanity metrics do matter
There’s been a long debate about the validity of vanity metrics – things like likes and follows that boost your profile, but do little else. Many brands come down on the side of ‘they do matter – at least a little bit.’ While businesses prefer better engagement, like click-throughs, comments and queries, these little wins do help raise brand awareness to some extent – and genuine users can be more likely to like something if they believe lots of other people have done so first.
Bots help influencers
Some influencers see bots as a way to get noticed by brands. Like it or not, social media incentivises having a big following – even if it’s fake. If you want to be found by businesses, you have to have some ‘people’ behind you.
Now that we’ve explored the other side, we’ll tell you the facts. It isn’t worth it to buy fake Facebook likes, Twitter followers or any other form of false engagement on social media.
The primary reason is that buying fake followers will actually make your engagement look worse.
Say you have 10 million followers – amazing. But you only get 1,000 likes per social post (1 per cent), and next to nothing in terms of comments or shares. That’s not great. While you might draw users in with that shiny 10 million, it will become instantly clear you’ve paid for your following when they see how few are actually engaging with your content.
This is particularly true today as people become increasingly aware of click farms and paid engagement. While you may have been able to ‘get away’ with having fakes before, this is not longer the case – particularly in light of the US Presidential election. Trump isn’t the only one under fire, either – the New York Times recently published a list of 55 celebrities accused of buying followers, which featured several well-known actors, musicians, CEOs and politicians.
Further, there’s one big problem with fakes: they aren’t going to buy your products or use your services. In fact, they’re never going to leave their click farm on Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh or India or step foot in your business. Most will never write you a review and they definitely won’t refer a friend. And that’s because they aren’t genuine consumers- their sole purpose is to follow you, which doesn’t really do much for your business in the long run.
Finally, buying followers can be embarrassing if you’re found out. Just ask anyone who landed in New York Times’ the Follower Factory, many of whom denied the allegations or declined to comment. If you’re discovered, buying followers makes you look bad and can tarnish your reputation far more than it helps. In short: if you’re trying to build customer loyalty and trust, don’t start by lying on social media.
Sorry if we’ve burst your bubble about fake followers. If you had your finger on the ‘buy’ button and now you just don’t know what to do, we’ll leave you with a few tips on quick – although not ‘buy-a-fake-following-level’ quick – ways to improve your social media presence and earn engagement.
Clean up your social profiles
Users won’t trust a brand with no likes and they’ll also shy away from one with a sloppy profile. To this end, give your social pages a good tidy, paying attention to things like missing fields, image sizes, links and post scheduling.
Familiarise yourself with new updates
When Instagram updated their algorithm, many brands resorted to buying followers. You don’t have to do this. When Facebook, Instagram or Twitter make an update – which they do often – pay attention. That way, you’re not devastated by a 50 per cent drop in traffic overnight. Instead, you can familiarise yourself with the shift and find ways to perform regardless.
Ask your real following for a hand
Bots don’t have friends. Your real followers – well, they might not either but hopefully they have one or two. Leverage this by asking them to help you build up your profile. Include ‘tag a friend’ in your image captions or even make it a competition. – ‘Refer three friends to our Facebook page and be entered to win this amazing prize!’ Not only will you get followers, but you’ll get vetted followers who are more likely to be interested in your product or service.