I got the call yesterday.
A national radio program was doing a segment on brands who buy Facebook likes and followers. They wanted to know if Twist Image buys likes, friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter or any other online social network. The first time the call came in, I was in a client meeting, so when I listened back to the voice message, I had to stop and think: "does my agency buy likes, friends and followers?" I guess when it comes right down to it, we do. We help brands strategize as to what they should be doing in social media (and where to place their energy), we help them build a presence, work with them on content, voice, tone and manner and, in some instances, we do social media advertising to drive attention to these spaces.
That's not the type of "buying friends" these people are talking about.
The sudden interest in this subject comes out of the BBC and a story they ran on July 12th, 2012 titled, Facebook 'likes' and adverts' value doubted. From the article: "The vast majority of Facebook's revenues come from advertising and its performance will be scrutinised when it releases its financial results on 26 July... Earlier this year Facebook revealed that about 5-6% of its 901 million users might be fake - representing up to 54 million profiles... The BBC created a Facebook page for VirtualBagel - a made-up company with no products. The number of 'likes' it attracted from Egypt and the Philippines was out of proportion to other countries targeted such as the US and UK."
The popularity contest.
It turns out (and there's no surprise here) that brands are willing to buy fans, likes and followers (and, while the BBC focused on Facebook, let's face it, it happens in every channel). We're not talking about creating attention that generates a genuine action on behalf of the consumer, we're talking about doing whatever it takes to bump up the numbers. It wasn't that long ago, that brands were also buying things like inbound links and more to bump up web traffic or visits to a blog. Let's face it, if it's possible to game the system (and it's not all that expensive), there's an actual incentive to do this.
The popularity contest is stupid.
So, you bought friends, followers and likes... now what? You have hundreds of thousands of people who have clicked a link for your brand (and who cares if they're from Egypt, the Philippines or any other foreign land), what did you truly gain? You can tell your boss that the brand is popular? You can have more followers than your competitor? It's a losing proposition and there's no value in it. Why? Because it's not how many people follow you. It's how many people share, amplify and act as your ambassador. It's about how many people really (and truly) care.
See, that's the point of social media that no brand wants to face.
Numbers don't mean squat in social media. Numbers mean everything when the people you're connected to do something about it. So, your brand reached 100,000 followers. How many of them have muted you on their wall? How many of them, like, share and recommend you to others? How many of them are following you because that's the channel they use to complain about you? How many of the active fans do you actually connect to, follow and engage with? Don't kid yourself into thinking that this is obvious. It's not. Just look at the BBC story and start doing some snooping around of your own and you know what you'll discover?
Brands are chasing numbers not value.
Here's the dirty little secret: buy all the fans, friends, followers and likes that you want. Once they click on your link, you're dead to them. These consumers (who are not even real consumers) don't see you, share you or care about you. So, what did those numbers get you? Do you feel good when you put your head down on the pillow at night? Don't. Because, if you're just buying likes and not actually finding true fans, the only thing more fraudulent than buying fake fans is the way you're governing your own career.
Sorry to be harsh. But fake is fake and, in social media, there's nothing lower.