(Re-published from my Nuts and Bolts Newsletter)
As Social Media marketing has become vital for advertisers, a black market has emerged. It is a black market in likes, friends and followers. It exists on almost every platform. You can buy Twitter followers, Facebook friends, likes for a post, retweets, you name it.
Why do people buy likes?
There are three reasons why people buy likes, friends or followers on social media platforms. The first two are dishonest and the third is stupid.
Companies buy likes and followers to give their company an inflated imagine online. For example let’s say you just started an online dating site. You have recruited every developer, friend and family member you could and you have 35 members. Who is going to join a dating site with almost no potential dates? So you pay some website to get you tens of thousands of Twitter followers. That way when potential customers see you on Twitter they assume there are thousands of people on your site.
Many websites survive on advertising. Banner ads and sidebar ads pay the bills and allow the creators to do their thing. How much you can reasonably charge for a banner ad depends on how much reach you have. Remember reach equals how many people see what you do. By buying likes and followers, some dishonest bloggers inflate their reach and overcharge their sponsors.
Finally many newbies to the social media marketing game simply don’t know any better. They know they need a big reach to get sales, but they don’t fully understand how it works. They are drawn in by ads for thousands of followers. So they buy likes and then sit back and wonder why sales aren’t coming in.
Where do paid likes come from?
One of the big problems with paid reach is where these likes come from. They mostly come from “click farms” in third world countries. Yes, you read that right. They have sweatshops in third world countries where people are paid to sit and like things on facebook, all day, every day for up to twelve hours a day. It sounds insane, but it’s true.
When I first encountered the idea of paying for Twitter followers, I couldn’t understand how it could possibly be a sustainable business for anyone. You can find people offering up to a thousand new followers on websites like fivver.com. A thousand followers for five dollars? It sounds cheap.
I could offer that service. All it would take is for me to have a thousand separate accounts on Twitter. The only thing Twitter requires is an email address. I could easily spend a couple of days on Google or hotmail creating email accounts and then using them to produce Twitter accounts. All for five dollars. Thanks but no thanks.
The economy in places like Bangladesh, where many of these click farms are, makes it feasible. The average income in Bangladesh is 840 U.S. Dollars a year. Clicking farming is not only feasible, for some it is preferable to other forms of labor available.
The problem with paid reach
I have said before that buying likes is a fools errand. But it’s more than that, it hurts everyone. There are a number of reasons. But first, why is it a fools errand?
The simple answer is that a purchased followers isn’t going to buy your book, pure and simple.
But a paid follower doesn’t just waste your money once, they waste it over and over again. Every time you craft a new blog post, create a new ad campaign or run some sort of online promotion, a share of that effort goes to your paid followers, who promptly delete it.
If that’s not bad enough, they dilute your organic reach. Organic reach refers to how much reach you have without promoting a given post. Organic reach means fans, people who want to engage with you. Since platforms like Facebook only show your posts to handful of your fan, even a small number of fake friends can mean none of your real fans see your awesome posts. And that is sad.
If you have fallen for buying likes or followers in the past, now is the time to clean up your newsfeed. Twitter Audit will check your Twitter account for fake accounts. They even have premium services that will help you unfollow the ones you don’t want. I don’t know of any automated way to check your facebook feed but here’s a great article on how to spot fake accounts. Eliminating fake accounts from your friends list, your fan page and your twitter account will help improve your targeted advertising, getting your book in front of the people who actually want to buy it.
Paid reach hurts everyone
If paid reach only hurt those foolish enough to pay for it, I would let them go. But it hurts all of us. There are several reasons.
Paid reach is eroding consumer confidence. The average person is no fool. They catch on to tricks quick enough. A blogger friend of mine took a radical feminist group to the carpet on this recently. They had a hundred thousand likes on their facebook page, mostly from men in Bangladesh. Its hard to believe that excluding trans women from a minor feminist conference could get that much international support. My point is, people do notice. And it affects their view of social media in general.
Paid reach dilutes organic reach for everyone as well. Paid likes is against the terms of service on both Facebook and Twitter. There is a constant cat and mouse chase as those platforms seek to eliminate fake accounts. Suspicious accounts get suspended or deleted. As a countermeasure, click farms instruct their people to like lots of things, not just what they are paid to like. That prevents Facebook from picking up on them so quickly. You might well have a few followers/fans from Bangladesh. The first time I saw one I thought I had become an international sensation. More likely it was a click farm employee trying to imitate a real person with a few random likes. Here is a great video that illustrates this well.
The large amount of paid reach out there also dilutes advertisers confidence. That doesn’t affect the indie writer so much, but it threatens many bloggers. Their ad revenue is based on reach, but as advertisers realize how little reach is authentic, they are less willing to pay.
Fake likes hurts your fan base. I like pages on Facebook because I want to be kept informed about authors I like. However it doesn’t work anymore, because Facebook now decides what I see and it may be sharing news about some new release with a click farm worker in Indonesia instead of telling me.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, fake likes hurts the people who work in the click farms. We already have too many industries built upon sweatshop labor. Do we really want to create another, virtual one? Clicking on web pages might be better than sewing fashion garments or assembling iphones, but it’s still not a real career. There are much better and more humane ways to support third world economies than buying twitter followers.
As you wade through the social media landscape you will find yourself at times awash in people wanting to sell you followers, likes and what not. It’s not worth it at any price. If we spread the word and get everyone on the don’t buy likes bandwagon, we can keep social media marketing effective for many years to come.