A week-old video on fraudulent Likes has amped up a simmering debate on whether Facebook is a reliable platform for online marketing and community-building.
The fun began February 10 when Derek Muller, host of the Veritasium science blog, posted a nine-minute account of his tour through click farms, Facebook ads, and a deliberately horrible test page called Virtual Cat. Some of the pushback is coming from Lindsay Fultz, a friend of our firm and a Facebook marketing powerhouse who’s done a great job helping brands find their following online.
Muller traced his own experience using Facebook ads to draw traffic to his page, charging that using the legitimate audience acquisition channel had still brought him many thousands of hits from “click farms” that pay employees $1 per thousand fake Likes.
“When I paid to promote my page I gained 80,000 followers in developing countries who didn’t care about Veritasium (but I wasn’t aware of this at the time),” he wrote. The new followers accounted for 75% of his total Likes, but only 1% of his engagement, “basically rendering the page useless.”
No Real Engagement
Citing a late January post by Jaron Schneider on The Next Web, Muller said he’d ended up with the kind of massive increase in Likes that comes with no real engagement—a factor that actually drives down a page’s overall effectiveness.
“When you make a post, Facebook distributes it to a small fraction of the people who Like your page, just to gauge their reaction,” he explained. “If they engage with it by Liking, commenting, and sharing, Facebook distributes the post to more of your Likes, and even their friends.”
If a page has been loaded down with fake Likes and contains fewer real fans, it generates less engagement, thereby receiving narrower distribution. Muller said that means Facebook makes money twice: you pay to acquire new fans, then pay again to try to reach them. “Your organic reach may be so restricted by the lack of engagement that your only action is to pay to promote the post.”
The Problem Isn’t With Facebook
On her Facebook page a day later, Fultz was vehement that the concern about fraudulent clicks is just “another excuse for marketers.” Even if some of the engagement is fake, she said consistent A/B testing and effective calls to action would lead to measurable increases in comments, shares, sign-ups, and sales.
In the end, those are the results that make the Likes meaningful. “Just like in math class,” she wrote. “You don’t get full credit for just providing the right answer. You have to show your work.”
In an interview early last year with our Social Media Strategist Jenise Fryatt, Fultz made the case that there are no shortcuts to effective Facebook marketing.
“[The] pitfalls don’t fall on Facebook holding you down,” she said. “They fall on social media marketing managers, marketing strategists, and community managers not taking the time to educate themselves on community, A/B testing, tracking, and analytics.”
The challenge for marketers is to “get to know their community inside and out and be able to deliver big time with data. This means better content and strong data to back up their work. Content doesn’t win. Optimized and customized content does.”
Is It Enough to Know Your Audience?
Fultz succeeds as a Facebook marketer because she works with her audiences on multiple channels. She told Fryatt she reaches out to “brand advocates, brand haters, and one-and-done customers” by phone and Skype. She meets them at live events. She gathers extensive data, then builds campaigns that follow where the evidence leads.
The approach is a lot more diligent than just buying ads—or directly patronizing a click farm—in the hope of finding a few needles of engagement in a very large haystack.
The problem is that you may not have to pay for ads to acquire a sudden rush of fake Likes, particularly if your page has gained enough engagement to land on one of Facebook’s Suggested Page lists. Schneider’s Next Web post was one of several that have pointed to the lists as a source of questionable traffic. And Muller says Facebook offers no mechanism to delete fake Likes in bulk.
At that point, it’s even more important to know your audience well—well enough to distinguish real traffic from fake clicks that can bring down your engagement. Which tells me that slow(er) and steady wins the race, and Fultz is on the right track. But trust Facebook to make it that much harder for legitimate online marketers to do the right thing.