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Always the masters of the arts of deception and misdirection, what’s to keep marketers from gaming social metrics for short-term gain?

What follows is an exploration and a survey of the grey zone in social media and marketing. (In other words, if you're a social media idealist, this would be the time to look away.)

Be advised I am not some “black tie social” promoter espousing nefarious shortcuts to online greatness; I work for a digital marketing agency – the kind that helps B2B companies produce the virtuous stuff that makes them gain social influence organically, if a bit more slowly.

For this piece, I just want to investigate how marketers’ social mores are evolving.

Lance Armstrong may not be a world champion cyclist after all. He may not be honest. Or even a nice guy. But is the dude a marketer? Yeah, he’s a marketer.

EPOing your performance only moments before competition is a very marketer thing to do. Crafting an incredible story (a physiologically impossible story!) yep, that’s marketing. Whipping your partners to stick to the party line, totally marketing.

Like Lance Armstrong, we marketers would throw our grandmother under a bus for a big victory. Orchestrated flash mobs. Brash billboards. Cool-hunters. Overpromising copy. We kill that stuff.

Translated to social media

Then there’s social media. Do we marketers dry the muck off our feet at the door of social media? Take a solemn oath to the Cluetrain Manifesto and recite a vow to uphold the Usenet principles? Uhhh, no.

But legions of bloggers and other social media gurus have managed to inculcate an important lesson in our Machiavellian social media worldview:

Being good on social media (or at least the appearance of being good) is an important first step to being good at social media.

That is, if you produce lots of selfless blog posts, tweet love to everyone around the clock, connect like-minded people and comment on blogs all day long, then you’ll be successful. At least a little.

Now the thought of all this work with little immediate benefit makes most marketers’ ego shrivel. We think: That’s all great, but can’t I just buy it? All that work doesn’t scale.

So, can you buy it? Of course you can! Finding a vendor who will sell you followers or likes is easier than googling “buy facebook likes” (Correction: it’s exactly that easy).

A few months ago, Speed Communications’ Dan Howe wrote one of the more interesting social media articles of the year. His title: “On Manufactured Influence”. A quote:

For an agency or PR staff member who might be after a quick win rather than long-term success, the benefits might even outweigh the risks. Shortcuts can be tempting.

Tempting? How about unavoidable? As pressure mounts to do something in social media, and attach metrics to it, a marketer whose thoughts don’t turn to gaming the system one way or another may soon be out of a job.

An attempt to get scientific

Tantalized by Howe’s piece and a string of similar pieces appearing over the past half-year, I started to wonder: Have we marketers, like, totally lost our social media virginity? Are we going to spray lies and bullshit all over the pristine garden of social media too? Will we do a black hat SEO for social too? Black tie social?

When you have more questions than answers, you make a poll. And that’s just what I did. I asked B2B marketers whether they thought ten borderline social promotion practices were OK, then whether they had done them themselves.

[I know it’s the scientific equivalent of licking your finger and sticking it into the air, but I’m not looking for the Higgs Boson here].

Not surprisingly, early results suggest we’re a morally flexible lot. Of 50 self-identified marketers, about a quarter thought it was OK to buy Facebook likes or Twitter followers. One in three felt it was OK to enter like for like agreements.

However, far fewer confirmed that they had actually done any of these things.

Why not? There are a number of valid arguments against it. Econsultancy’s own Chris Lake put it succinctly in a tweet:

chris lake tweet

There’s ambiguity in that final statement, and for good reason. While we’ve been lead to believe the authentic kind of success in social is the best kind, we’re not at all certain that it’s the only kind (or even whether some authentic success was altogether authentic).

An argument for?

Howe certainly presented some compelling scenarios for gaming social metrics. There are more.

Take most B2B businesses. Nine times out of ten they’re keen to pursue social success, but in just as many cases they struggle to tie their social performance to metrics. The link between a tweet and a multi-year, multi-decision-maker, multimillion-pound deal is thin. So they gauge success on follower counts.

Or consider someone running a campaign. Why not start the campaign with an artificial boost of 2,000 likes or followers? For the first arrivals, the campaign will already have that sheen of viral success. Once the fake likes fade, few will notice (as the campaign’s updates continue to roll across their news feed).

And there’s some ambiguity about what constitutes inappropriate behavior on social networks, and what constitutes legitimate promotional activity. Connect with a stranger on LinkedIn? You can be flagged to the social network for it, but 6 of 10 survey respondents felt it was fine and an equal proportion had already done it.

Hypothesis: Many shades of grey

Right, wrong, effective, ineffective – the lines are blurrier than we’d like to think.

In other words, the guy or gal gaming social metrics may be less the freshman social media idiot, and more the calculating and cynical wizard who rises to the top of the heap. Even if that isn't the case, I’m thinking there’s a lot more grey territory than many of us are willing to admit.

At least, it’s a hypothesis. I’d be eager to hear from any marketers who have coolly equivocal experiences or ideas on the matter (in other words, do not comment if it’s only to preach one way or another).

And here’s a link to the survey as Google Form. The bigger the sample, the better the results.

Ryan Skinner

Published 13 September, 2012 by Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner is AD at B2B marketing agency Velocity and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Ryan on Twitter or Google+

4 more posts from this author

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Jocelyn Kirby

Jocelyn Kirby, Head of Marketing at Red Hot Penny

Interesting points here and an enjoyable read, thanks Ryan.

As a fellow marketer, starting a campaign off with a credible number of Facebook likes seems reasonable, but with the recent announcement that Facebook will be cracking down on 'fake likes', I wonder how that will affect things.

We should also consider other types of likes and their credibility too... are likes gained from running competitions and sweepstakes much better? On paper they are 'real', but what it really boils down to is the value of the likes. There's an awful lot more value in a 'liker' that has an interest in your business than someone that has liked you because you paid them to, or because it gave them the opportunity to get something for free.

A great topic and I'm looking forward to reading the differing opinions that follow.

Jocelyn Kirby
Head of Marketing
www.metakinetic.com

about 4 years ago

Michelle Goodall

Michelle Goodall, Online PR/Social Media Consultant at EconsultancySmall Business Multi-user

Note to anyone buying or any agencies advising clients to buy followers on Facebook.....it's very easy to see that you've done it. your PTA and engagement rates will be tiny and your Edgerank affected.

Hate that black-hat techniques are increasingly proliferating social media.

Personal experience shows it's some of the smaller SEO agencies that are telling clients that it's perfectly acceptable to do this......and clients who do it simply haven't got their social media KPI's and objectives right.

...lights the blue touch paper and stands back ;-)

about 4 years ago

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mmpros

Hi, We can offer you many likes and also many other services from just £4.95 per 5000 views

Bargain!

Oh and great article. lol

about 4 years ago

Michelle Goodall

Michelle Goodall, Online PR/Social Media Consultant at EconsultancySmall Business Multi-user

@mmpros I thought you were being ironic....then I checked out your 'Facebook Likes in a Box' offers....

So how does that work then?

about 4 years ago

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The Eye

Michelle, as above, is as good as "Gold", well she is a gold class commenter after all, as well as being a Goodall... : )
The article is interesting, as well as Michelles warnings... Maybe a slightly grey bow tie is tempting...

For me (here comes the preach) its rather about being authentic...
Big brands spend a fortune on marketing and advertizing as well as giving a quality offering... They should be rewarded by having a genuine and engaging following...

For me it is fraudulent for a social media agency to run a campaign for a brand and then set about buying the likes / followers...
On the other hand if the agency specifies / discloses this to the brand and it's seen as a one off "jump start" to "populate" a page, then maybe... Or maybe not...

I have never bought likes / followers.... Its a line that I have not been in a position where I am forced to cross this line.... (thus endeth the preach...)

However...................................

I have run ultra-cheap PPC campaigns attracting targeted and like minded traffic to a Facebook page... And the targeted prospects then have had the choice to Like or Follow... Their choice....

This approach gives me the edge to create something (a following) actively, not passively, and as a marketer I enjoy the action / activity and the growth.... I've done this with full disclosure, with the clients permission... (works well aimed at Fb / Twitter / YouTube)

Now where's my white bow tie....

about 4 years ago

Andy Killworth

Andy Killworth, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Buying likes/followers smacks of a company that isn't confident of having the ability to build their brand organically.

Bought Twitter followers are blatantly obvious and in any case never hang around long - it's cheap to do and looks cheap.

What I do find surprising is how many companies charge so much for this 'service', given you can simply hop on to Fiverr.com and pay pittance for it.

about 4 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Is it okay to buy friends in real life too?

Yeah, it's okay. Just a bit... sad.

Great post Ryan.

about 4 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

(Now a black tie social approach would be to enter a separate comment for each commenter, thus boosting the comment metrics, but I'll resist that).

Michelle: Excellent point. To any brand or agency that's savvy to this stuff, it's readily apparent when metrics are...embellished. Not sure how many are savvy to it (but a few more thanks to your comment - high five!). Most consumers/readers would be totally ignorant of how these metrics can be gamed, I fear.

mmpros: Unsubtle comment spam is unsubtle. Your black tie social technique gets a 1/10.

The Eye: Big brands spend a fortune on advertising, therefore they should be rewarded with a genuine and engaged following? Sounds like buying influence to me. (OK, I twisted your words a bit - guilty as charged).

Andy: I suspect there are a lot of brands who aren't confident of their ability to build their brand organically. Even if we don't buy followers or likes, I suspect we all do slightly less blatant stuff to make ourselves/our brands look more popular online.

Doug: I stopped buying friends in 5th grade when Sally snubbed me after I bought her a packet of Nerds. Broke my heart.

about 4 years ago

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Adi Gaskell

For me ethics or morals don't really come into it. I'm not here to judge what other folks do or don't do.

The thing is, buying fake followers is a complete waste of time.

Think back to why you are using social media in the first place.

If you're on there to offer customer support, those fakes aren't going to help.

If you're using it to generate new product ideas, those fakes aren't gonna to help.

Heck, even if you're spamming your network to try and generate sales, it's pretty unlikely those bots have their credit cards with them.

The single, solitary reason for buying fake followers is to trick gullible managers who know no better than to set the number of followers as an internal KPI target.

about 4 years ago

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Mike McGrail

Aye, spend the client's money buying some Likes and followers with tight fitting tops and dubious bios, give them some nice looking vanity metrics in a cobbled together report and move on. The roadmap to success right? Right?

Whether right or wrong, the value is minuscule in the long run.

about 4 years ago

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Craig McGill

Mike, that's a fair point - and I agree with it - but as others have pointed out, you may only be on a three month retainer (or shorter) and not the long haul contract. If you can't give them any other kind of ROI, there are people who will go 'followers!'

I know one drinks brand that was recently crowing about how it had as many followers as an established brand on Facebook despite the newcomer only being there for a few weeks. It didn't matter to the high heid yins that the new brand had been doing a drink giveaway and some other stuff as well as actually having low engagement, all they say was the LIKES/FOLLOWERS number.

When the white hats are competing with that sort of mentality, what's a social type to do?

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I've left the mmpros comment in as people have referred to it, but removed the link, just in case anyone is tempted ;)

about 4 years ago

Jeremy Spiller

Jeremy Spiller, MD at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

While posted a year or so ago, there's an excellent article here about why Likes on their own can have little or no real value.

http://oursocialtimes.com/index.php/2011/08/have-brands-got-social-media-engagement-all-wrong/

Because of Edgerank, apparently only 17% of people who Like a brand see the posts and comments anyway.

Having said that Dan Zarrella, Social Media Scientist likens the spread of social media objects to viruses, and how viruses spread faster and more effectively in greater populations, so numbers do matter.

Excellent post and a fascinating topic and this discussion is going to run for years.

about 4 years ago

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Bhaskar Sarma

This is a problem that won't go away until marketers and brands junk lazy metrics like likes and followers and use engagement based ones that are proven to actually contribute to business goals.

But I don't see that happening across the board any time soon.

about 4 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

Out of curiosity: What do we feel about the effect like numbers, follower numbers, retweets, comments and other social signals have on people's perception?

Is it not the case that people respond to these, fundamentally? (That is, yes, ultimately they may engage with the brand, offer or content itself, but initially the "sense" that something is popular will itself drive some engagement. And many won't stick around long enough to get to grips with the offer or content itself).

An example: To a casual and unknowing visitor to Econsultancy, don't the visible social metrics on the site contribute to its brand esteem, and influence their first impression? Doesn't it set it apart from the vast ocean of blogs with a similar focus but much lower visible metrics (I'm thinking before they read anything)? And to this initial visitor, does this not influence how they perceive what they read? (on an aside: Only this can explain Mashable's continued success).

We marketers have faked these kinds of signals for years, even centuries. Why would it stop now?

I can imagine how important it is for agencies who do a lot of work in social media to distance themselves from cheap like-buying operations. However, I find it hard to swallow that these agencies manage to connect all of their activities to revenue, or other hard goals, and that metrics which can't be gamed don't come into the picture. True ROI attribution's a tough sport; how many agencies have really come to grips with it?

And, yes, wouldn't it be the smaller brands and agencies that try to juice their social metrics because: a) they're hungrier, and b) they've got less to lose? (In my experience they're also often far less tolerant of any money-wasting activity than the big brands and agencies).

about 4 years ago

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Ed Stivala

Tend to agree with Adi that faking followers etc. clearly do not achieve the end goal, however I can see that they could have value en-route to the end goal if used judiciously.

Do we "buy friends" in the real world? Well we probably don't buy true friendship, but I suspect that sometimes in business we borrow a little popularity :) I'm thinking of the restaurant owner that wants to ensure his new venue does not look empty on it's opening night... The seminar organiser that wants to ensure that most seats are filled (even if this is with non-paying & uninterested delegates) in order that the real delegates leave with a perception of a successful event. Not perfect analogies, but close enough I suspect for most reasonable folk to see the parallels with a social strategy employing fake supporters. Basically they are the social equivalent of "rent-a-crowd".

The key for me is to understand the (limited) value that fakes can offer, understand the positive role they can play, understand at what point in a campaign (or if) to deploy them. Then as with any tool use them when you have a problem they are appropriate for. This is of course completely different to using fakes as a way of spoofing metrics and therefore deluding yourself / your client that the end goal has been achieved when it clearly hasn't!

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

I'm a little bit shocked at Chris Lake's tweet, both its casual ethics and professional ineptitude.

The reality is the complete opposite. It can't be morally acceptable to buy followers or likes, but it can lead to benefits both in the short and medium term.

Although I do know how, it's not something I've got involved in myself, but I know people who have and it is definitely helping their businesses...

about 4 years ago

Albie Attias

Albie Attias, Ecommerce Director at King of Servers Ltd

Would it be more acceptable to buy likes/tweets if the goal was to build brand awareness as opposed to revenue growth objectives? More likes/tweets equals more eyeballs on your brand, even if engagement is lousy. Just putting it out there...

about 4 years ago

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Hasan Sarwar, Business Development Manager at Be Memorable

This is an interesting post, for startups and those getting started in the social media world, it can seem quite lucrative from a brand awareness point of view. Getting through to the first 'milestone' of likes can seem like an uphill task. So giving it a little push to 'seem' popular could seem like a plausible option. Though long term that would actually mask your organic popularity on the social network. If it is a jump start you a looking for then it may just work, but is it actually worth it? Your social media goals are obviously very short sighted if that is the case.

about 4 years ago

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Gerard Hall, Founder at Great Bear Promotions

It seems that consumers are getting wise to the whole purchasing followers trend, as demonstrated in this excellent blog post here - http://martinhines.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/who-needs-reality-when-youve-got-twitter/ - so it harms trust with 'real' consumers and gains you nothing in terms of increased brand awareness or sales.

I think people have said it best, this 'Cash for Followers' reeks of an inability to organically grow a Social Media following and for me is the sign of a weak marketing effort.

about 4 years ago

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Julius Duncan - Headstream and Social Brands 100

"Don't be lazy!" This was the rallying cry at Mama Hahns' Boat Trips in Nha Trang, Vietnam, back in the day as she urged her guests to put something into the party and the atmosphere.

That's what came to mind reading your post Ryan- don't be lazy in social media people. Of course there are many fly-by-night suppliers out there tempting brands towards short cuts to buy followers and likes. These types of 'fan' are not only lacking real value, they also damage the rest of the community that are there for the right reasons.

Our http://www.socialbrands100.com/ ranking uses a methodology that cuts out measures such as followers and likes, and drills deeper to measure genuine intensity of interaction between brand/individuals, and peer-to-peer in the community. As the market matures to these more robust types of metric that judge genuine value exchange, the appeal of 'black tie' will hopefully fade.

Social media is a commitment not a campaign. By earning genuine respect and connection, brands can create powerful communities that become part of the brand story. It's not easy but it pays back.

So as Mama Hahn would say 'Don't be lazy!', but certainly don't forget to have fun!

(For more on the incomparable Mama Hahn - http://www.wordtravels.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=7132)

about 4 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Christopher Rose - thanks for making me laugh out loud on the train this morning. I'll send over some smelling salts.

The survey asked whether it was 'right or wrong', which is a moral question, hence my "casual ethics". How is it "not morally acceptable", as you claim? The eighth deadly sin, perchance? It's stupid, but you shouldn't hang for it.

In a subsequent tweet (http://twitter.com/lakey/status/244015555743469568) I wrote: "Tactically I'm not sure any of these things make sense, other than to inflate egos / gain short term bonuses etc. Might be wrong."

That's pretty much where I stand, and I've yet to see *any* evidence that buying tweets works. It's wrong in the sense that is akin to burning money.

It might work for an agency that has promised to attract 25,000 followers in return for a bonus. But for brands / clients, no. Why would you buy fake social accounts to fake a brand's follower count?

You say it definitely helps people's businesses. Prove it. What are these "benefits" you speak of?

My professionally inept view is that social media is a long term game, and if you're buying followers then you are doing it completely wrong.

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

I'm glad you find such moral ambiguity entertaining, Chris, it must help you sleep well.

I don't actually understand how you can question how or why it is not morally acceptable to game this or any other system but I guess that is an issue for yourself to further contemplate; for me, it is clearly not acceptable.

I can't prove that buying tweets or fb likes helps businesses but I know personally business owners that are doing it and they tell me that it is helping their businesses, both directly and in seo terms.

You are right that in "proper" terms, social media, like seo, is a long term game, but that doesn't mean that there are not considerable commercial advantages to be had in the short to medium term for the ethically challenged which, given your own moral ambiguity, I'm sure you understand...

about 4 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Christopher Rose: So you say that it "clearly not acceptable" to buy tweets, from a moral perspective, but that it works?

I say it is perfectly acceptable to buy followers / tweets, but that it doesn't work. You're not hurting anybody, so what's the objection? That said, if you're deceiving your client, as many do, then it's a different story.

I also say that it is beyond stupid to game your follower count, and I don't for one second believe that buying followers affects Google rankings.

These "considerable commercial advantages"... what are they? Is a fake follower going to buy, share, recommend or review a product? No. What else is there?

about 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

As I'm in charge of Econsultancy's accounts, I feel I should weigh in on this as well, my opinion is that you can if you want, but frankly, what's the point?

I could possibly see a use if you were, say a politician who's about to run for president. Obama has millions of followers, you have none, so maybe you want a numbers bump to help you look legit for the first week. Fair enough I suppose, half of marketing is perception. But if anyone bothers to scrape below the surface, then they'll see it, and you'll look like an unscrupulous toolbag.

Secondly, going after genuine large numbers isn't the problem - if you're an FMCG then big numbers are good - everyone is a potential customer if you are, for example, Pepsi. If you're John Deer then not so much,but sheer volume certainly has it's uses.

BUT if they're bought followers then they aren't going to share your content, they aren't going to have friends to tell, they aren't going to buy anything, they won't help you're search rankings, they won't increase buzz, or revenue, or traffic, or anything else. Frankly you could probably spend the money having someone hack together a fake display button with a big number on it instead.

If it floats your boat go for it, but be aware that you A: Look a bit dim, and B: can just give me the money instead if you like. I might possibly buy one of your products at some point, which is more than you'll get from the paid followers.

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

I guess that is the difference between someone who writes about what people do and someone who actually does stuff for a living then! You have no morals and don't know what works.

Funny old world...

about 4 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

Things get feisty.

Chris Lake's challenge is a good one: If someone's got evidence that faked social metrics have been to the benefit of a brand or product, let's see it!
That would put a lot of this into perspective.

Matt: Hacking a fake "tweet" or "like" button? Fucking brilliant. You could get some traction on that.

Julius: You add a new axis to right / wrong / effective / ineffective -> lazy / not lazy. Me, I'm lazy except when I'm not. In terms of social media, I'm lazy unless inspired.

Gerard: Not sure if the post points out that "people" are seeing through fake follower counts, or if it just says one person sees through it. But I wouldn't be surprised if people got steadily more sceptical of these counts, as you say.

about 4 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

You're hilarious, for a troll, though it's a deep shame that you're unable to back up your bold statements with proof / case studies. It's rather telling.

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

Chris Lake is a journalist so he is ideally placed to go and do some investigative research and find the facts rather than simply posture and opine...

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

Chris, assuming your 11:58 was aimed at me, I'm not trolling at all, although I note that rather than face up to your questionable moral posturing you simply resort to making a lazy personal attack on me.

Why do you imagine that I would have any proof or case studies when I've already stated above that I am reporting what business owners have told me?

Perhaps rather than trying to attack the messenger you could, you know, do your job and find out. THAT would be telling...

about 4 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

I used to be a journalist, now I look after our editorial / social media / content marketing team, among other things. But I have far better things to be doing than trying to back up *your* ridiculous claims about "considerable commercial advantages" from buying followers. They're your statements, not mine, and you should be able to stand them up. We both know that you can't, but do keep on digging.

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

So in other words, you don't actually know what you are talking about at all, which is presumably why you were able to so glibly state that it is morally acceptable to cheat a system. I'm sure that has made your stewardship of Econsultancy's editorial/social media/content marketing team feel really proud.

I have reported anecdotal evidence truthfully so as far as I am concerned I have stood them up as far as I can.

As you are the one that has admitted their moral corruption, I don't think it is appropriate for you to be rather desperately trying to regain the high ground by accusing me of trolling or not substantiating my remarks.

If anyone is digging a hole for themselves, it is clearly you. Please let us know if you find your spine. Do you need a bigger shovel?

about 4 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

about 4 years ago

Adam Tudor

Adam Tudor, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at The Black Hole

I wouldn't discount the uselessness of this action so quickly, it can slight have benefit for some parties.

I know people (entrepreneurs) who have tried and experimented with buying both likes and followers to improve their personal & professional reputation, making employers or potential customers think they are much more popular and successful than they are. A shortcut to building brands, products or reputation as they are just starting out. But, when you get down to it its just willy waving as the number provides no business benefit - it's simply to give the impression that said item is more popular than it is when starting out from scratch in the world of social.

For any established brands or business, I see very little point as it's real engagement and long term value you're looking for.

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

For those who are wary of following links posted by the morally challenged, Mr Lake has posted a link to an image with the caption "LOL UMAD BRO?"

I'm not clear as to what message he is trying to convey, but doubt it is anything constructive or contrite...

about 4 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

Rose/Lake: Bizarre exchange. However, I see Rose's point: If he has had contacts succeed by fudging social metrics, he's not likely to want to out them here. And, as he's not a researcher, he's not likely to be sitting on any more objective material than commentary from people he knows. Econsultancy would probably have research on the inefficacy of gaming or buying social signal. Though, and here's my point, I doubt any research could emphatically and for all time put the value of gaming social metrics to rest (or?)

Tudor: Even big brands and businesses have smaller campaigns that might see benefit from short-term traction. And even big agencies sub out work on long-term relationships to smaller agencies on a short-term basis (though they'd probably cut them off when any black tie social activity was discovered).

A related question for anyone who would have an answer: Is faking social signal a criminal offense in any way, shape or form? (you see, I've got this friend who... ;-)

about 4 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

Ryan, I've simply passed on what some business owners have told me. I just thought that it was relevant to the point of this article and so worth passing on.

I guess things with Mr Lake did get a bit out of hand along the way, I just get a tad outraged when something I see as bad practice is seen as morally acceptable. Apologies for my piety!

about 4 years ago

Jeremy Spiller

Jeremy Spiller, MD at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

To lighten things up a little as it's (now) a Friday afternoon go here and vote.

http://twtpoll.com/godkw4

Never one to miss a great opportunity :)

Have a great week-end,

Jeremy

about 4 years ago

Jeremy Spiller

Jeremy Spiller, MD at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

I should add that we can then do a couple more polls being, 'Would you ever consider buying followers or Likes?' then 'Have you ever bought followers or Likes?'.

Then see how the numbers compare.

Should be fun and in many senses, very interesting as twtpoll is anonymous.

Jeremy

about 4 years ago

Adam Tudor

Adam Tudor, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at The Black Hole

/runs off to buy some fake twtpoll responses

about 4 years ago

Jeremy Spiller

Jeremy Spiller, MD at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Adam...lol, I did click on the prevent multiple votes from one account box but you can spend the rest of the day setting up multiple twitter accounts (there's probably an app for that) or mailing your network to vote the way you want them to.

Talking of votes, if I had a quid for every time I'd received an email saying 'I've written a song/taken a pic/made a vid/want to be voted the best..., please vote for me' email from my friends and contacts, I'd be a very rich man :)

Is it morally acceptable to vote for my friend, even when the song, video, story is blatantly crap?

<ducks>

Jeremy

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@jeremy No, that would make you 'morally challenged' ;)

about 4 years ago

Jeremy Spiller

Jeremy Spiller, MD at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Graham, never a truer word (well two words actually)...lol

Have a great week-end,

Jeremy

about 4 years ago

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Chris Reynolds, Online Marketing Engagement Manager at Adecco management & consulting

Great post, and fun drama in the comments.

On the side of bought followers, there's the psychological principle of 'social herding'. That is you do things if you see other doing them, like a busker who puts a few coins in his hat himself. Better explained here; http://goo.gl/Zd9Dx.

Practical tip as someone who tried it once, with mixed results, anyone can can see bought Twiter followers but it's impossible to see if Facebook likes are real or fake accounts.

about 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Good point Chris, although I'd add that a huge, sudden spike in your Likes would be visible on your public insights - - I believe there was a certain far right British political party doing this recently, in typically uniformed fashion. your 'most popular city' for Likes also shows up, and as most of these are outsourced, the sudden ranking of, say, Jakarta, on a UK politician's feed is bound to raise a few eyebrows.

about 4 years ago

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Dale

Back in 2004(ish) Mike Grehan posted a piece called "filthy linking rich". It was a critique based on the peculiarities of network science and in particular how value is bestowed on entitities in the digital world - back then the major network was webpages and hence it is filed under SEO. However this debate seems to me to be a re run of many of the same issues Mike talked about then.

about 4 years ago

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Chris Reynolds, Online Marketing Engagement Manager at Adecco management & consulting

Cheers Matt, good example. I only see average age and number but possibly that's a setting for the page in question.

What I thought was weird was the that the profiles were clearly auto generated spam, some of them FB appears to have shut down but the vast majority remain, you'd think they'd be more on top of it.

As an experiment it worked in giving the page some 'at a glance' credibility but I wouldn't recommend it as the potential for embarrassment for a brand (or politician) outweighs the small benefit.

about 4 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

Of all the comments I saw here, I was easily most astonished by Matt Owen's blithe suggestion to hack together an image file that looks like a "Tweet x thousands" or "Like x XX K" and embed it. For a number of online tasks, this would be very effective...frighteningly effective. Take a hotel booking - I'd be impressed by a hotel with 1.4K likes, and unlikely to investigate those likes further. I'd probably book and move on.

In a way, I feel that the marketer who isn't thinking about how to boost social signal just isn't being creative enough. There's a number of tactics in the grey zone. Example: Push a list of the most influential tweeps in your sector and some of your best content or product offers to Mechanical Turk. Even a random tip is a tip.

There's a field here (which I am sure is already flourishing somewhere) either called black tie social or social signal hacking. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but it's here and it'll probably be harder and harder to ignore - even if Facebook and Twitter and other social networks go on a Matt Cutts-like virtuosity mission.

about 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

That's an interesting idea Ryan, although I guess the point is, that the number itself doesn't matter -except in the very superficial way you mention "Oh, they've got 1.4K Likes, they must be legit", but there would be no further signals/edges/etc coming from that number...

about 4 years ago

Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner, AD at Velocity

Of course, but at the point of sale/contact the buyer's not looking for edges - just affirmation. And a number of "grey" tactics might be less crude - that is, affirmation plus edge/signal/etc.

The problem I think I'm trying to get at is traction. Many businesses/offers/campaigns struggle to get any traction whatsoever. I feel like there are a number of businesses following all of the best practices for social success, and getting nowhere ("I'm doing what they're telling me to do, and I've got, like, two likes. !!??"). It has to be frustrating. I'm just trying to throw some effort at finding unconventional or unorthodox routes to social success.

about 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

And there's the rub... ;)

about 4 years ago

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Rahul

Whenever a brand gets into social media (Facebook & Twitter) via a digital media agency, that agency needs to show numbers to the client; that their content management skills have brought in a lot of fans. If the brand has also paid for PPC ads to their social media pages, the pressure on the agency is enormous. Thus the temptation to generate fake likes and followers. Clients who look for strong ROI for their social media activities such as increase in sales and inquiries, can smell out the fish soon. But for brands who just want to brag about online fan population, all is well as long as they see numbers.

about 4 years ago

Dan Howe

Dan Howe, Online Marketer at UK third sector organisations

Great article Ryan! Thanks for quoting me in it. Also loving the comments...

about 4 years ago

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