Let’s be honest. Click farms aren’t exactly a big secret. Buying ‘likes’ and Twitter followers is a well-known shady practice.

What the Channel 4 Dispatches investigation on #fakefans has shown us is the process behind the (fake) stats.

Mostly, it seems to go: 

  1. Brand engages social media agency (although no self-respecting social media I know would do this) which promises to craft a social media campaign that will rocket the brand’s social fan base.
  2. Social media agency decides that the most profitable way to do this work is to pay a click farm to provide fake likes.
  3. The click farm employs technological solutions, and people (who really need the money) to create thousands of fake profiles and generate even more fake likes, views and even comments.

The documentary named some big brand names and organisations, which all denied approving this practice. As far as they were concerned, their likes were genuine and if they weren’t, no one at those companies was aware. The click farmers said that the fault did not lie with them, but with the intermediary businesses – the so-called social media agencies - that paid them and created the demand.

Later, the documentary looked at how brands used celebrity endorsements on Twitter (which are fine, as long as they use #ad in the tweet) and found that some agencies were paying for endorsements, and that some celebrities were not being honest about being a paid for tweet.

Why do fake ‘likes’, comments, views and Tweets matter?

You may be tempted to think, "ah, but it’s just a few ‘likes’ on a Facebook page, no one got hurt." But it does matter because – to some - it adds legitimacy to the brand. If millions of people ‘like’ this oven cleaner, maybe I should buy that next time I’m in the shop? 

It’s easy to be dismissive of celebrity Twitter endorsements. Does anyone really care that an actress they’ve never met has enjoyed a night out in a certain London bar? Some people won’t but for some, they are role models and therefore an influencer.

The advice is pretty consistent; brands need to be transparent and authentic on social media. Brands use social media to build communities, and virtual communities are built on a foundation of trust. Fake likes, views and comments don’t help boost a community, they corrupt it. 

Likes are not a measurement of success

The big problem, to me, is that many brands still measure their success on social media by the number of likes or followers they have. Not by engagement, shares, and ultimately sales (none of which a fake click is going to get you). And while brands measure by likes, agencies will be tempted to buy them

Buying thousands of fake ‘Likes’ or having a fake profile post a comment on your Facebook page won’t drive long-term engagement, or sharing, or customer loyalty, or support sales. It won’t help develop the community. And it undermines the real value of social media to a brand. 

Organically grown communities thrive on difference, debate and shared interest. A Facebook page with over one million likes with a stagnant community will not benefit the brand. It’ll develop into a zombie community (not as cool as it sounds), one where the brand can point to the numbers, but levels of engagement are tanking. 

Dispatches was quite clear about where it considered the problem to lie. The middle man between brands and click-farms – the social media agencies featured in the investigation – were the ones driving the demand for fake clicks.

But should the brands have known what was going on? Should more questions have been asked about how these followers accumulated so quickly? It’s not easy to get genuine ‘likes’ on Facebook. It requires a solid social media strategy, great content and an engagement plan. 

Organic farming: how to build a thriving community

  1. Encourage people to take the first step. Give people a reason to ‘like’ your page, or view your video. Maybe there’s a competition, or a promise of exclusive content. Perhaps the selling point is being a member of an elite community.
  2. Encourage them to hang around and engage. Don’t limit exclusive offers to new fans. It’s not enough for someone to simple ‘like’ a page; they need to want to keep going back.
  3. Create compelling content. It sounds so obvious but really focusing on appropriate brand content works, whether it’s witty, visually appealing or just brightens someone’s day – sticky content works.
  4. Provide a strong set of community guidelines, or house rules, for fans to follow and enforce them. Moderate content to provide the safest and most welcoming environment you can. People won’t comment on a page if they think they’ll be laying themselves open to abuse or ridicule or if it’s peppered with spam.
  5. Use a community manager who’s already a brand advocate. If it’s a game brand, it helps if the person running the page knows the culture, and understands what people mean when they say they’re having trouble collecting enough Bells to pay off Tom Nook.
  6. Be ethical. It’s one thing to ask fans to behave in a respectful manner, but if they discovered that your brand had brought thousands of ‘likes’, if they started to wonder if the Harry Smith they were responding to was a real fan, or a fake, why would they have any reason to trust the brand?

Trust and authenticity matters in social media. Any practice that encourages people to buy clicks to artificially boost a brand’s page needs to be discouraged. The practice tricks real fans, achieves nothing, and undermines the genuine value of social media.

Tamara Littleton

Published 9 August, 2013 by Tamara Littleton

Tamara is CEO and founder of social media agency The Social Element and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (10)

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Daniel Almond

Enjoyed the article, Tamara, and agree with the majority of the points made. I think that you have to be careful if using competitions as the sole method of building your page likes though, as from my experience 'serial competition enterers' as I've taken to calling them, are a zombie plague unto themselves.

Competitions do seem to be the most effective way of building likes or followers quickly, but you only have to look on a few profiles to recognise that some people seem to use Facebook or Twitter solely as a method through which they enter competitions. These people will often only interact with posts in which they can win something and so are no different to 'paid for' likes in that respect.

The most obvious examples of this are when you notice a lot of referral traffic from Money Saving Expert or other forums where people share competitions and enter en masse!

almost 5 years ago

Edwyn Raine

Edwyn Raine, Digital Strategist at Evolution 7

Valid points Tamara, cheers for the article.

However, the value of purchased fans and followers is not necessary zero...

You may not have seen the following infographic ( http://www.spiral16.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/twitter-infographic-july-august-2013-inc-magazine-inline_27326.jpg ).

Quite amazing to see that Obama's followers are estimated at 52% fake or empty accounts...

There is no arguing the influence that a crowd can have on an individual.
Taking the idea offline... If you see a crowd lining up outside a bar, you will naturally be intrigued to see what they are queuing for and will instinctively create positive ideas about the bar in your head.

I am by no means supporting the purchasing of fans, but at the same time there are valid reasons for doing it in certain occasions of marketing.

almost 5 years ago

Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

It's good to highlight this issue, I also wrote about this the other day I don't think the vast majority of people realise they're being farmed.

Would love to see what you think of the examples in my post, Why You Are Already In A Facebook Like Farm: http://www.koozai.com/blog/social-media/you-are-a-like-farm

almost 5 years ago



Hi Tamara.

Very nice article - I have enjoyed it.
I have one tactic that I use to build pretty good base of Likes on Facebook.

I am actually posting every 2-3 days a picture with quotes and filters found on Instagram.
Such a pictures with right quote can go viral and drive crazy amount of likes.
My most popular one got 200 shares on 1,200 likes page. It also gave me boost of almost 100 targeted likes directly to my page.

Great read Tamara :)

almost 5 years ago


Reid Rosefelt

The situation is much worse than the infographic or your post suggests. If only bots only followed well-known people to appear legit--unfortunately they follow anybody. As Jon Loomer has often pointed out, you can attract bots by advertising. http://bit.ly/18nNrkZ

You often pay money to Facebook in order to get these fake likes, but no matter how you get them, you pay extra money again every time you promote a post. To reach people who don't exist.

People who don't want bots either need to attract fans through outreach instead of ads, or they need to learn the Power Editor.

almost 5 years ago

Mike Tate

Mike Tate, Interim Ecommerce Manager at Kongo Industries

Terrific article Tamara.

It's a great example lazy marketing, but you have to ask why the brands don't pick up on this. If I was working in-house and saw fantastic results then I would be analysing them in the same way as poor results. What were the strategies implemented, what were the results, how did interaction change etc.

almost 5 years ago

Tamara Littleton

Tamara Littleton, CEO at The Social Element

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Daniel - You’re right of course. While competitions can reel people into the community quite successfully, there’s no guarantee that they’ll stay and become active community members, which is why I think the point about creating compelling content is so important. Brands can’t force fans to hang around, but they can make their communities more appealing and create genuine engagement.

Edwyn - I don’t think I’ve argued that there isn’t a value attached to fake ‘Likes’. As I point out, it does imply legitimacy, and it can create a buzz around a brand. But the real value of social media doesn’t lie in just ‘Like’ numbers.

almost 5 years ago

Edwyn Raine

Edwyn Raine, Digital Strategist at Evolution 7

True, but then where does the "true value" of social media now lie? I disagree that it is still in community building (as much as I would love it to be). This was correct a few years ago perhaps, but there is no denying that it is no long the best way to use the channel and platforms. Platforms are completely saturated and the difference between best-in-class and an average profile is shrinking.
I believe good social media (and the value it can provide) is now achieved through creative campaign led activity, not the community it helps create.

almost 5 years ago



Really enjoyed reading this article, thank you Tamara. Hope to read more from you about social media marketing! :)

almost 5 years ago


Avin Wong


I like one of your subtitle on "Like is not a measurement of success"

From our experience, digital marketers are moving towards measuring and quantifying the impact of social content on sales, customer acquisitions etc. as measure of social success.

MD - WhichSocial
"Real-time social media ROI tracking software with actionable alerts"

almost 5 years ago

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