The Value Of A 'Like.' An Experiment In Buying Fans

There's a rule in social media marketing that many stick to: your fans should be earned, not bought.  It's a guideline that's become abundantly clear over the past year, with an explosion of controversy recently from an experiment conducted by the BBC in this area.  But is this really the case?

After creating a page for VirtualBagelLtd on Facebook, technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones invested in advertisement across the globe (including Egypt, The Philippines, Malaysia and Russia), and was surprised to see the amount of what seemed to be pointless likes building up what would have been an unengaged audience.

I Don't 'Like' Virtual Bagels. A Response To The BBC

Facebook's system of advertisement targeting is going to be based around focussing more budget and exposure around geographical/interest areas that garner the highest click through rate.  It's not just the article written that analyses the Facebook community in a rather one-dimensional way; but it's also the social network's algorithms themselves that do so.  


In countries renowned for generating fake accounts to set up businesses selling likes (something which I will be going into in this report), the premise of the experiment and feature seems rather biased to favour Rory's point, and just plain foolish to target these particular areas with what many of us will see as precious budget.  It's a move that everyone will see has no return on investment (ROI).

So anybody with a business, please take the BBC's investigation with a pinch of salt.  If used correctly (highly targeted with some kind of consistency in your page's content output and community discussion to promote engagement from those targeted likes), Facebook advertising can be a highly effective tool.  While the report was interesting, the conclusion showed a slight misunderstanding (whether accidental or deliberate to support his pre-conceptions) of the mindsets of people working in this area.

Either way, I and many other people use Ad-blocking browser plugins anyway, so either way you're audience is cut significantly.

The Digital Version Of Pimping

So as the effectiveness of the advertising is questioned, not just by the BBC but via consumer studies showing many people's distaste, many companies have moved to somewhere considered to be more sketchy.  Buying likes and followers.

Investing in a set number of social media fans to flock to your page and increase your numbers exponentially.  No previous consistency or networking required, just a credit card number and a Twitter handle or Facebook URL.  Seems like a good way of giving your campaign a good initial turbo boost?

This is, again, where the drum is beat about the sheer importance of earning the following you deserve through hard graft and communication.  You want engaging fans, you don't want to lose demographic relevance, your accounts could fall into jeopardy for taking part in a move of 'foul play,' and those fans you receive for that set budget will never be real.  And let's be honest, promotional videos like the one you see above just seem downright dodgy.  It's the digital version of pimping, except there is no ROI…or is there?

Is any of this true?  Or can something like this be beneficial?  Let's just say brands who have peddled the message of high engagement and 'honest audience-building;' but yet have been the biggest utilisers of said services (they know who they are) have made me question it.  

So I invested, $14 for 1,000 Twitter followers & $40 for 1,000 Facebook fans from specifically, to find out for myself.

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While selecting a service, I found a plethora of options promoting the fact they don't require password, and they don't rely on any sort of #FollowBack initiative to generate followers.  However, there are a some I identified which requested your full login details (both for Facebook and Twitter).  Out of the desire for privacy of my own account, it's fair to say these were avoided.  So these to me and you, dear reader, are definitely identifiable as scams; but I fear for any consumers didn't notice these classic cases of fraudulence.

After the purchase of the Facebook likes, as you can see from the insights, over 59% of these likes are from countries I didn't target with any content output, with 41% who have not selected English as their default language (I don't say that in a bigoted way whatsoever, before you start to accuse without thinking).

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Looking deeper, you start to see the…questionable sparse nature of these profiles.  One gentleman named Ibrahim Kasem, with a stock sunset timeline cover, a profile picture of Actor William Levy and no inputted data except for sex, location (USA) and 50 Facebook questions, which he answered in Arabic, it's clear to see from this (and the vast time of inactivity) that this was a created profile for the benefit of being another number on a page's fan count.  Plus the fact that Ibrahim liked several thousand pages proved this point also.

Many more profiles similar to this were found, with only a handful showing signs of activity and engagement with the Facebook community. Most were purely there for the sake of quantitative wins for the company, in which they were most probably created or assigned by.

The same can be definitely said for the Twitter followers received, with many wearing the #TeamFollowback emblem in their bio with pride; but a fair sizeable chunk showing little to no activity, and all nowhere near targeted towards the subject matter of the Twitter account.  But did it improve or continue engagement?  Yes and no.

Beyond the followers who have been switched to your brand with the drop of a credit card account, the rate of adoption to the accounts has not increased at all; but the interaction surely has from other users.  It feels almost insulting to say this: it seems people will talk to what they see as a popular brand, purely based on numbers.  Kind of shallow to be honest, and a ROI based entirely on deception.

So does it work? Sort of.


Regardless of the slight feeling of Euphoria, waking up in the morning and seeing thousands of new likes and followers, the whole idea becomes a slight catch-22.  It's counter-productive to any natural growth you have created, because you don't receive any fans targeted towards your page's subject matter.  This means you'll have an disproportional ration of people who actually care about posts, reducing the 'Edgerank' quality of them as they're shared.

But on the other hand, while it can be identified as a scam, social media users are shallow and quantitatively focussed enough to fall for the rouse, and give the proposition some form of benefit in the field of engagement.

There's a rule in social media marketing that many stick to: your fans should be earned, not bought.  These findings may turn what was seen as 'black and white' into a slight grey area.  That's the final nail in the coffin of Web 2.0, and the poisoning of Web 3.0 to me.

It leads to the inevitable message that as business continue to commercialise what was meant to be the next big public forum, social media, its users become a commodity also.  

Many companies fail to take on board the simple lesson that comes with earning a community: simply being human.  Turns out that we've forgotten this too, as human beings, and become just as discernible as the fake accounts.  

Buying fans has become a conduit for just how unsociable social networking has become.

But hey, maybe will cheer you up?