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Business Owners Beware: When Social Media Numbers Aren’t What They Seem

facebookunlikeYesterday, one of my clients—a bridal store—contacted me about a business proposal it received. A company had developed a mobile platform to connect tech-savvy brides to wedding vendors. Part of this service includes promoting the vendors thorough the company’s hefty social media presence.

The salesperson sent the store owner some stats to show what kind of publicity vendors could get through its platform. From an initial glance, the numbers were impressive—its Facebook page had 608,000 followers, more than two of the most widely known online wedding resources: WeddingWire (526,000) and The Knot (376,000). The technology company promised to promote the bridal store multiple times on Facebook and other social media services.

Many of its Facebook posts gathered well over 1,000 “likes” each—what vendor wouldn’t want that kind of publicity? Skittles candy couldn’t even get that kind of traffic with its Facebook post congratulating the New England Patriots on its Super Bowl win yesterday—only 786 people had “liked” it, and the post was 12 hours old. And that’s with over 26 million followers. The technology company must be doing something right.

Not so fast.

Two Big Red Flags

The page reeked of “like farming.” In a nutshell: Owners of Facebook pages pay companies to get either robots or human users to “like” their pages and postings, therefore making them seem more popular than they actually are. (The overall social media practice is known as “click farming,” in which people can buy multiple “likes,” followers, re-tweets, and re-pins.) Facebook actually warns against this practice, noting, “The spammers behind fake likes have one goal—to make money off of Page owners without delivering any value in return. They make their profit by promising and generating ‘likes’ to Facebook Page administrators who typically don’t understand that fake ‘likes’ won’t help them achieve their business goals.”

One of the technology company’s recent Facebook posts advertised a bridal store in New Jersey. In 25 minutes, it had garnered over 200 “likes.” I checked out where some of the most recent clicks had come from: Indonesia, France, Nigeria, Mexico, Serbia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, and Laos. Seems like the perfect target audience to buy a bridal gown in the Garden State, no?

Another warning sign: Only one of my Facebook friends (many in this company’s target demographic of females, ages 18-40, who are soon getting married) had heard of this “No. 1” company and followed its page. Yet I have 12 friends who follow WeddingWire and 10 who follow The Knot.

Look Beyond the Numbers

If a company reaches out to you, wanting to promote your business on an app or social media, don’t believe the numbers—conduct your own research and make your marketing dollars count.

  • Google the company and see what comes up. When we did so for this company, the results were telling:  The fourth was a Better Business Bureau rating of F.
  • Ask the salesperson who the company’s competitors are and how its separates itself from them. Make the company back up any puffy-sounding assertions that it’s “No. 1” or “a leader” in its business category.
  • Inquire about its target audience and geographic reach. Make sure it matches your business goals.
  • Visit the company’s social media pages and those of its competitors to compare numbers, the quality of their followers, the frequency and reach of their posts, and interactions (“likes,” shares, re-tweets, conversations, et al).
  • Check for signs of a like or click farm and inflated numbers. On Facebook, these include a high number of followers and commenters from foreign countries; followers that “like” hundreds to thousands of different pages (many that seem odd for the country in which they reside); and conversations in a different language than that of the target audience. And here are 11 ways to spot fake Twitter accounts.
  • Don’t depend on vague testimonials. Contact other businesses advertising on their platforms to ask how their experiences have been.

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