Buy Likes & Reviews: Smart Or Social Suicide?
Mine is bigger than yours? Some brands are like race dogs on steroids when it comes to growing their number of fans and followers. In this article we will give CMOs insights on buying likes, followers and reviews. Smart, or social suicide?
TripAdvisor, Google+ and Yelp use a mix of algorithms and human moderators to separate fraudulent reviews from genuine.
Last month, Facebook started to delete fake accounts and likes generated from these accounts…
Why could CMOs – that see their brand as their most valuable asset – consider reading this full story, and next distribute it to their teams? Because it will protect their brand against painful reputation damage, FTC fines and Google penalties.
To give you some context to this story: No I am not another self-proclaimed social guru or expert. I am global chief social officer at Mindshare, architect of their social strategy and framework, doing similar work for global brands like Nike, Unilever, AmEx, Nestlé etc.
Yes, I do know that big is only good when smart, so believe me: As former entrepreneur and agency founder, there are days that I leave a WPP, GroupM or Mindshare office cursing or crying. But that only happens occasionally.
Most of my working days, I fly home after a meeting with a very satisfied feeling, because the CMO and his team did believe below story. And based on this story, they decided to take another social approach than initially planned for.
I do not exactly know what makes me tick. Is it a passion for brands? My frustration about fake and fraud cowboys that try to lure brands to the abyss for the purpose of money?
Is it my DNA that cannot stand injustice? Or is it my affinity for disobedience?
Anyway, in above context, here is my story.
We all know that many consumers start their journey online, looking for product when they are about to purchase one. They look for the opinion of like-minded peers first. Simply because most consumers trust their peers more than brand advertising.
Most consumers have learned that the ads for products are sometimes the lipstick on a pig. That’s why peer reviews enable them the security of buying the right product. So it is a no brainer to understand that online reviews can make or break a product, brand or business.
Maybe that is why the incentive to cheat with paid-for, malicious or fraudulent reviews is so great for brands? Weeding out fraud is an inexact science; sites such as TripAdvisor, Google+ and Yelp use a mix of algorithms and human moderators to separate fraudulent reviews from genuine ones.
Of all the major review sites casting a dragnet, Yelp stands out for its aggressiveness in trying to catch fraudsters: 20% of reviews written and submitted are never displayed.
How many online reviews are fraudulent? No one knows for sure, and the estimates are all over the map.
A Gartner study in September predicted that the amount of fake reviews would grow to 10% to 15% by 2014 and that “at least two” Fortune 500 brands would face litigation from the Federal Trade Commission for the practice in coming years.
That prediction includes fake “likes” and followers in social media.
In a world increasingly filled with online commentary, likes and reviews, law enforcement is overmatched. The law in the US is that if you’ve been paid to endorse a product or service, you must disclose it. The FTC fined Legacy Learning Systems $250,000 in 2011 for paying fake reviewers based on sales they generated.
Given the stakes, a cottage industry has sprung up to help businesses keep track of their reviews and identify fraud when it happens. Reputation management companies like Reputation.com have added tools for comment monitoring, and a company more specifically aimed at detecting review fraud, Review Trackers, launched earlier this year.
In the world of reviews, brands should be aware of fakes. It can be seen as spam, so please keep it legitimate. Abuse might lead to severe brand reputation damage, penalties from Google and fines form the FTC.
Influencer Outreach & Seeding
The whole story is also applicable to sponsored stories, celebrity endorsements and promoted tweets. Stick to the WOMMA guidelines and be authentic.
If brands pay celebs or VIPs in any kind of way to endorse their products or brands, make sure to be clear about it, upfront! Tell the audience it is a sponsored Tweet.
Just tell it like it is. On Twitter, use a hashtag like #SP or #PT (Sponsored Tweet or Promoted Tweet).
Same for seeding purposes. Don’t claim that your branded video went extremely viral, if you know that 95% of the views are paid-for views. Don’t BS us, since we’ll find out you are “liar liar”.
We all understand that most brands would like to have #1 viral in a Viral Video Chart.
But what if the people later detect that your viral video was not a viral at all?
That it only became a weapon of mass affection because you fuelled it with 50 million paid-for video views?
Facebook Likes and Social Followers
Earlier this year, Facebook revealed that out of its over 900 million users, 5-6% could be fake. In order to increase the social network’s integrity Facebook started removing fake accounts and fake likes on brand pages.
In a blog post Facebook stated that on each page, only 1% or less of the likes would be removed.
To build links to your content, some spammers have created “like farms”. These farms can generate likes for brands for only $0.05 to $0.15 per like? Obviously, most of these likes are fake.
You should understand that if large agencies, that have 100% transparent trading deals with you – or companies like Buddy Media and Facebook – have explained to you that regular new likes would cost you between $0.80 to $1.60 per like.
If $0.80 to $1.60 is the market benchmark, think about the very, very cheap likes one more time. You might be dealing with a like-farm or spam company.
Please be aware about the fact that platforms like Fiverr.com, contain an army of housewives on welfare and cheap labour workers from Asia, that are happy to generate you “as many likes as possible”, more Twitter followers, Pinterest lovers or Google+’s for just $5.
If you think for a moment that these “like-builders” care about your brand, please think again. They care about making money.
Same goes for like-farm cowboys, probably the same guys that promised you a #1 ranking in Google results a decade ago.
As one of the most powerful platforms on the web for a brand to engage with, you would expect the number of likes on brand pages are generated in an organic way.
You will probably also understand the next curve in your metrics, when you have accidentally bought fake Facebook likes and fake followers.
It might look like below.
Some brands that had fake Facebook likes in their fan base, lost 8-10% of their fans after the Facebook clean-up called Operation Unlike.
Although the exact number of profiles it has to get rid of is still unclear, Facebook said it is going ahead with this operation as part of its quest for authenticity and transparency all throughout.
Many pages have in fact noticed a substantial decrease in likes over the course of a few days, including Zynga’s Texas HoldEm Poker page which has lost 96,000 likes on one alone.
Other pages that have experienced declines are Lady Gaga and Rihanna’s fan pages, with 31,700 and 22,000 less fans respectively.
The Farmville page lost more than 45,000 likes while the Justin Bieber Facebook fan page declined by almost 18,000 fans.
Even though the top brands on Facebook use innovative campaigns, smart advertising and an organically created fan base, most of these brands also tend to buy their likes and Twitter followers.
Nothing wrong with that. Just be aware that you are revealing your social DNA by doing so. People will notice that your brand is on steroids, so be open about it.
As organic likes rarely follow obvious patterns and like farms build around a core network of accounts, everyone can see that you aren’t powerful enough to grow your own fan base and that you are buying your fans.
Love brands are at least able to grow their bases of fans and followers in organic ways. If you are able to do so, your story, programs, products and content are entertaining, relevant and good enough to be recommended by your fans.
The future of social marketing is about Social CRM and being able to think beyond reach. A true social DNA starts with listening to people and with building long term, mutual beneficial relationships between consumers and your brand.
Keep realizing that the social space is about authenticity. If you see your brand as your most valuable asset, make reputation management the epic centre of your social marketing strategy.
Stay aware that bribing bloggers or buying fake likes might have serious impact on your Google ranking, your brand’s reputation and could even lead to fines by the FTC.
Make sure to check your suppliers and partners upfront. And to protect your brand, add penalty clauses in your contracts, one more time: Your brand is your companies’ most valuable asset!
Try to understand that true fans and brand ambassadors are your satisfied clients. The ones that truly love you and are willing to tell their peers ” How great your product, your brand and customer service really is”.
If you are buying likes or followers, buy as many as you can. But please make very sure to check the offers thoroughly.
And try to make sure that your social media marketing strategy and content strategy are superb, before you start the buying process.
You’d want to see organic growth first, just to be certain that you are not going to disappoint your newly acquired fans.
What About You?
What in the social arena disturbs you most? How do you feel about bribing and buying? I would love to read your opinion in the comments below.
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About the Author
Igor Beuker was CMO at 3 listed companies, chairman at the IAB, jury member at Webby, AMMA and Esprix awards, founder of 3 digital agencies (sold to WPP) and global chief social officer at Mindshare. Now he is ‘freejack’ consultant and a sought after keynote speaker.