With 470 Facebook "likes," the business looked like it was off to a good start in social media marketing. But Hamilton Wallace noticed a problem. “They didn’t have a single comment on their Facebook fan page,” the small-business marketing consultant recalled. “And they probably had three screens of good posts, with not a single comment.”
How could this be? The answer: Paid followers. While many business owners struggle to win Facebook likes and fans by posting appealing content and engaging visitors in two-way conversations, some take a more direct approach. They just cut a check and the fans appear.
Dozens of social media marketing companies guarantee hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Facebook likes to anyone who will pay their price. For around 5 cents to a dime per name, they promise that your business’s Facebook fan page will gain new followers in as little as a few days.
John Deutsch, owner of social marketing company SocialPromotionz, charges $40 or 8 cents per name for 500 nontargeted fans, which means they could be from any country. Rates per fan go down as low as 3 cents per fan for larger purchases. SocialPromotionz offers packages of up to 10,000 fans.
To get their friends-for-hire, these social media marketing companies may use a couple of techniques. Some appear to pay individual contractors to create Facebook profiles and, for a few cents apiece, "like" the pages of the businesses that contract with them. Others may then send invitations to large numbers of Facebook users to visit the client’s page.
Using a paid friend-finder doesn’t appear to be risky, at least in terms of the chance of being banned from Facebook. However, it is against Facebook’s terms of service for companies to employ software or scripts to automate creation of Facebook profiles. Facebook also disapproves of users sending friend requests on behalf of other users. Sharing the password for your account is likewise frowned upon, and you would have to do that in order for someone to send friend requests from your account, although marketers can get around this by creating new pages similar to yours and sending friend requests from the new account.
Although you may not get kicked off Facebook, buying likes is likely to be ineffective, according to Alison Zarrella, a Las Vegas social media consultant and co-author of The Facebook Marketing Book (O’Reilly, 2011). Zarrella points out that the practice gets no traction with EdgeRank, the algorithm Facebook uses to filter each user's newsfeed. EdgeRank emphasizes content that gets "likes" and comments, Zarrella notes. “Typically, only a fan that is actually interested in your posts is going to interact with content by liking or commenting,” she says.
A paid fan isn’t likely to lead business and prospect to very much actual interaction, and that is the Holy Grail of social marketing. “If you like a page and never interact with it, you'll stop seeing its updates in your Newsfeed,” Zarrella says. She says most people—some say as high as 98 percent—never return to a Facebook page after liking it. They do continue to view posts through the Newsfeed, but only as long as they stay engaged with you. “A purchased fan is almost never qualified the way a natural one is, and will therefore not interact with a page, eventually becoming a count towards the overall 'like' number but not worth much else,” Zarrella says.
Paid Facebook fans probably aren’t completely worthless. Companies that sell Facebook likes, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers and the like cropped up soon after social media became a marketing magnet and have been around ever since. There is a reason for that, Deutsch says. “The first thing people look at is how many likes a page has,” he says. “It is a way of showing that your business is legitimate.”
People do pay attention to the number of likes a page has, Wallace agrees. For a business that already has some interaction, the addition of a sizable number of friends—even paid ones—at least can’t hurt.
However, Wallace says using Facebook’s targeted advertising probably is more likely to deliver truly qualified fans. Even better is to create a multi-pronged social media marketing strategy that uses a variety of means to attract prospects, but relies on steady, relevant engagement to keep them. That’s almost always best done from the inside, by an employee dedicated to keeping the company connected to customers and prospects via social media.
“The reality is that you can’t pay someone to engage people for you on Facebook,” Wallace says. “You have to do it the old-fashioned way.”
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