As PR professionals, we are often collaborators in cultivating our clients’ Facebook pages. We understand the importance of gaining Likes and fueling engagement on the social network. Not only should more Likes equate to higher brand recognition and presence, they should ideally help a client’s message gain traction in the news feeds of its followers – and in greater commenting and sharing across the platform.
Yet recently, ongoing questions regarding the “economy of Likes” have spiked again, thanks to a video by Derek Muller of Veritasium accusing Facebook of faulty advertising practices. The video quickly went viral and has already driven high levels of commentary and response.
Muller set up a test Facebook page and paid the social network for advertising in hopes of increasing his reach. While his follower count steadily grew, Muller did not see a boost in engagement in his posts. In fact, he saw overall engagement decline.
In addition to stagnant engagement, Muller noticed that the majority of Likes were coming from followers in developing countries such as India, Egypt and the Philippines. He further noted in the profiles of those liking his pages from these areas that they had similarly liked upwards of hundreds, if not thousands, of other Facebook brand pages. He concluded that while he paid for legitimate Facebook advertising, the results were identical to what would happen if he purchased bogus Likes from a click farm.
The Facebook Fraud video has received over 1.4 million views in just a few days and has been covered by The Washington Post, Slate and AdAge. It has even prompted an official statement from Facebook:
“Fake likes don’t help us. For the last two years, we have focused on proving that our ads drive business results and we have even updated our ads to focus more on driving business objectives. Those kinds of real-world results would not be possible with fake likes. In addition, we are continually improving the systems we have to monitor and remove fake likes from the system.”
So what does this mean for those of us engaged in social media on a daily basis for our clients? With Facebook now a major component of PR / social strategies, we cannot dismiss the immense impact the platform has on the communications strategies of our clients – particularly in providing a dynamic venue for engaging with people who care about your brand. Yet PR and social pros must also recognize the limitations of this and other social platforms.
“Engagement” as a term and a practice is still imperfectly defined as best. And it’s often most genuinely won – and genuinely valuable – when it is built organically over time. Trying to “buy” engagement at volume may simply be a losing bet, whether that purchase flows through legitimate ad channels or via the shady world of click farms and black hat SEO.
As debate continues over the ROI of social media strategies and channels, conversations like this one will only intensify. Social media investment is vital, but it is equally essential to constantly assess at what cost and with what outcomes. That is the kind of counsel our clients will need and expect.