Should businesses buy likes, fans and followers on Facebook and other social media sites?

The internet weighs in on whether you should buy social media fans and followers for your business
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Should businesses buy likes, fans and followers on Facebook and other social media sites?

My business is just starting out, should we buy social media fans and followers?

No. You should not buy fans on social media. (That is the very short answer according to 93% of people who answered the poll!)

But before we delve too deep into the topic, I want to clarify that the practice of ‘buying’ likes can be understood from two different angles:

1) Buying from “like farms”. Visiting third party websites, choosing a ‘package’ (aka: number of likes you want) and paying for them (no questions asked.)

2) Targeted ads via social channel “Like” Campaigns. Using social advertising tools like Facebook to create ‘Like Campaigns’ with the goal of getting the targeted audience to like your business page.

It’s my belief that the individuals who answered ‘yes’ and ‘depends’ in the poll were mostly referring to the latter definition. And the majority of those who answered ‘no’ were referring to “like farms.” However, some did explicitly mention that businesses should grow organically (full recap of poll comments and feedback.)

Here in Alberta, only 47% of businesses use social media. In other words, there are a whole lot of businesses unfamiliar with accepted and frowned upon social media practices. This is an excellent reminder that as marketers we often forget that we sit on a soapbox of knowledge acquired over years of trial and error in our field. Which is why I turned to my peers across social networks and asked them to weigh-in.

Social Media Poll Results: [Read the full recap here.]

140 people voted.

  • 93% said no
  • 2% said yes
  • 5% said depends

Time To Confess.

Professionals entering the industry today take for granted the amount of information available, as well as the online groups that exist to brainstorm and get solid feedback and counsel. We didn’t have these resources back in the day (there were no ‘courses’, believe it or not!) So unfortunately, many moons ago while working with a client we got bad advice and we bought fans from a third party website.

In our defence, it made sense; the website we were dealing with was reputable (still exists today; just doesn’t offer that service); the provider advertised that they were “real” fans (we didn’t understand how it worked but thought it was worth a shot.) As you may have guessed, it was total bull and we learned quickly that building a real audience doesn’t come easily (not even back then.)

Since then, others have done it and continue today (even organizations you’d least expect.) For example, the US government was outed for spending more than $600k on buying Facebook fans. Beyond that, not too long ago a list of celebrities with loads of fake followers was released via Twitter Audit. People like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, President Trump, Katy Perry, Oprah and Mark Cuban,made the list! [We should mention that there’s no proof that these people bought fans, however, it was heavily implied.]

Key Takeaways For Businesses And Startups:

Fake is Fake is Fake. Buying fans will not impact your bottom line.

Take Time To Grow Organically. This is easier said than done. But the reality is that you’ve got to give people a reason to want to connect with you. What is your USP? Do you have a content strategy? How much time do you have to develop unique stuff? Can you consistently deliver?

If You Want To Pay-to-Play, Do It Above Board With Ads. “Like Campaigns” via social channels like Facebook are an accepted method of buying fans. With that said, depending on your business objectives and budget, you may want to put your time and money to work elsewhere.

Likes don’t mean anything. Ever. Vanity metrics and perception were considered very important back in the day. Heck, even today some of the worlds largest brands still rely on vanity metrics (and Klout) when reporting success and popularity to the c-suite. But ‘likes’ are not an indication of success, expertise, savvy, influence, popularity and they’re definitely not an indication of financial success. In the spring, Harvard Business Review released an experiment about Likes and revenue.  They concluded that “liking is a very weak endorsement and the mere act of endorsing a brand does not affect a customer’s behaviour or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by friends.”

Focus On Engagement But Don’t Fall Victim To FaçadePods. When I have clients who are focused on likes, I recommend that they visit social profiles and pages with huge fan bases and review engagement. Are people liking posts? Are they commenting? Are they sharing? In many cases, the engagement rates were substantially lower than accepted averages. We then discuss the importance of engaging with our people, and how much more meaningful that is in comparison to a number on the page. But there is something we should all be aware of and that is  “engagement pods” or “comment pods.” Basically people join them across social sites to try to beat algorithms. [Check out this test by AgoraPulse] Keep this in mind when you’re looking at your own content; focus on what your audience wants and expects from you, not smoke and mirrors.

 (Engagement Pod: People who have agreed to work together to like, comment/engage and even repost one-anthers IG posts. There are rules and restrictions with pods (what happens in the pod, stays in the pod.)  

Follow-for-follow. You’re not buying fans, but you still give a false impression that your audience is made up of people interested in your product, service and expertise. I don’t participate in this method, but there are many who do (and even some who do it transparently.) But it all comes back to your overall business objectives – does it support what you’re trying to accomplish?

How to grow your fans and followers on social media the old-fashioned way.

Be transparent. The best compliment I’ve ever had is from clients and colleagues who like working with me because they know I shoot from the hip. I share my ideas and what I learn with others (even mistakes, as you’ve read above.) It’s easy because I don’t have to remember one persona over another; I just don’t BS. (You know what I’m talking about. You’ve probably attended conferences where you’ve met someone you idolized online, only to find out that they’re a complete dunderhead!) Transparency builds trust. An important ingredient in any relationship (business and otherwise.)

Provide Value. You’ve no doubt read about this many times before. But it’s the truth. If you’re not sharing content that your audience has an interest in and will get value from,  you’ll lose their attention.  Remember that time is the most precious and irreplaceable thing someone can give us – don’t over-promise and under-deliver. (e.g.: BUY this course for $999 and learn how they get the caramilk in the Cadbury Caramilk Bars… ffwd to find out you actually have to buy the $2999 course to get those answers!)

Do the research. What I mean is that we all spend a great deal of time trying to create content we think our people want, but we don’t actually take the time to see what’s out there. Beyond that, we give opinions and direction on things we’ve actually never tried ourselves. If you want to be seen as the authority or trusted resource on a subject matter, make sure you know your subject!

Listen. Take a minute to talk to your people online and offline – what is it that they need help with? What problems do they have? How can you help them find solutions (hint: I don’t mean your products.) Look at your Google Analytics. What are people searching for on your website? Look at your social channels – what kinds of comments are they leaving? Leverage this information and put together content that they actually want.

One point I’m pleased that a peer brought up is that it’s our job as marketers and trusted advisors to educate our clients on these topics. Which is why I’m grateful to have had so many people weigh-in on this topic.

Bottom line: if you’re not sure a certain marketing tactic is the right move for your business, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In full transparency, we’ve absolutely run ‘Like Campaigns’ for clients but want to reiterate that you should not buy likes from ‘Like Farms’! 🙂

Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.