Last week's blog post about Facebook removing inactive 'likes' from fan and business pages, sparked a few questions in regards to pages and Twitter accounts purchasing their followers and how you can tell if this is the case. I also had a brief tweet discussion with Marsha Wright (@marshawright) after she thought she'd spotted a certain correlation between likes and retweets on a certain Twitter account.
The practice of selling and buying likes is increasingly widespread these days, and I regularly get tweeted by people offering to increase my fan numbers on various platforms on an almost daily basis. Whilst technically there is nothing to stop you from buying or selling, there are any number of reasons in my opinion, why you shouldn't be doing it.
Why buying likes and followers is frowned upon
Firstly, building a following on any social platform isn't supposed to be easy. You shouldn't expect to gain thousands of followers overnight the minute you start posting. The vast majority of us have painstakingly built up our followers over the course of months and years by posting interesting content that encourages people to engage with us and share with their friends.
Secondly, it's basically dishonest. You're essentially conning people that you have more influence and more credibility than you've actually built yourself. Influence and credibility are earned, not bought from some click farm. I can see how instant popularity may seem like an attractive prospect, but it can seriously damage your online reputation.
Thirdly, bought or fake followers are of absolutely no use to you, your Twitter accounts or your Facebook pages. In fact when it comes to Facebook they actually cause problems with targeting your posts, your organic reach and any engagement metrics you might be tracking. Why? Because after clicking the 'like' button they no longer contribute anything to your page. They don't like your posts, comment on your discussions or share your pictures. They do nothing to promote the long term growth of your pages. They are dead weight, dragging you down.
How to tell if a Facebook page has fake likes
Now, I'm sure at some time or another we've all looked at someone's Facebook page or more than likely a competitors page and wondered how they've grown their page so quickly. I've done it and I've spoken to many others who have too. Knowing that it takes years in some cases to build large followings, you can't help but be suspicious when you see a page that's gained a thousand followers overnight, can you? I know I can't.
And if, like me that curiosity get's the better of you, there are a few little things you can try out to see if your initial suspicions were correct. I usually click on the page likes in the first content block on the left-hand side of the page, under the heading 'People'. That opens up a small graph which, whilst not giving you a great deal of insight, does show you how many people are actively talking about the page in comparison to the total page likes. Having looked at some of the pages I run, I can usually expect around 25% of my audience to be talking about the page at any one time. This may be different for others, but you'll have to have a look at your own and work it out an average for yourselves.
A fairly solid indicator that the page in question has bought likes will be a very low number of people talking about the page, compared to high numbers of actual likes. For example, a page I looked at only yesterday had 9.2k likes but only 3 people talking about it. Now that just screams at me that there are a lot of inactive likes on that page, accounts that never engage with the page and never comment or share their posts.
To back up those instincts there are several searches you can perform in Facebook's Graph Search. For example, terms such as 'Countries of people who like [insert page name]', 'Hometowns of people who like [insert page name]' or 'Language of people who like [insert page name]'. You have to use your own discretion and a bit of common sense here, but the page I was looking at yesterday which was a UK-based service provider had the majority of it's likes from Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico. In fact the UK was actually 12th in the list of likes by country. So we're looking at a UK-based business offering a service to UK customers that has the majority of it's likes from outside the UK, from non-English speaking accounts. Doesn't fill you with confidence, does it?
Fortunately, as I explained in my last post, Facebook's new 'inactive likes' policy should start to see more of these fake likes being removed from pages in the very near future.
How to tell if a Twitter account has fake followers
Whilst a fair bit of digging or investigation is required on Facebook, it's even easier to find a faker on Twitter. Twitter is an almost completely open network, allowing millions of people to broadcast thoughts, messages and ideas every single minute of the day. As such, the vast majority of their data is open to public scrutiny. In a similar way to Facebook, my suspicions are usually aroused when I see an account that's not following many people, but has a massive following of it's own. Now that wouldn't look out of the ordinary on a celebrity's account, for example, but on account with no bio and no profile picture? That rings alarm bells for me.
Again you need to apply your own discretion and some common sense here. But as an example, the Twitter account for the same UK-based service I described earlier, had over 30k followers yet was only following 40 people. Anyone that's specifically tried to build a twitter following will tell you that this is only possible in extremely rare cases and predominantly in the case of celebrities, musicians, politicians and other people in the public eye. So how can you confirm your suspicions?
Well actually, it's incredibly easy on Twitter, in fact there are any number of apps that have been developed specifically for this purpose. A Google search reveals any number of free or paid options you can choose from. One of my favourites is 'Fake Follower Check' by Status People, which allows 3 free searches and unlimited searches with a subscription. It works by taking a sample of 1,000 of yours or your chosen account's followers and assessing them against a range of spam criteria. On a very basic level, spam accounts tend to have little or no followers and few or no tweets. In contrast, these spam accounts actually follow very large numbers of accounts.
A quick search on my own Twitter profile @Socially_Matt, for instance, tells me that I have 2% fake followers, 18% inactive followers and 80% good followers. A search on the UK business I've been using as an example shows me that they have a ratio of 80% fake followers, 6% inactive followers and only 14% good followers. You see how that works for anyone wanting to rate your credibility?
Why is being able to spot a faker important?
There are two reasons. First it's important for you to be sure when you communicate on Twitter or Facebook that you are communicating with real and active followers. Because the more active your follower base the more likely they are to share your content.
The second reason is there are growing numbers of Fakers out there and growing numbers of click-farms to provide them with fake likes and followers. There are still many people who buy followers in a vain attempt to build legitimacy. They are essentially trying to game the system and it's important for you to be able to spot them, and steer clear of them.
Because ultimately if you're willing to lie about how many followers you have then you're not going to come across as a particularly trustworthy individual, brand or business.
It always happens in the wake of an announcement from Facebook. Usually, it starts slowly and it only takes one or two people to misread or misinterpret, but it snowballs until almost all the pages I follow start posting messages encouraging me to 'like' or 'comment' more to make sure that I can still see them. So I really shouldn't have been surprised to see the new raft of posts this week suggesting that if I wasn't active enough then Facebook would remove my 'like' from those pages and actively stop me seeing what they post.
Let's get one thing straight from the start, forget everything you've already read on this subject from the pages you follow. The majority of page owners (myself included to a point) have felt a little forgotten or perhaps undermined by Facebook's move to a more pay-to-play platform and felt that organic-reach was now their enemy. It's not, by the way, but that's a blog post for another day. With this already negative sentiment towards how Facebook conducts itself, many page owners choose only to see the negative in every subsequent announcement designed to help fan and business pages.
The recent announcement is in fact incredibly helpful towards pages. Those out there like me, who have concentrated heavily on the community-building potential of social media, will already know that you should never allow yourself to be seduced by numbers. The actual number of 'likes' your page has, is largely irrelevant and should not be used as a benchmark for how successful your page is. We always talk about content being King and marketing being Queen, but I'll tell you now that engagement is the Ace. The true success of your pages hinges entirely on how many people comment on or share your posts and actually engage with your business, brand, charity, story or whatever your message is.
So, with that in mind, what would you rather have - half a million page 'likes' from accounts that never interact with your underlying message? Or would you prefer a couple of hundred page 'likes' from a dedicated group of followers who identify with your story, actively get involved and discuss it with you on your page and act as brand ambassadors, spreading your vision and message to their friends on an almost daily basis? It's a no-brainer, right? Well, you would have thought so, but you'd be surprised at how many people I meet that are still solely pre-occupied with numbers of followers.
You may also have been unaware that Facebook already filter out likes and comments generated by deactivated or memorialised accounts from your individual page posts. Removing those same accounts from your page like count gives page owners up-to-date insights on the people that matter, the followers that want you to engage with them. It also allows more accurate data to be presented which page owners can use to find more users with similar interests to those who already follow you. In practice, it's removing a non-responsive, dis-engaged audience from your page and actually giving you the data and opportunity to go out and find a new, more receptive audience to add to the lovely people that like and comment on your posts everyday. Which cannot be a bad thing.
Whilst some pages will see a small dip in their likes on their pages, it's important to remember that these likes were of no value to you at all. The pages which are being hit the heaviest are primarily those that at one time or another chose to purchase a block of likes from a third party outside of Facebook. I would suggest that these pages should expect to see pretty much every single like they've ever paid for, disappear from their follower counts. And with good reason, as all they've done in the past is pay someone to find a whole load of people to click the 'like' button on their pages. None of the likes they've bought have any interest in interacting with them ever again. They have absolutely no value to your page, and add no credibility to your messages. I'd even go so far as to suggest that they actually serve to undermine any credibility you've ever had. Remind me to tell you at some point the anecdote about the local UKIP candidate with over 2,000 likes on his page in 3 days, all of which were from Istanbul.
So please, don't get sucked in to frantically attempting to comment on posts for every page you follow. If you're already checking your Facebook profile regularly then you're not an 'inactive account' by very definition. We should welcome the steps Facebook is taking to try and ensure that everyone benefits from meaningful content and engagement on their platform. It's something that I think Twitter is also going to need to consider in the near future, to cut out the noise that people aren't interested in.
Although, clearly not everyone will be as pleased about a 'slight dip' in page followers as some.
You can read Facebook's full announcement here.
It had been 8 months since I'd last visited Henley Business School on the Whiteknights Campus at Reading University. Back then I'd just landed my first big deal with Playboy Club London a month after setting myself up in business and was still a relative newcomer to presenting and speaking. So when Lecturer of Entrepreneurship, Stuart Morris, contacted me last month and asked me to contribute towards another of his lectures for MBA students I jumped at the chance.
When I arrived for the lecture last Friday, I was even more excited to learn that I'd be in such esteemed company on a Q&A panel of social media experts. As you can see from the photo, I had the pleasure of being in the company of my friend and mentor Alan Donegan of Enjoy Presenting, Nicky Kriel author of 'How to Twitter for Business' and Pete Doyle founder and CEO of the Social Retail Group. After a quick coffee and a brief chance to get to know a little more about each other, Stuart ushered us in to the lecture hall, casually telling us that he was expecting around 180 students to attend. So, no pressure then!
There's always a great buzz at Henley Business School, whether it's walking the halls, with their clean lines and modern architecture or just sitting in the communal areas for a coffee listening to the low level hum of laptops and students discussing potential business ventures and coursework. It's an environment ideally suited to the cultivation of business ideas and inspiration and I always look forwards to visiting. There was an air of expectation as we took to the stage, perching precariously on the particularly high stools that Stuart had put out for us. He introduced us to his students with a few fond anecdotes of how he knew us and why he'd invited us to speak, before allowing us to introduce ourselves in a little more detail and kicking off the Q&A.
The early questions from the students were focused on how social media could be monetised or how those of us on the panel earned a living from social media. It was interesting to see the cross-section of answers to these questions. Some of us had made a career from teaching people how to use social media, others used it to sell our services or products and some, like me, did both and actively managed social media accounts for others. I think some of the students were genuinely surprised that we were doing business on and about social media successfully and perhaps hadn't quite realised how viable social media was or how it could be used to further their own business ambitions.
As the session went on, it became increasingly clear to me that many of the students had dabbled on social media platforms without really considering their true applications. One student openly admitted that she purely used Instagram to find pictures of food, as this was an area she was interested in going into business. However, she hadn't considered reaching out to food bloggers on Twitter nor had she thought about how Facebook could be used to grow a community of food lovers under her banner. I hope our answers gave her more of an idea of how social media could have a huge impact on the growth of her potential business.
The session produced some interesting questions and from my point of view it was great to see how each of us answered them from differing view points, clearly influenced by our own focus and how we use social media ourselves in our everyday lives and businesses. What struck me the most was that almost half of our audience didn't use Twitter at all. I think I was slightly shocked, as I'd always taken Twitter to be the business person's platform of choice, outside of Linked In, providing a feed that they could take or leave whilst contributing their own tweets. I have to admit to wondering whether the wheel had turned once more and that what we deemed mainstream platforms were falling out of favour with the next generation of business. Had they moved on to more indie platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest or Ello, perhaps?
As it turns out, the wheel hasn't turned that far at all. The students I spoke to after the event were simply not engaged with social media to the extent that we were. Some clearly saw the benefits after they'd had their questions answered satisfactorily, whilst others still remained skeptical that it was a useful investment of their time. Are the next generation of business falling out of love with social media? Or are they just typically indifferent to platforms that don't suit their lifestyle? What do you think? It would certainly be interesting to revisit the same MBA group in a few months to see if their views have changed.
You can find all the experts on Twitter and on their websites:
Stuart Morris - @stuartlmorris - www.stuartlmorris.com
Alan Donegan - @alan_donegan - www.enjoypresenting.com
Nicky Kriel - @NickyKriel - www.nickykriel.com
Pete Doyle - @socialretail - www.socialretailgroup.com