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.