- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 24 August 2012 14:54, Updated 05 September 2012 14:32
When a competitor stacked on a few thousand Facebook likes in a couple of days, the founder of online furniture retailer Milan Direct, Dean Ramler, wanted to know how they did it.
“We’re always scanning the market, our competitors, to see who’s doing things well,” he says.
But he didn’t like what he found.
To learn a bit about a brand’s Facebook community, anyone can click on the “Like” counter. For example, for Milan Direct’s 12,000 fans, the dominant profile is 35- to 44-year-olds living in Melbourne. Ramler was suspicious when he found his competitor’s typical fan was aged 13 to 17 and lived in New York. A week later they were based in Mumbai.
“It can be fairly assumed that these youngsters from India and the USA are not legitimate customers of an Australian-based furniture retailer,” he reckons.
Ramler suspects his competitor is paying for likes. “I found it amusing a company would be so deceitful,” he says.
“What they’re trying to do is to show potential new customers, ‘look how big we are.’ ”
Brands are being seduced by the idea of buying followers. A Google search of “buy Facebook likes” brings up local consultancy Get With Social, which lists clients on its website including restaurant chain Mad Mex and television brand Soniq. A simple online transaction can net 1000 Twitter followers for $50 or 1000 Facebook likes for $90.
Ramler says “Facebook is not a numbers game” but Get With Social’s Mathew Carpenter doesn’t agree. “[There is] no reason why you can’t build your following while maintaining engagement,” he tells BRW by email.
Carpenter emphasises that his service finds real people to like and follow brands but agrees that many of his competitors purchase “bots or fake accounts that are simply there to boost numbers”. Social media experts warn this is a dangerous path to go down.
“The idea of buying Facebook likes and Twitter followers is essentially the easy way out,” Text100 senior director Karalee Evans says. “Having 30,000 Twitter followers that are fake is not going to lead to more sales.”
“I think it’s unethical,” Klick Communications director Kim McKay says.
In the world of celebrities on Twitter, who are often paid to post promotional tweets, McKay says she can understand why your average Kardashian might try to boost her fan base because she receives “more money [based on] the more influence that you have”.
But as far as companies go, they can forget mini-controversies about raunchy tween girl fashion, the next social media storms in a teacup will arise from brands being busted with bimbots – the spam Twitter accounts that often are personified by a busty young lady.
Often these accounts use photos that are lifted from other places on the web, like a dormant MySpace profile. When companies buy fake followers, many will come in Bimbot form.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was accused of buying Twitter followers in July when his followers jumped by 150,000 in one day, compared with a previous average daily growth rate of 3500 new followers. The Atlantic magazine speculated that many of the new followers were fake because they had fewer than two followers.
“Now weeks later he’s still getting stories,” Evans notes. “The mainstream press are delving into why he felt compelled to buy followers. I definitely think the heat’s on.”
Tools that measure the fake proportion of a follower list are popping up but Evans says it “takes 30 seconds to go through and identify whether that population is legitimate”.
(Although these tools can’t confirm whether followers are purchased – some will just be garden variety spammers.)
McKay says companies that are found out with fakes will damage the trust and loyalty they have with customers. “We’ll start to question every metric we’re given,” she says.
Ramler says brands should focus on sharing interesting content that engages their fan base. For example, Milan Direct uses Facebook to get feedback on potential new furniture designs.
Declining the chance to name and shame his competitor (although BRW has seen the Facebook page), Ramler says: “They’ve got wrongly in their mind that if they have a high number [of Facebook likes] then the perceived street cred of that company is really high.”