One of the most important aspects of any social media strategy is building a strong network of users in the form of "likes," "connections," or "followers," respectively. On a number of occasions, I've had the opportunity to speak with several groups of local businesses regarding social media networking, and one question continues to linger in their minds, "Should I buy social followers to help jumpstart my community and tap into the 'network effect' of people online?"
To put this in perspective, we'll use Facebook as an example. Facebook users that "like" companies, organically (on their own terms), have intentions to engage with the company in a variety of ways. Also, these "likes" build a network of Facebook users that have had a positive experience with your company.
However, as Facebook progresses and becomes a major online leader, it's getting harder and harder for SMBs to stand above the crowd and attract quality "likes." Is there another way? Yes. But it may be the equivalent of opening Pandora's box. In addition to building "likes" organically, there are several aggregators out there that are now offering guaranteed "likes" for a price.
For those unfamiliar, "like buying" is essentially paying a company/aggregator for a guaranteed number of "likes" to your Facebook page. As companies begin to pay for "likes," it's almost a certainty that a "like farm" will emerge, comparable to that of a "link farm." Put simply, a like farm is a group of Facebook users that are all friends with each other and "like" the same topics, ideas, or businesses.
For better or for worse, we thought this was a concept worth testing. Do brands with a higher number of "likes" get more recognition? Would these "likes" really deliver increased engagement? Although we were skeptics, we knew we would have to test it to deliver an impartial analysis. So we turned to my company's lab division to conduct the experiment and monitor the results of purchasing "likes" on Facebook. We selected one particular vendor (who will remain anonymous) that promised us 1,000 "targeted" "likes" for $197. The following is what transpired:
After some delay, and some action required on our part to question when these "likes" would take place, the vendor finally came through for us. Within a 48-hour period, we saw an increase of 400 new "likes" on our Facebook page.
We then conducted an analysis of how "targeted" these "likes" were. It seems as though the majority of our new fan base had the following in common:
After a couple weeks, we took the proper steps to cut our losses and end this service. The point of this experiment was to complete an impartial analysis of this service, and we were able to do that. Here are some further takeaways from this experiment:
If you are a small business only using social media platforms as a way to gain popularity through "likes," then you may want to revise your social media strategy. The intrinsic value of an organic "like" is a consumer that you can establish a relationship with. There is no potential for valuable engagement with paid "likes." Also, in diluting your Facebook page (or Twitter account or company blog), you'll have a hard time getting a pulse on what your local consumers are really looking for.
Instead of looking for shortcuts, I recommend building your community/audience the right way, by providing a value in the exchange of communication with your target audience. Here are a few key tips:
Employing a social media strategy requires the same personal skills you would utilize when your customers are across the counter from you. Get started in the conversation, build your community, and remember that shortcuts will not replace the hard work that has made your company successful.
Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
June 20, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT