SMB Social Analysis – Can Money Buy You Friends?

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.

The Experiment

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:

  • City of origin was a Far East market, most likely Bangladesh.
  • Had at least 66 “likes” in common with other members of our fan base (including both groups and pages).
  • Showed little activity on their walls, but directed others to a website.
  • Were friends with each other.

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:

  • The purchased “likes” were not targeted. As a domestic, U.S. local-search firm, foreigners would have no use or interest in our products or services.
  • The commonality of friends and groups lends to the likelihood that these users are members of a like farm and are receiving payments to go to specific pages and “like” them.
  • Finally, in terms of interaction, none of these new friends commented or engaged with the content on our Facebook page.

Key Takeaways

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:

  • Be present and responsive. Respond to positive and negative sentiments, both in an appropriate and timely manner.
  • Be thoughtful and useful. Don’t make your Facebook page overly promotional. Take time to provide answers, thanks, and knowledge.
  • Start the conversation. Create meaningful engagement by posing questions to your followers. Take a proactive stance and create more ways for your followers to interact with you (examples include: games, polls, questions, etc.).
  • Keep it real. Users want to know that there are real people behind your business. Show pictures, videos, details about employees, etc. Make them feel that they are talking to a friend, rather than a company.

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.

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