Why Buying Facebook Fans Makes Your Company Look Really Stupid

by Marcus Sheridan

buy fb likes

You’re better than this…

This post won’t be long folks, but it needs to be said…unfortunately.

I was researching a bit of information for my swimming pool company tonight when I stumbled across a high-end builder in the industry that was making a big deal on their home page about the fact their company Facebook page had over 2500 “likes.”

Knowing this elevated number to be extremely rare for any swimming pool business, I then looked at the photos of their “fans” that were on display and within seconds it became obvious to me that they had sold their soul to the social media devil and paid a few bucks on some place like Fiverr (a site I actually like a lot) to get a couple of thousand “fake likes.”

Now you might be asking how I know their fans were fake. Well, I’m not going to go into details, but let me just say I know what swimming pool consumers look like…and they didn’t look like the folks on their page.

And after seeing what this company had done to “appear” socially awesome, what was respect I had for their business quickly turned to disappointment.

Here is the deal my friends—Online consumers aren’t dumb. In fact, they’re getting smarter every day. Furthermore, they can spot a social media rat when they see one.

Be it fake testimonials.

Fake videos.

Fake reviews.

Fake anything.

This is exactly why it doesn’t pay to try and attempt to bloat your numbers for the purpose of appearing more “popular” than you really are.

So please, don’t go there. You’re too good for it anyway.

Stick to transparency. Stick to truly listening to consumers and then earnestly answering their questions.

If you do this, although the “numbers” may grow slowly (many of which don’t mean squat anyway), at least they’ll be real and won’t make your brand look desperate for attention.

Your Turn

A simple post begs a simple question: Why the heck are companies still doing this junk? Thoughts?

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Antonio C Montes November 25, 2012 at

True, true, true…. why they are doing it?, easy… is easier to get new fans when you already have tons of them… pleople tend to hit like when they think that others do the same. As you said, it aint worth it.
Great post.
ACM.

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Marcus Sheridan November 25, 2012 at

Yes, that is true Anotonio, assuming the new potential fan doesn’t look at the list of existing ones…and realize the company is a sham like their facebook fans ;-)

Appreciate you dropping in,

Marcus

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Eric Pratum November 25, 2012 at

In the swimming pool business, this is probably unlikely, but it isn’t in plenty of others… What if someone purchased a bunch of fake fans, spammy links, bot Twitter followers, etc and targeted them all at this company in the hopes of getting them banned and/or penalized? It happens a lot in some verticals I’ve had clients in.

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Marcus Sheridan November 25, 2012 at

Like a modern day war games with incredible digital, and business, consequences.

I wonder when someone is going to make a movie about that Eric–there is some crazy stuff in that arena (negative content) that will be coming to light in the next few years.

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Jeremy Abel November 25, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,

You’re absolutely right- buying Likes and other attempts to artificially inflate social prowess is becoming all too common. In essence, a Facebook page with purchased Likes is merely a facade for a strategy that lacks substance.

First, as more businesses see the power of social signals (such as Facebook Likes, Twitter Followers, etc.) there will be attempts at trying to identify shortcuts to success. I have no clue as to the cost of a Like, but I would imagine any amount of money allotted to the Like budget could have been better spent in a creative campaign for requesting customer testimonials or making content that generates actual Likes (“stick to transparency,” as you put it!). Consider the ROI from the latter options, and how testimonials and content can be repurposed for various stages in the sales funnel. I can’t imagine how many businesses have the “look at how many Likes we have on our Facebook page” in their consulting/sales playbook…

As the saying goes, “You get what you put in.”

Similarly, as more businesses catch wind of social media’s power in the buying process, I think they’re looking at the platform as a silo and not fully appreciating how it works in relation to their other marketing activities. Sooner or later, real prospects will be looking for the signs (i.e. testimonials, educational content, videos, etc.) that the company has earned those Likes… Not something to take lightly, since the buying experience always impacts a business’ reputation.

As always, thanks for your insights on this topic. Keep changing lives, Marcus!

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan November 25, 2012 at

Jeremy, you’re a stud my friend :-) And you really “get” it…now if everyone else could just see the same big picture you do ;-)

Thanks for dropping in bud and keep doing your thing,

Marcus

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Kathi Kruse November 25, 2012 at

Sold their soul to the Social Media devil is right! None of those “likes” will ever buy from you. Isn’t that the point of all marketing? The people I find buying likes are usually those that don’t know enough about the Social customer and think they’re the genius who figured out how to game the system. Oh well, sad for them! PS: Once you buy even ONE Like, you ruin your chances of ever running a successful Social Proof Facebook Ad campaign to “Friends of Fans”. Bots don’t let their Bot friends click like!!! Thanks Marcus, you rock dude.

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Marcus Sheridan November 25, 2012 at

“Bots don’t let their bots click like” Hahahahaha, well said Kathi! :-)

Thanks for always making me smile my friend and appreciate the support,

Marcus

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Kathi Kruse November 29, 2012 at

I listened to your podcast yesterday. I hope your elbow is on the mend :-) Have a good one, dude!

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Marcus Sheridan December 2, 2012 at

It’s feeling much better Kathi, thanks!!

And thanks too for all your amazing support:-)

Hope your weekend was a great one,

Marcus

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Leaflet Printing November 25, 2012 at

Fully agree! Especially if your customers know how to check a domain age via a Whois search. When a sites been round 2 days but has 20k likes, you know something isn’t right!

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Marcus Sheridan November 25, 2012 at

Ahh yes, another good point!

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Chandler Bryson November 26, 2012 at

Nice post indeed Marcus. it is really not good to buy Facebook fans, it raises a question on their own abilities to create magic of good content. If someone has got the guts he should play by the rules.

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Lance Cummins November 26, 2012 at

People buy “likes” for the same reason they try to “game” any system. It reveals a lack of corporate integrity and also a cluelessness about what you just shared.

And I agree, for the most part customers can spot a fake.

Plus, I think many companies have bought into the “social media magic” and think that just having a Facebook page and now generating fake fans are somehow going to help their business. Instead of looking at each social channel as a unique venue that requires thought and strategy, they just want to be “visible.” Unfortunately, they haven’t thought all the way through to the end of the “game.”

Keep up the great writing and sharing, Marcus. I’ve been encouraged and inspired by your writing and your story!

I just read your article after reading Jay Baer’s article about companies gaming the system, and it seems particularly applicable to your post: http://www.convinceandconvert.com/social-media-strategy/are-you-a-marketing-cheater-the-continued-gamification-of-attention

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Mark Schaefer November 26, 2012 at

I would never advocate being a fake about anything, but let me play devi’s advocate.

Social proof like “likes” and “followers” matters. i don;t think we would disagree on that. In our information-dense world, people are hungry for shortcuts to let them know what to do, who to follow, what to believe. I gurantee you more people know how many Twitter followers i have before what i have achieved in my career. So numbers matter on the social web.

There is probably no way anybody but you would go to the trouble to research whether these fans are fake or not. So the fact is, your competitor has found a cheap and expedient way to gain instant social media credibility. They have saved themselves tons of time and thousands of dollars. Smart business?

As I said, this is not a strategy I would recommend but there is no denying that at least in the short-term, something like this works. The devil has rested his case : )

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Don Staney November 26, 2012 at

Valid points devil ;-) I was discussing this recently with some colleagues and some of my students. It was a fun debate. I shared a NY Times article about buying followers http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/fashion/twitter-followers-for-sale.html?_r=0 as well as an article by Seth Stevenson from Slate.com that talks about his experience buying likes/followers http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/10/buying_twitter_followers_is_it_worth_it_.2.html .

There wasn’t a consensus among the group on whether this is good or bad. While I don’t personally think it’s good, as Mr. Schaefer mentions, social proff shortcuts such as numbers of followers, fans, likes, subscribers, etc. are becoming increasingly valuable decision making tools for anyone who is info super-saturated (namely all of us). These signposts are similar to seeing a lot of cars in a parking lot at a restaurant or many people in a store at the mall. We see high numbers or a crowded parking lot, so we assume the restaurant or store is good/successful. (Did you know Abercrombie & Fitch have been know to hire groups of models to hang out in front of their stores to attract shoppers?). Whether or not we like this practice, it is a form of social proof.

I thought Seth said it well in his article when he wrote, “So why do people do this? I assume it’s in part to create an illusion of success that people hope will be self-perpetuating. It’s like showing up to a date in a rented Mercedes drop-top when in real life you drive a dinged-up Kia. To the casual observer, your numerous fake Twitter followers suggest you’re a social media powerhouse—a person of influence not be ignored”.

To Marcus’ point, it’s just an illusion when you buy followers. The “wow, look how many followers they have” might persuade a causal viewer to visit a page. However, if people discover you have purchased followers, I think that’d hurt your trustworthiness. For me, any quality, long-term relationship is built on trust, I can’t see doing it myself.

Thanks for your thoughts gents!

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Owen Blevins November 26, 2012 at

Marcus, couldn’t agree with you more. Ironically, I’ve been researching how to ask for and/or request testimonials via FB, existing customers, etc. and as part of the process, I’ve been looking in to “alleged” testimonials on several internet sites. You’re correct in stating that “online customers aren’t dumb.” I have found several sites that promote testimonials from customers and if you follow the rabbit trail of some of the testimonials, it’s very apparent that these “customers” are at the very least shills and in worst case scenarios, don’t even exist. Someone truly interested in investing in a product or service marketed on the web should really take the time to validate statements, testimonials, case studies and other claims by marketers. It’s actually very easy as you mentioned, spend five minutes before you spend $500 and test the social proof provided. I find that even when reading book recommendations on Amazon or Audible, it helps me to ignore the 5′s and the 1′s ratings and instead concentrate on the 2′s, 3′s and 4′s.
5′s are raving fans and most likely won’t say anything to contradict their fanaticism and 1′s could be rivals or firms hired by rivals to trash a competitors product or service. Great reminder to all of us to peal back the onion when researching products or validating claims Marcus.

Rock on my friend…

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Paul Thewlis November 26, 2012 at

They buy because they want a shortcut. Same reason the person buys weight loss tablets – quick results. As with that analogy, the results often don’t work and are dangerous for your health. In the post-Penguin, post-Panda world where Google is looking for top quality links, only a matter of time before they start penalising sites for having fake social proof as well – I think it would be amazingly easy for them to do.

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Jason Koblin November 26, 2012 at

The best thing I can think of, and this is probably being generous, is that they are gambling your supposition is not true, and that their legit prospects won’t bother to click and check the validity of these “fans.”

In that case, their hope must be that these prospects will get “the warm and fuzzies” from seeing this business is successful on Facebook. This of course raises the question of how that would translate into a better pool, but such is the obsession with “diving” into social media these days. Often there is no plan, they are just there because it’s the thing to do.

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Jason Koblin November 26, 2012 at

PS- great post, you just earned yourself a REAL like. ;)

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2012 at

Honored to have you like the page sir :-)

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Jon Loomer November 26, 2012 at

Good wakeup call, Marcus.

Now, I need to point something out… While it’s entirely possible they bought likes — and I know many companies do — it’s also possible that they unknowingly attracted fake profiles ethically. Let me explain…

If you create a standard Facebook ad to gain likes, Facebook will use Optimized CPM. This method automatically targets your ad at people most likely to perform the desired action.

If you use detailed targeting including geo-targeting in the US, you’re probably fine. But if you don’t limit your audience, Facebook is going to show this ad to everyone in the world most likely to like your page.

The result? Bots. Fake profiles. Lots of them. Particularly coming from a select number of countries.

But this company may not notice it. They may spend an insanely small amount of money and think that these 2,500 people all really dig their brand. They’ll assume that they just created an awesome ad campaign.

It’s too good to be true. Because it is.

So, I wouldn’t be so quick to label that company a bunch of cheaters. They may be ignorant and not well informed on how best to use Facebook ads. But many, many ethical companies are guilty of that.

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2012 at

Jon, great points, and I’m glad you brought this up. I don’t think most people and companies are aware of some of the crazy things going on out there with all of these cyber wars were having the social media.

Thanks for all you do, my friend,

Marcus

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Ryan Hanley November 26, 2012 at

Marcus,

Consumers are still doing these types of things because most businesses still don’t want to put the “Work” in to be successful online.

As you know no matter how we slice it, social media is work, fun, powerful, revenue generating work… But work none the less…

People are always going to take shortcuts.

Glad you shed some light on this though.

Hanley

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2012 at

Yet that’s exactly right, Ryan.And as long as there is work to do, there will be plenty folks like you and me. :-).

Thanks for stopping by my friend,

Marcus

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Ken Schafer November 26, 2012 at

I think that buying likes isn’t the best spent money ever, however the value in a facebook fan isn’t the fan itself. The value is the friends of friends. A person who likes your business is most likely already a customer of yours. (how many of your fans are people that haven’t bought from you at some point in time or another) The value is in the friends of fans and the exposure that comes from it. A Facebook page that has 3000 likes has an average of around 400,000 people the messages you put could touch. The friends of your “friends or likes” are the real target here. These are people that are potential business prospects and new prospects and have an increased chance to come to you because you have done business with someone they trust. So depending on how false these likes are they have potential benefits. My suggestion is that if you can harvest 2500 local like and they aren’t spam bots or false accounts then it is definitely worth the investment. however if they aren’t local and they aren’t legit accounts then you are indeed making your business look stupid

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2012 at

Hey Ken, great hearing from you use make some very good points. There is no question that likes have some value. But at what expense? And w Edgerank it seems like the value is changing every day. I think this is a discussion we’re going to be having for a long time.

Thanks so much for stopping by,

Marcus

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Danny Brown November 26, 2012 at

It’s the sad truth that numbers matter, and perception is everything. For many businesses, they can’t afford to put someone in place that’s dedicated to organic growth and relationship/lead building.

Instead, they fall for the hype of quick numbers equaling even quicker return – and then get burned when that doesn’t happen, and fall off the boat altogether.

It’s a slow process, but continuing education is the biggest combatant we have against this crud.

Cheers, sir!

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2012 at

Hey Danny, so great to see you my friend. I agree, perception is everything in this business. But I myself, what is the tipping point for perception when it comes to fake numbers and stats?

That is a tough question to answer. Hope you and the family are well my friend.

Marcus

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Tim November 28, 2012 at

I wonder how many high quality articles were on this high end builders website? To me that would be more revealing about their intentions and business model than just about anything else.

Thank you Marcus for encouraging and steady business guidance.

Best Regards,
Tim

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Marcus Sheridan November 28, 2012 at

That’s a very good point, Tim. There were very few articles on his site, no doubt.

Thanks so much for stopping by and I hope all is well with you,

Marcus

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formed solutions November 29, 2012 at

I like this Post it seems very useful, exactly what I have looking for. Thanks

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Chris November 29, 2012 at

It’s obvious to me why they do it- if people go to a fan page with only a few fans, they get turned off and don’t take it seriously. Hard to blame the page owner for trying to do what works. Maybe blame Facebook for displaying the number of likes.

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Marcus Sheridan December 2, 2012 at

I understand why they do it Chris, I do, but I still think its pretty darn cheesy ;-)

Marcus

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John Scott December 4, 2012 at

The Post is quite amazing, Marcus, thanks for that. i’m also pretty interested to hear from other people about their opinions. I personally think people act like “sheep”. They go wherever the herd goes. That’s what make people act and think like that in social networking sites.

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Marcus Sheridan December 4, 2012 at

Very true John, the herd mentality doesn’t make this any easier!

Appreciate you stopping by,

Marcus

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Chel Wolverton December 6, 2012 at

Honestly, after working with clients that are new to how social and social marketing work, I wouldn’t be surprised if they understand the downsides of buying likes.

I’ve seen far too many people taken advantage in marketing and web development. “You paid WHAT for THAT?” And helped too many people get b ack on track with something that will, you know, actually HELP them reach their markets.

The naivety still surprises me sometimes, but there are just too many people with so many choices and many of them not the best ones, that most are bound to pick the ones that are too good to be true. They want to believe that it really is that simple.

Sadly later down the road they realize that it’s not improving their funnel and they are wasting money. This is where a set of standards would come in handy. How do you get those to the people who need them the most though?

That question has been on my mind for a while now.

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Marcus Sheridan December 7, 2012 at

And it’s a good question indeed Chel, and I think it won’t be going away any time soon.

So glad to see you stop by,

Marcus

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Wade Balsdon January 8, 2013 at

Business is all a bout relationships so all the fake FB likes in the world come to naught when it comes to dollars and cents. Thanks for sharing Marcus.

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Bogtong Itik May 23, 2013 at

This site is freaking awesome, So Cool can blow my mind.

get twitter followers now

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buy Facebook fans July 9, 2013 at

Great Post , Nice to read this and found very impressive thing here and one really important thing i can see and read in the post the how to marketers get millions likes on Facebook fan pages , so i this is great for page because million of peoples can see the fan page post and sharing.

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Nishant Srivastava July 24, 2013 at

I saw many people on Facebook Groups are selling 1000 Likes in just $5 all are automated likes by Bots and they are just for showoff, and when you see the activity on your page after such likes you will find thousands of likes and only few people talking about your page, and that shows that your page is dead!

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