Buying Facebook Fans is a Horrible Idea

by on 07/28/2011 • 25 Comments | Social Media

It always starts the same way.

My inbox chirps and I have a new message from someone inquiring about social media services. The nice man talking to me wants Outspoken Media to build out his company’s Facebook page. He wants to know how he can get more fans. Actually, he wants to know how he can buy fans and what, exactly, is my take on this process.

….

[clears throat]

My take is that you’re doing it wrong. Also, you just asked for help buying people. DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF RIGHT NOW?

But the truth is, sure, there are many ways to buy people on Facebook.

  • You can hire a street team to go out and offer people cash money to like your brand on Facebook.
  • You can buy fans through the allure of contests that hawk free iPads, exotic trips or other shiny things.
  • You can buy them via human traffickers bulk packages like this one from www.bulkfans.com

Any one of these methods will help you see a sharp increase in your brand’s number of fans. But there’s a huge problem with this. It’s not the cost associated or the fact that you’re pretty much selling your soul to the social media devil. It’s that by buying people, you actually lower your EdgeRank score and limit the odds that your content will ever be seen. By anyone.

Genius.

If you’re not familiar with Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, I’d encourage you to read The Next Web’s Everything You Need To Know about Facebook’s EdgeRank because it truly does live up to its name. Here are some highlights.

EdgeRank, on paper, looks like this:

What EdgeRank does is essentially determine whether or not your content is worth Facebook showing to its users. It creates an affinity score between your page and a particular user, adds a content type-specific weight (is it a link, a picture, status update, etc), and then adds a freshness factor to round things out.

As soon as you publish something, that score is immediately attached to it. That score is then increased based on user participation with that update – do they like it, share it, comment on it. If users routinely display they love your content, your base score rises. However, if they show they are bored with your content by NEVER doing any of these things, then your affinity score drops. The lower your affinity score, the less likely it is that anyone will ever see your content, regardless of how much time you may have spent creating it.

And that’s when buying fans become problematic.

When you pay money for a person (really, do you hear me right now?), you’re buying someone who isn’t interested in your brand. They only Like you for that $20 you just gave them or because they’re trying to win an iPad they’re too poor or lazy to buy themselves. That person is there for a prize, not for an interest in your brand.

They will never interact with you, they will never visit your page again. They are lowering your brand’s EdgeRank score simply by existing.

Remember that guy you dated in college who only hung around to eat your groceries and drink your beer? Same concept.

What makes Facebook different from other social networks is that you have to prove you deserve to be seen. If you build up 20,000 followers on Twitter, you can rest assures that anyone watching their timeline when you hit tweet will see your content. You can even use tools like tweriod to understand WHEN the majority of your audience is looking at their timeline.

For users to see your content on Facebook, you need to prove on a regular basis that people actually care. And you prove it with your numbers. The ones that report people engaging with what you’re putting out. No engagement, no visibility.

Your brand doesn’t need leeches sucking off EdgeRank. Instead, focus on connecting with the people who are genuinely interested in what you’re offering. The users who will want to interact with your page consistently over time.

How do you find them?

By creating a compelling experience on your Facebook Brand page, building the WHY into it from the very beginning, and delivering on it time and time again.

Can you do that by running Facebook contests? Sure! Facebook contests are a great way to build exposure and fans. But the contest needs to be highly-targeted to the brand and to the experience. Getting people to Like you for a free iPhone will do more damage than good.

Can you use Facebook ads to lure them in? Yes. Another great Facebook marketing tactic. But realize that the ad is only going to work if you’re DELIVERING something. If there’s value. If you’re inviting them to be part of an experience that interests them.

You can buy people all you want, but bought people don’t engage and will simply damn you to social media purgatory. Instead, put energy into creating an experience that will attract a response.

  • Share unique photos and video
  • Run contests that are brand-related
  • Discuss topics intended to push button
  • Touch on bubble-type events [Like the White House Town Hall or Mark’s next Facebook press conference
  • Ask questions
  • Make yourself part of larger conversations.
  • Tie online to offline and vice versa.

Basically, concentrate on wooing the fans you have.

As it turns out, social media relationships aren’t much different from real life relationships. You can jump through hoops to be the guy who impresses people with a gimmick or you can just extend your hand and say hello.

I know who I’d rather talk to.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

25 thoughts on “Buying Facebook Fans is a Horrible Idea

  1. I take offence to the “Remember that guy you dated in college who only hung around to eat your groceries and drink your beer? Same concept.”

    I was that guy.

    Oh, and you are right about the worthlessness of this, I would even go farther and warn of the dangers of such tactics.

    Google aint dumb.

  2. “They are lowering your brand’s EdgeRank score simply by existing”

    Wow! I’ve always resisted doing a Facebook ad campaign with the goal of getting more fans for our martial arts school page, but I never thought of this point – that the more “fans” you have that aren’t true fans, the lower your EdgeRank score would be.

    Thanks for sharing these insights, Lisa!

  3. An alternate title for this piece might have been “How to Buy Friends and Influence Nobody.” Great post, Lisa. Lots of good info. Thanks particularly for explaining the EdgeRank score. Sounds like Facebook is doing it right… rewarding those who build an audience organically and keep them engaged with compelling content. Cheers!

  4. Thanks for this post, Lisa! While I knew that Facebook targeted users based on how much interaction they had with a page, I did not know that having lots of users that don’t interact with your page actually brings your score down.

    I have an interesting “problem” with my Facebook page. I’ve never run a contest or bought an ad, just posted interesting links and interacted with people on my FB page and promoted it at my website and through email marketing.

    I’m nearing 10,000 completely organic fans (that’s not a typo; I only need about 18 more to reach that number). I know for a fact that the vast majority of people who’ve “Liked” my page don’t interact with my posts, even the ones that draw lots of likes and comments. But I can’t actually ask them to leave!

    How do you get rid of dead weight once they’re there? Or do you hope to draw them out by posting contests (that are relevant to your brand) and other great content?

  5. I enjoy this article and agree with it. Similar concept to all the Twitter Gurus out there who follow/unfollow people in hopes of them following back. Anyone can get 20,000 followers on Twitter. What’s the point if they are not reading and engaging with your tweets. It is not a numbers game.

  6. Lori,

    I think the answer to your last question is “Yes”. Contests can be a way to get people involved but even short of incentives, try just asking questions, especially simple to answer or even yes/no questions. You’ll be amazed at how much interaction you can get. Posting great content is certainly the backbone of getting interaction but including a call to interact in the post makes a huge difference.

    …and in case no one got the LOL in my previous comment, I was being facetious about buying fans. I’m currently managing FB pages with about 500K fans, all of them added naturally, not through buying them, or even through running FB ads

  7. Instead, focus on connecting with the people who are genuinely interested in what you’re offering. The users who will want to interact with your page consistently over time.

    How can something that is so common sense be missed by so many?

    I saw an alleged social media expert (and I use the term loosely) speak and recommend “bribing” people to like your FB page. She literally used the term bribing. Like bribe with a starbucks coupon, etc. Even though your page has nothing to do with Starbucks.

    Sigh…sigh…sigh…

  8. Really enjoyed the “college guy” analogy, too! I’ve read a number of articles that try to focus on the algo/math part of EdgeRank, but those don’t tend to really resonate with page managers who are just desperate to show “progress” with a simple metric.

    It’s a great paradox: Inflating your fan numbers can *shrink* your reach.

    Very smart move on Facebook’s part to prevent obvious gaming of the system. (Although it poses a challenge for pages that people “like” because those people have a strong brand affinity, without necessarily really being that interested in engaging with the content itself.)

  9. Great article! I’d never heard of the Edge score before, but it makes a lot of sense. I have no idea why anyone would want to buy fans.

    Yeah, it sucks to not have a huge fan base when you’re first starting out, but you have to let it grow organically. And what good are fans if they’re not even interacting with your content?

  10. Thanks, Rob! Just posted a question to my page. I’ve done it before but not in awhile. I’ve taken a few weeks off of posting stuff to my page and yet the “Likes” keep rolling in, so I get kind of lazy.

    Part of my problem is just how much I hate Facebook and the way they manage Pages. It’s not really mine, you know? All I can do is roll my eyes when they make another (useless) change, when a link won’t post correctly, when I can’t control stuff that goes on there. I’m only there because I have to be, not because i like it.

    I’ve found my FB page to be so frustrating, I rarely go to my personal FB account anymore, just because I’m so annoyed.

  11. That’s almost as cheesy as the people that ask others to like things or supply great reviews of products or “VOTE” for them based on friendship or distant social connections…

    The Social Graph was and is destined to fail.

  12. Couldn’t agree more. The problem though is that rumors get spread about the number of likes being a ranking factor, which causes people to go and buy likes, seeing it as a way to improve their overall search placement.

  13. I am against buying fans, especially in bulks of 10.000 :) I only recently started checking my EdgeRank and wasn’t worried about it that much (can’t keep up with everything) but you are completely right about bought people lowering it.

    Same like Twitter, if I have 30.000 followers and only 3-5 clicks on my tweets, I am obviously not influential. But if I have only 500 followers and get at least 20 clicks per tweet, that is what I call success!

  14. Uhm… sooooo…. little confused here.

    Buying followers is bad, because it’s not an honest, mutual relationship of sharing information, but rather paying someone to hang out with you, or that is, offering some compensation for hanging out with you.

    … but “writing great copy”, “engaging tweets”, “being relevant”… all that marketing crap, still at the end of the day, is giving people compensation for being your friend or follower (just not monetary, although the ideas is they would be able to use that content to make their own money).

    Help me out here, what’s the difference? And as a business owner, isn’t buying a copywriter / social media marketer a means to buy those friends and followers?

  15. oops i never knew about edge rank. I thought i knew most things about Fb. Lisa you made me think with this. But i have to agree that the people who are really interested in your brand should be the target.

  16. @Steve I’ve tours with the idea of buying a few to get a page started but only for pages where my long term branding may not be as important. It’s probably easier and more effective just to ask some friends, family, and collegues to like it and hide the updates in their news stream if they don’t want them. Or just write some good content on your blog and ask for a few likes to get your page started.

  17. While there are many unscrupulous people out there who are charging for likes from fake customers, I maintain that properly targeted Facebooks ads can give a site a significant boost to a fanbase. Here’s my thinking:

    First, Edgerank is not static. If you’re advertising to real people, and you’re working towards engaging content, you’ll eventually hit a sweet spot and your Edgerank will improve, regardless of the number of inactive fans you have.

    Second, most businesses have to start with their own contacts as a the basis for getting likes. Yet, in many cases this can either be onerous or limited. Onerous because there’s a limit to the number of contacts you can upload at a time, and limited because you already have those contacts–and therefore may not entirely be reaching beyond them.

    Most importantly, as marketers, I don’t think we should be shunning new mediums and channels, but rather experiment with them. If our job is to connect our companies to clients, then we need to be focusing on that. Yes, we need to do it in an ethical manner, and work with vendors who are ethical. In marketing, this is often a gray area. But advertising to get likes on Facebook doesn’t need to be one of them.

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