Buying fans – How it’s done so simply

There’s been a rush of late for agencies and marketing people embedded in companies to get higher numbers on their Facebook Pages to justify their time/money spent being all amazing social media ninja-y for clients.

As long as systems are in place that reward people for numbers, gaming will happen. If you just look at numbers only as a company, you will get gamed by some agencies. It’s actually easy for a business or a model to get 100,000 fans on Facebook very quickly. Or 30,000 Twitter followers. Or even more traffic to your client’s website after you “worked” on it.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is a computer to human being interface. You write a mini-program and it gets executed by human beings for a few pennies a go. The example of the 10,000 sheep a few years ago is great. In World of Worldcraft and other games you can hire people in net cafes in the developing world to gold farm for you: Play the game for hundreds of hours to build up you points in the game so you don’t have to.

And so now we have the same for Facebook Fans, Twitter followers and so on. There are probably 1000s or 10s of 1000s of people in developing countries sitting in net cafes who are paid to create GMail acccounts, Facebook accounts and Twitter accounts and then are tasked to Fan or Follow accounts. Automated scripts can create traffic surges to sites or manual refreshes are done. All in the name of numbers. The same people who run dump and run spam campaigns are also hiring out their Fan services.

It makes sense (if you are morally compromised), sad sense that agencies in Ireland are boosting their own numbers in order to tell prospective clients that they will use their huge followings to get them traffic and fans too. The trouble is as Facebook does their purges, all those zombie accounts are killed off and off you go and start again.

How to spot bullshit:
Look at the Facebook Page without logging into Facebook. Is the Irish or UK company big in Malaysia and India? Look at the comments left on the Page, if any.
Look at the Twitter account. Same number of followers and following? 40,000 of both. Software is used to follow any account that auto-follows back. Zombie Twitter accounts. Check their bit.ly type links. Generally they get about 14 clicks, bit lame for 30,000 “followers”

I’m not pointing out the services but there are a lot out there where you too can avail. But hurry, the gaming has already moved on to Quora.

Forget about numbers
No, really. Get real people. That should be the endgame. Find genuine fans, be genuine with them. That spreads faster than fakery.

2500 people have subscribed to my website instead of coming back each day. You can subscribe to the site using a feedreader or email. I'm also on Twitter. My online marketing blog might also be worth a visit. Thanks for visiting - Damien.

28 Responses to “Buying fans – How it’s done so simply”

  1. Excellent Damien. It’s fun when it’s just numbers but it is damaging to livelihoods when it is turned into a business at the expense of genuine people trying to create value in brands. The real measure is sustained engagement, not followers or likes or fans.

    Much of this goes for SEO too. Watch your ranking over time, when you aren’t paying to be placed, see how sustainable your ranking is. Unless you have a magical $10 fee button a glut of new but brief users won’t do much for your business.

  2. Philip Macartney says:

    Great post Mulley. It is a leap of faith for any brand, but the sooner they stop relying on the reach model and start realising that each connection they make has more potential than an interruptive message spewed over a mass audience, the better the experience will be for all of us.

    If I hear, “How many Likes do you think I will get?” one more time, I am liable to go postal.

  3. Thomas Brunkard says:

    It’s a silly metric. Long may it be dead.

  4. I would pay for seats to see you going postal Philip!

  5. Dorcas says:

    Thanks Damien, very interesting and informative. I did wonder how these companies did it, and how businesses who paid those companies seemed to get very little pay-back for the 10,000 new fans!

  6. Rob says:

    Agree with the post that numbers aren’t imporant and that it’s all about getting people who actually care rather than getting the Rent-A-Crowd bus to unload itself on your page..On the other hand though I do think passing a certain threshold of “likers” quickly helps to social proof the page somewhat which may inclinate other, more interested parties, to become “likers”..No one wants to be the first person the party…

  7. Sarah says:

    This is really interesting. Answered a few questions I had. Thanks!

  8. Fantastic post, Damien. Really pleased to see you pointing up the offshoring issue. One of the academics who first researched and wrote up the working conditions problems with offshore call centres in the 80s and 90s was Ursula Huws – I’ll find out if she’s done anything on this recently. Did you see this yesterday on Mashable about how tentative measurement of ROI still is (despite headline of piece…) http://mashable.com/2011/02/08/social-media-roi-2/

  9. Nice one Damien.

    Also, any plans to do Irish Facebook for Business Awards?

  10. Shane! says:

    Very interesting indeed, sort of the Facebook equivalent of offshoring SEO to India, with much the same result!
    Think there may also be Irish companies/agencies/chancers doing this too.
    A certain Irish Facebook page recently went from 300 to 10,000 likes almost overnight, but with Irish likes and without the telltale signs that Damien mentions above of a huge following in Malaysia!
    There is some relevance to this, being that the likers are within the company’s target market, but again it’s a mainly numbers based advantage.

    Also I would agree with what Rob says above, I’ve noticed from our own page that once you hit a certain threshold, the frequency of new likes really speeds up. Wonder is this anything to do with a change in your Facebook search bar ranking??

  11. Emma says:

    Great Post Damien glad to hear some real feedback on ‘buying fans’

  12. Joe says:

    Of the ~2000 likes we have now on Lost & Found Pets Ireland, seems to me we could count on our fingers those likers who have really impacted on the page’s profile in terms of involvement (giving the page more a sense of community, giving us ideas on directions to take, features to implement etc) and being page evangelists bringing in new fans. Identifying those likers is key to me it seems, engaging with and encouraging them meaningfully.

    Also, on the topic of the FB search rankings, in the few casual experiments I’ve done, the results a user returns depend much more on the connections they already have than they do on numbers liking a particular result.

    Quick example of this is if I do a search for ‘mouse’. I’m not a ‘liker’ for any of the top 3 results. First result I get is ‘Danger Mouse’ with ~57,000 likes, (no surprise there, I am of that generation so a large number of my friends would be ‘likers’). Second is Modest Mouse with ~800,000 fans – a lot of my friends are musicians who I know like the band (like them myself – just not in the Facebook sense) so no surprise there either. Poor old Mickey Mouse with over a million likers only comes in third.

    Push for numbers by all means but without connections, its page cosmetics.

  13. Richard Heek’s 2008 study on goldfarming (developing world workers playing online games for overseas clients) is here: http://www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/idpm/research/publications/wp/di/di_wp32.htm – bit heavy but interesting.

  14. Joe makes a good point and brings up another aspect; Likes/Fans on Facebook don’t guarantee your message will be seen in the user’s activity stream. If all they did was Like your Page and they have a busy activity stream then anything you post will more than likely not be shown to them. They have to engage with your Page over time for Facebook to start putting your messages in their activity streams.

    So don’t think 50,000 Facebook Fans will see every message you post.

  15. Thanks Damien found this article very interesting. I always wanted to know how they were doing this.

    Do you know how these random people from abroad follow you? Especially from US?

  16. Just want to point out to any new World of Warcraft fans who come across this that using gold-farming services is a TERRIBLE idea – you’re compromising the security of your account, and the gold you are buying in a lot of cases isn’t coming from someone playing for hours, but from some other idiot who got their account hacked and their items & gold stolen. It’s also against the terms of service and taken very seriously. The game also checks and if you log in from Cork one day and Indonesia the next you’re gonna get banned.

    (sorry, just a 6+ year WoW player and want to get the “don’t buy gold” message across as it’s a pain in the arse having spam in chat about gold selling)

    Also, buying fans is a shitty idea. I thought the notion of 100 genuine fans being > 10,000 farmed fans was a given at this stage?

  17. John P says:

    Good points, Damien.

    Unfortunately this phenomenon isn’t restricted to Facebook, or even social media…

    Until customers / brands become more educated on what RoI they can expect from sales / marketing / etc. activities, and their expectations are realistic, we’ll always have “the numbers game”. I see it too, every day – numbers for numbers’ sake, with no link to the return and desired end-result of activities.

    Resolving this anomoly also means some element of educating the end-users too – no small task.

    Frustrating….

  18. Ahh an honest post on Social Media, like a breath of fresh air. Everything is open to engineering. Good post. Unless I am being slow, it’s difficult to determine if a Facebook Fan page numbers are being inflated as you can’t do analysis on their Like profile in terms of what countries those likes are coming from ? Lot easier to see this in SEO as everything is an open book.

    Twitter is just noise for the post part although I have established some good relationships over it. Best thing about Twitter is you get to talk with people who you would never have emailed. Tough to see it as a big revenue driver for most brands.

  19. [...] this blog post worries me. Share and [...]

  20. David Quaid says:

    @Paul : if we could separate linkspam and SEO – that would be great. I hate link and content farms. :-P

    Why is *all* SEO seen as spammy? (it’s rhetorical, I know everyone hates it, just would love to say there is another way)

    @Kieran : there is a lot of noise on twitter but you decide who you want to follow. Of all the tools I find it the most useful, interesting and probably the best, sanest and cleanest source of content on the web. If you could listen into all the calls going through a big telephone exchange in another city, a huge amount of it, if not all of it would be completely irrelevant to you – and quite a lot of it could be spam. It’s just a conduit. And its extremely powerful.

  21. @David it is spammy because someone paid to be #1. Get out of my search results please. Go buy an advert instead.

  22. David Quaid says:

    @Paul so did the people who didn’t pay for SEO get their domain and website for free?

    What if they got their on their own steam – like @Damien does?

  23. David Quaid says:

    @Paul to jump ahead a couple of feet in logic – if the argument “A site should rank on its own content and merit” was to be used (which I think it does) – does every web designer/copywriter exactly understand those merits?

    Search: Website design Ireland
    http://www.google.ie/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1400&bih=905&q=website+design+ireland&aq=f&aqi=g1g-m2g-v7&aql=&oq=
    19,9mln pages

    Search: Website design Dublin

    http://www.google.ie/search?hl=en&safe=off&biw=1400&bih=905&q=website+design+Dublin&aq=f&aqi=g2g-m1g-v3&aql=&oq=
    6,3mln pages

    What happened to the people in pages 2-> surely their sites are SE friendly – after all they made it in.

    Logically:

    > Some people search for information / not to buy and some to buy
    >> Commercial sites are indexed
    >>> if you search for something and a commercial site appears, it doesn’t make it spam
    >>>> if you’re an expert at repairing cars and you hire someone to help your site that isn’t ranking despite putting in the best content you can, for people looking for car repairs, then it by definition isn’t spam…

  24. Apologies for making this yet another SEO argument. I’ll take it offline with David :)

  25. David Quaid says:

    my apologies for taking it further off topic

  26. Igor says:

    I actually witnessed that first hand in a company I briefly worked for last year. Great post!

  27. Is it coincidence that after this post I have seen certain agencies drop over 4000 likes from their page. Maybe not, maybe we shouldn’t be so suspicious :)

  28. Or that their client’s Page is spotted with fake profiles?