Fake fans on Facebook

Several weeks ago, the BBC reported that companies advertising on Facebook – specifically those focused on growing their ‘Like’ numbers – may be wasting their money; citing the emergence of large-scale ‘Fake Fan Farms’. These ‘fake fans’ like pages in high numbers; artificially boosting a brand’s popularity with zero positive real-world impact on said brand.

This brings to light a number of issues that brands must consider when looking to build their presence on Facebook.

First, it’s essential to have community management and moderation resource in place to monitor your Facebook presence, and to take action if fake or spam messages are posted to the page timeline (as fake profiles often do). It’s also an important (if often overlooked) consideration to create guidelines for acceptable posts on your brand’s Facebook page, thereby giving you the permission to remove content if deemed unacceptable for any reason.

Second, do utilise the tools Facebook provides to help manage brand pages. If necessary, a brand can remove the ability of fans to post on its wall completely, or require posts to be approved by a page admin before they are visible on its timeline. However, these options are not yet available for comments, so it’s important that moderators remain vigilant and monitor the page frequently. Nonetheless, such tools do help manage a brand’s public profile and protect against spam.

Taking a step back somewhat, the issue also raises interesting questions as to which metrics brands really consider when measuring success on the platform. Volume of ‘Likes’ alone? If so, to what end? Focusing solely on ‘Like’ count is a largely fruitless exercise. While having a large fan base might look impressive, it is of little use if such numbers are artificial.

It is much more important that fans are regularly engaged and interact with the page and its posts to ensure a brand’s content retains a high EdgeRank (a Facebook-designed algorithm governing what is displayed – and how high – on the newsfeed). Without this, shared content will quickly disappear from a fan’s newsfeed and, as the majority of people never revisit a brand page after they’ve liked it, means the ‘Like’ count gives an entirely false impression of the potential impact of a post. It’s much better to have fewer people interacting more frequently, and to grow the page’s community organically, than focus solely on volume – however impressive x million ‘Likes’ may look.

At The Social Partners, we’ve found that Facebook advertising can be an effective way to promote fan growth. However, it’s important not to attract people to a brand page with a great offer and no follow-up thereafter, or to attract a large number of people who simply aren’t going to engage with the page. Building a community requires involvement, so it’s important to have plenty of meaningful activity planned before going live.

In our experience, fake profiles have not yet been a significant problem. Through using surveying techniques and running checks on the data behind an individual profile, it is relatively straightforward to spot fake profiles and to prevent them from undermining planned or organic activity. This, combined with strong community management and round-the-clock moderation, means that brands can safely and effectively make the most of their brand pages…assuming, of course, that they have the insight to focus on more than just big, shiny numbers. However tempting that may be.