For the past few years, many brands have struggled to effectively prove the direct ROI of social marketing. Measuring the value of leveraging Facebook as a content and advertising platform is especially difficult, but this is due in part to marketers focusing on one very wrong metric – the number of fans of their brands’ Facebook page.
I only wish I had a dollar for every time I read or overheard someone brag about their fan base on Facebook. Not only is the number of fans a page has on Facebook completely irrelevant to the success of an overall social marketing campaign, focusing on this as an advertiser is incredibly detrimental for several reasons.
It’s important to remember that the real reason you want a Facebook fan is to engage them so that they eventually express an interest in knowing more about your brand, and then someday convert into a customer. (Alternatively, you may want a customer as a Facebook fan for retention.) If you are not developing and maintaining relationships with these fans via Facebook, they are not only worthless, but could be costing you instead of leading you to profits.
With the recent changes to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, more brands are seeing the negative impact that a disengaged fan base has on a brand. Now, it really hurts a Facebook page if a high percentage of fans do not comment on updates or share content, as future posts from this page are less likely to be shown to fans in their news feeds.
Of course, if you have built a strong following of true fans, the changes to EdgeRank will actually help you and enable you to organically grow your fan base with more true fans. Unfortunately, not every brand is this lucky – and many social media consultants, community managers, and advertisers have gone so far as to actually buy Facebook fans. Even NPR reported on this trend earlier in 2012, describing how companies have bought thousands of likes – likes that are usually from fake Facebook accounts (i.e. not real people.)
In light of the recent changes to EdgeRank and the core purpose of social marketing, stuffing a Facebook page with fake fans is not just ethically a bad idea – it is actually counterproductive to both your campaign and your marketing budget. With thousands of fake Facebook fans, and just a few real ones, your page is destined for extremely low engagement, which will doom your Facebook content to be seen by very few people – if at all. (If you have bought most of your Facebook fans, your sponsored content will also be a futile effort.) Not only will your brand see a lack of leads (let alone conversions), but your time spent will be at a loss as well.
Admittedly, the number of fans a brand has can be an indicator of your brand’s success. Growing that number organically by leveraging your real fans may take time, but in the long term will lead to a much more positive ROI than by buying fake ones, which will only hurt your brand’s potentially for success – and budget – in the end.
In addition to writing about emerging news and trends in the performance marketing industry, she is a columnist for Forbes, covering the intersection of technology and society. She can be can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, or her personal blog... and usually with a cup of coffee in hand, too.