Last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans seemed to be a shock to many people – not least those companies and organisations caught out purchasing fake fans for their Facebook pages.

I’m not sure why people are so surprised though. This isn’t the first time this has been covered by the media (BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones reported on Facebook ‘likes’ and adverts’ value doubted a year ago) and Facebook themselves admitted to having over 50m fake accounts. And that’s likely to be a conservative estimate. More importantly, seeing Facebook pages with thousands of fans in a relatively short period of time should ring alarm bells. This might not be immediately obvious but low levels of engagement with fans will give a further indication that not all is as it seems.

Those businesses and organisations chasing numbers of fans are missing the point of social media. The clue is in the name: social! Content and engagement are the key here – and there is no quick fix.  It take time to build a following on social media (even with advertising – although that comes with its own caveats) and it takes time to create content and engage with your audience.

Hopefully most of you reading this will be thinking what’s the point of paying for fake fans anyway. They’re never going to buy anything from you or interact with you in any way. But enough people are still seduced by the idea of big numbers of fans, as demonstrated on Dispatches last night. Organisations/celebrities feel it gives them more credibility to have large numbers of fans. Maybe not so much now.

Realistically, unless you are a big brand or are creating viral content you are never going to have many thousands of fans or followers of your social media accounts. And here’s the thing, that’s OK! It’s unrealistic to expect all of your customers to follow your social media accounts so why would you expect to have thousands more fans or followers? And even those who are fans are at the mercy of Facebook’s Edgerank to determine if they will even see your post or dependent on whether they are looking at Twitter when you tweet.

Advertising

Advertising is the main ‘recommended’ method of growing your fan base on the different social media platforms, not least Facebook pushing targeted ads. However, I have worked with clients in the past on small, highly targeted advertising campaigns that have produced suspiciously high numbers of new fans. This would appear to be a good thing, but further investigation has revealed some these fans have ‘liked’ vast numbers of pages. A quick Google will show you that despite Facebook’s protestations to the contrary, there are plenty of sites out there paying people to like pages and people who are obviously indiscriminately liking every advert they see.

If you’re concerned your Facebook page has fake fans, looking at your page’s insights will show you your levels of engagement, numbers of people seeing your posts and where they are from. Low engagement levels and numbers of people actually seeing your post, and/or fans from areas outside of your target area should all be considered as warning signs.

Celebrities

The second half of Dispatches concentrated on celebrity endorsements. Again, this appeared to be a surprise to many. Why? Celebrities have been endorsing products for years. Simply adding the hashtag #ad to tweets might help, but celebrities are endorsing products all of the time – be it the football boots top players are wearing, the designer dress the actress is wearing at a movie première, etc. The ironic thing about this programme was that there was a fair chance the minor celebrities featured with many thousands of fans will almost certainly have large numbers of fake fans!

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