Last night’s Despatches investigation into brands that buy fake fans and followers sparked off a heated discussion amongst the numerous PR execs and social media wonks I follow on Twitter. I didn’t get involved because, for those of us who’ve worked in social media marketing for a while, it’s a tired old issue and there’s only so much that you can say about it without repeating yourself, which gets a bit boring.
But for what it’s worth, here’s my take on the #fakefans controversy. Artificially boosting your follower numbers in social media is a complete waste of money and will only serve to damage your business. The whole point of a brand having a social media presence is so that its customers, fans, employees and other stakeholders are able to interact with it directly, and the benefits to the business are that people will talk about you more often, provide you with valuable feedback, share your messages with their own networks, be more loyal to your brand and, ultimately, you will sell more.
But all of those benefits will only happen if your followers are people who are genuinely interested in engaging with your business. One million fake followers serve no purpose at all, except to create admin headaches and provide you with a distorted view of how your business is really performing in social media, which prevents you from ever learning or making genuine progress.
So why do brands continue to do this? The problem is that when a marketing executive doesn’t really understand how social media works, they fixate on the follower number as the key success metric. It’s a nice easy number to understand – more followers is better, simple. This problem is then compounded if they hire an agency which has an equally poor understanding of social media marketing, or is just a little relaxed about ethics. If the client is going to measure your success on the number of fans and not ask any difficult questions, why not just buy in a load of fakes to keep them happy?
Sadly, our experience tells us that there are still plenty of people in business who approach social media with this mentality.
So what’s the right way to get more fans for your brand’s social media accounts? First of all, forget about how many fans you’ve got – it’s an unhelpful metric to fixate on. What you should measure is how many of your fans are sharing your updates with their own networks, how many are leaving comments, or otherwise interacting in a meaningful way with the content you post? This gives you a much healthier view of how you’re performing in social media.
The best way to grow your audience size on social channels is, and always has been, to consistently create and share great content, interact with and reward fans who want to engage with you, make sure your social channels are visible on your website and other marketing collateral. These are simple things to do, but they require a long term commitment. Too many marketers think of social media in terms of short term projects when it really needs to be something that you continue to develop and build on consistently, every day, forever.