Fake Followers: The Social Media Brick Wall Effect vs. The Herd Effect

By Dr. Todd Bacile | August 16, 2013

The Brick Wall EffectBuying Twitter followers, Facebook Likes, and other artificial means to create a facade of a large brand audience happens every day in our electronic marketing environment. While I don’t condone this type of activity, it is a natural extension for marketing managers who are trying to support the popularity of their social media presence. However, firms need to be careful because creating artificial engagement often leads nowhere in the long run. Or does it?

The Social Media Brick Wall Effect

The social media brick wall effect is a label I use to describe the outcome of buying artificial engagement. The going rate to buy 1,000 Twitter followers starts at $5. With a few dollars a person or brand can build thousands of connections to their brand in less than a day. But, if a company purchases these followers what comes afterward?

The answer: nothing. No engagement. No retweets. No organic consumer discussions or recommendations. It is as if a brand has run into a dead-end brick wall without any two-way communication.

What are you really buying when you purchase followers or likes in bulk? A lot of these social media accounts are empty shells. The person – or computer algorithm – that created each fake account does not actively manage it or produce meaningful content. This means there is never any engagement or discussion about the brand. This is the antithesis of social media: the brick wall effect is non-social with zero engagement.

Status People Faker Scores

Some people may argue, ‘But, if I buy a few followers nobody will ever know. Then I can build with real followers.‘ Maybe so, maybe not! Services such as Status People’s Faker Scores can inspect any Twitter account to generate an estimate of how many followers are fake (i.e. bought).

Faker ScoresRun your own Twitter handle through Faker Scores. What percentage of your following is fake?

And when people or brands are outed regarding a fraudulent social media following it can make the headlines! Brands or people in the spotlight have been accused or busted for buying a large following, which then often creates defensive, negative PR surrounding the person or organization. Instead of engaging with other people to create meaningful relationships, energy is spent defending a silly ploy.

The Value of Fake Followers

A recent publication in the research journal Science empirically showed how a news story that planted an initial, single “like” (in the form of an up-vote) versus zero likes on a news aggregation site significantly increased engagement by others. The reason was posited to be a herd effect: people will like or follow something that other people already like. This research did not examine fake likes or followers; however, the results suggest that planting some fake likes may cause other people to engage. If someone liked it, then it might be worthwhile.

The reason fake engagement may produce some value is due to the nature of vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are measures such as the number of downloads, page views, or “Likes”. Vanity metrics are easy to manipulate and do not always correlate to measures that have business value, such as sales and profits. The measures may produce some useful information, but more often than not are superficial in nature.

The following quote sums up the limitations of a vanity metric:

A useful metric is both accurate (in that it measures what it says it measures) and aligned with your goals. Making your numbers go up (any numbers–your bmi, your blood sugar, your customer service ratings) is pointless if the numbers aren’t related to why you went to work this morning.” – Seth Godin

Whether the brick wall effect or the herd effect trumps one or the other remains to be seen. Social media research will most likely delve deeper into these effects.

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. All questions or comments are welcome and will be responded to!

Facebook Ad Models: Comparing and Contrasting Differences

By Dr. Todd Bacile & Rickey Helsel | July 11, 2013

Facebook Ads

Typical Facebook click-through rates for Marketplace Ads (.0005), Page Post Ads (.00075), and Promoted Posts (.01-.02) are not the only differences a marketer should be aware of within the world of Facebook advertising. Each ad type possesses unique features for certain devices or target audiences. Becoming familiar with different ad models may help match the correct ad type to a brand’s advertising goals. (NOTE: these CTRs are not Facebook’s “official”, but are derived from various consultants and news sources.)

There are three different Facebook ad models discussed in this post: Marketplace Ads, Page Post Ads, and Promoted Posts. Several other types of Facebook ads exist, but as the social giant reduces its ad models, such as Sponsored Stories (CTR .0007) and Sponsored Results ads, it makes sense to focus on a few of the popular types. Some ads never display on consumers’ smartphone screens. Some ads only display to a brand’s followers and friends of followers, while other ads must be used to target consumers without a relationship to a brand. How can a brand understand these differences?

Facebook Marketplace Ads

Location

Marketplace Ads are placed on the right side of a browser window for desktop or laptop devices. However, Marketplace Ads do not appear on mobile devices, as the left-to-right scrolling is minimized by removing content that would normally appear to the right.

Target Audience

Marketplace Ads can be targeted to any user on Facebook, regardless if a person follows your brand, is a friend of a person who follows your brand, or does not have any connection to your brand. The target audience is important to consider, as some types of Facebook ads reach certain audiences based on the connection to a brand.

Facebook Page Post Ads

Location

Page Post Ads are recent posts made from a brand’s Facebook page. Similar to Sponsored Stories, Page Posts Ads are located either in the right sidebar area or within the news feed. Page Posts Ads are viewable on smaller, mobile devices.

Target Audience

Page Posts Ads have targeting options similar to Marketplace Ads. Any user on Facebook can be reached with a Page Post Ad, whether or not the brand has a connection to a follower.

Facebook Promoted Posts

Location

After creating a new post, a brand may elect to promote this post to an audience. Promoted Posts more effective than other types discussed in this post when evaluating CTR. The reason is location: only ads appear in the right panel of Facebook, not posts. This means that a brand’s promoted post will only appear in the news feeds of its audience – where Facebook users’ eyes are trained to look – especially important for mobile users.

Target Audience

Facebook Promoted Posts are like the now discontinued Sponsored Stories in that brands have the ability to target users that like the brands page along with the friends of those users. Subjectively, this method of posting should be given special consideration when targeting mobile users. Think about the last time you used Facebook on your laptop – there are so many distractions! Mobile users are given posts as wide as their devices, with only about three posts fitting on the screen. A 33% chance of catching the user’s eye (not accounting for the navigation and post bars) is much greater than that of a user on a computer.

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He teaches Electronic Marketing and Advanced Marketing Strategy. His e-marketing research has been published or is forthcoming in numerous academic research journals and national marketing conferences.  Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Rickey Helsel (@rickeyhelsel) is a rising new media star, with experience in mobile application development, social media advertising, electronic marketing business plan development, numerous programming languages, and management information systems. Find out more about him at RickeyHelsel.com.

Radian6 for Social Media Analytics: A Brief Overview

By Todd Bacile and Tessa Revolinski | July 17, 2012

Salesforce Radian6With the proliferation of social media chatter, many firms are getting lost in the information overload of consumer-created content. A common occurrence is a firm creating a social media presence without setting a social media strategy. Similar to Ray Kinsella from the movie Field of Dreams, the belief of many managers is if you build it they will come. Yet, social media used for marketing purposes is not that simple. Consumers are likely to discuss a brand, a competitor, or a product category thereby creating a nearly insurmountable quantity of data. A mere presence in social media positions a firm to be easily overwhelmed by the wealth of data, making it difficult to act upon valuable information hidden without analysis.

Salesforce has a full-service social media solution called Radian6 to help a company manage social media activity by current and potential customers. Radian6 is a social media monitoring platform that assists firms by listening to consumers via social channels and then engaging in conversation. Some of the monitoring features include tracking consumers’ tweets, posts, threads, or blog comments. The software analyzes and categorizes this wealth of data down to the individual consumer-level to create actionable information for a company with a feature called Radian6 Insights.

Radian6 brings new “insight” to the social web by providing marketers with analysis to help form a social media strategy. The software is assisting marketers by listening to, learning from, and engaging with consumers discussing a brand – or discussing a brand’s competitors.  Users of Radian6 are enabled to measure levels of influence, hone in on key demographics, learn location information, and enhance sentiment. By combining all these metrics it is easier to discover the true meaning and movement behind your social media traffic.

A branded feature called Salesforce Social Hub™ enables a manager to visually manage all customer service task orders. As consumers engage with your company via email or have consumer-to-consumer social discussions using tweets or blogs, Salesforce Social Hub™ auto-creates case and contact profiles in Salesforce.com. This real-time information management characteristic enables the software to build detailed social profiles for each customer or topic of interest.

A benefit of Radian 6 being developed by a successful CRM provider such as Salesforce is the synchronized team workflow abilities. Different personnel can share information such as classification and task assignment of posts to individual team members. The system tracks and records internal notes, engagement responses, and ticket-statuses for on-demand reports and graphs. Custom reports including posts, graphs, and charts can be designed and emailed to managers. Configurable email and instant messenger alerts for staying on top of things keeps a manager informed.

Radian6 is transforming social data into valuable information for firms such as Dell, GE, Kodak, UPS, and even the U.S. Navy. Managers should consider Radian 6 as a viable tool to use as they enter the data-laden world of social media content. Radian6 enables you to attack the data instead of letting the data attack you.

Tessa Revolinski is a recent graduate of Florida State University and has the proud distinction of having a higher Klout score than her e-Marketing professor. You can follow Tessa on twitter @mamaswoosh

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. His research on mobile and social media marketing topics has been presented and at numerous national marketing conferences and published in the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing. Please visit his website for more information regarding his research. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile