helping brands make perfect sense of social media, from IAB UK’s social media council

By , senior PR and marketing manager, IAB

Whilst it’s important to blog about new technologies, platforms and Twitter’s ‘who to follow’ function, there are some issues within social media that are oldies but goodies, and remain deserving of our attention.

An associate kindly sent me this press release yesterday, and I must say I was jolly interested. Not because I want to buy the Club IAB page on Facebook tens of thousands of new recruits, but because I pondered for at least 3 minutes as to who else received it, and who out of those people was tempted to part with their cash. It might be a joke (particularly having read the blog) and if it is, a very funny joke it is too.  The press release is below, but without the company details:

Facebook Popularity On Sale To The Highest Bidder - The ’social’ may soon be taken out of social media site Facebook as popularity on the site can now be sold to the highest bidder.

A certain ‘Social media marketing company’ has begun selling fans and friends on Facebook to businesses and organizations wanting to increase their exposure online and they’ve now announced they are selling up to 20 million fans at a time, meaning just about anyone with a “fat wallet” can be more popular than Lady Gaga, at least on Facebook.

The service is based on the principle that people use the site for marketing purposes and the more fans or friends one has on Facebook, the larger their potential client base. The ‘Social media marketing company’s’ service facilitates the delivery, or sale, of these connections to a Facebook profile.

“We designed the new service around the fact that there were thousands of businesses out there searching for information on how to get a larger fan base on Facebook,” said the founder. “Our new service now gives just about any business or wannabe celebrity the ability to attract the kind of status and popularity very few achieve.”

The company sells packages of fans starting at $197 for 1000, which they say are all real people and can be targeted to whatever industry the customer’s business is in.

Some are questioning whether this will remove a lot of the user-driven social aspect from Facebook, however as more businesses turn to advertising their services on the social media site, the demand for services like this ‘certain social media marketing company’s’ will likely rise in the future.

So, apparently people are still doing this. I remember a couple of years ago, a few of us IABers were visited by someone a) enquiring about IAB membership and b) asking if we were interested in doubling, tripling, even quadrupling our number of followers on Twitter. Quite brazenly boasting about fake Twitter accounts they’d set up and telling us how we could significantly boost our numbers through the use of ‘special technology’, they sincerely hoped we’d invest. I hope you don’t mind but as a budding screenwriter I’ve penned the following exchange:

Us: So how do you do it then?

Them: We can’t tell you, it’s the technology.

Us: Where do you get all the followers from, do you know anything about them?

Them: The technology gets it in a matter of minutes, and no we don’t know anything about them, but we do know there’s a lot of them and you need lots of numbers to get your ROI.

Us: We’re the trade body for digital advertising, our target audience is pretty niche.

Them: That doesn’t matter, look how many followers THIS one of our clients has! 40,000! It makes you look good.

And so on and so forth, until we started to enjoy the stupidity of pitch we were presented with and happily pushed our unwitting salesman further and further with more complex questions, simply for our own amusement.

What isn’t funny however, is that people DO actually pay for this stuff and they ACTUALLY HAD CLIENTS. Clients who paid them money do to this.  Money can change hands because within social media there are some very serious cowboys who prey on beginners, just in any other area of marketing – email, online sales, vouchering and so on.  Whilst we in the social media world find it obvious that this is not a service worth investing in, people who don’t know social media that well, or are just getting into it, may find this kind of quick fix appealing at such a low cost.

So in short… beware of said cowboys.   If you’re a brand representative, there will be people claiming they can offer you significant ROI for simply buying your way into social media, and there will be others offering to guarantee your products or services excellent reviews online whilst not going into great detail about how that’s done.  It’s essential to ask for case studies, enquire about techniques, demand an agency proves it’s ethical by having a concrete understanding of what’s legal and what’s not.  Just a few questions at the start can reduce any element of risk before you empty that ‘fat wallet’ described in the press release above.

The reality is that there are no real, effective shortcuts in the social game. What you’re paying for is the creative expertise, extensive resource and intense understanding of the practitioner responsible. OR you’ve spent time and money to train people in-house to understand exactly what it means to manage a community, and what you do with the followers, friends or Likes you’ve accrued.  Otherwise it’s pointless.

I’ve heard of marketers having been burnt before by faux, unethical agencies promising the world and then failing to deliver, and the IAB measurement framework hopefully serves to show what you can really expect from social media activity – whether it’s awareness, appreciation, advocacy or a action from the consumer.  Buying bundles of anonymous friends, whether it’s on Facebook or any other social property will simply get you meaningless numbers which will do nothing for your sales, or your brand.

Laura Dinneen
August 18, 2010

Yikes! Another scary story about what is essentially social media scamming. It highlights the importance of setting valuable KPIs and measuring success based on real stuff rather than just number of fans. I always feel a bit “ewwy” (I’m sure you know what I mean!) when people just talk about increasing fans or followers and completely miss out on a) what you’re going to do with them and b) the value of them. Quality over quantity innit.

Richard Pentin
September 7, 2010

Good post Amy. It’s easy to forget that building a community takes time, effort and investment. Not just in terms of building awareness of the community platform itself but also in terms of developing an effective and ongoing engagement strategy. Quick fixes like this may be tempting for some but if its untargeted and the content isn’t relevant they’ll abandon the community as quickly as they arrived.

To use an analogy you can cast a net to capture a colony of bees but if you don’t have the honey they’re not going to stick around! Maybe that’s where ‘buzz metrics’ originated from!

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