Perhaps one of the most widely used metric for artists and brands these days to demonstrate how popular they are among the public is to boast the number of Facebook Likes they have. But a recent investigation conducted by the BBC reports that millions are fake, and that brands may be wasting their money to gain Likes from people who have no real interest in them at all.
So to find out on their own, the BBC decided to set up a Facebook Page for a fictitious company with no real products called “Virtual Bagel”, which brought in more than 3,000 Likes only a short time after it was launched on July 4th. The BBC then sought out to learn more about the profiles of those liking the page and found a large number coming from Egypt and the Philippines.
This “fan” data correlated with a similar experiment conducted by one social media marketing consultant, Michael Tinmouth, who ran a similar investigation for several of his own small business clients, where yet again, a large and suspicious number of accounts came from Egypt and the Philippines.
“They were 13 to 17 years old, the profile names were highly suspicious, and when we dug deeper a number of these profiles were liking 3,000, 4,000, even 5,000 pages,” Tinmouth said in the BBC report.
Tinmouth also pointed out that several profiles had names and details that showed signs of being fake – such as “Agung Pratama Sevenfoldism”, who was born in 1997 and claims to be a manager at Chevron in 2010.
"All of these companies have access to Facebook's analytics which allow them to see the identities of people who have liked their pages, yet this has not been flagged as an issue,” said a Facebook spokesperson to the BBC. “A very small percentage of users do open accounts using pseudonyms but this is against our rules and we use automated systems as well as user reports to help us detect them."
Since "Likes" tend to hold such a high value by marketing people, they and their companies tend to spend large sums of money running targeted Facebook advertisements. While this report may cause some concern for them and their clients, it might be a bigger concern for Facebook considering the vast majority of the company’s revenue comes from advertising.
Facebook continues to remain adamant that it has "not seen evidence of a significant problem" regarding the fake accounts.
Significant or minor, this report continues to demonstrate that artists and brands must not continue to be beholden to a social network for fan retention. If you really want to boast about how much your liked, boast about how big your email list is, or how many people packed the venue last night, or how active your user base. Those numbers are from real people who decided to take the next step to engage with you by opting-in somehow, which is far more significant than any Facebook Like.