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Facebook & Fake Likes

What exactly is a “like” on Facebook worth?

To some companies (especially ones just starting out) a Facebook like can mean quite a lot. Businesses have realized that in order to remain relevant in today’s world, it’s imperative to stay connected with their audience via social media. This is why many businesses consider boosting their page, which in turn boosts their likes.

There are 2 ways businesses can try boosting their likes on Facebook: the legitimate way and the illegitimate way.

Facebook offers an official option to “Boost Your Posts”. A company can choose the audience for the boosted Page posts and pays a fee depending on how many people they want to reach. The unofficial (illegal) way is conducted by sites that offer deals like “10k page likes for $480”. Their business model utilizes “click farms”, which are made up of people based in third world countries utilizing fake profiles to like a massive amount of pages for a small sum of money.

Why would a company want to boost their posts? Perhaps they consider the power of information cascades. If user X likes the company page, then this news can be seen by the X’s network of friends. Based on information-based principles, a cascade can start forming if X’s network of friends believes that user X knows something about this company that they do not, and therefore has a good reason to like the page. This prompts users in X’s network to like the page, and the cascade continues to their extended network and so on and so on.

Obviously, Facebook discourages and bans people from using these illegal sites that harness “click farms” to boost page likes – and they have good reason to do so. What businesses don’t understand is that buying likes from these “click farms” can actually hurt their page. This is because the network is shared with the fake profile’s network, which are other fake users. Thus, the predicted information cascade that will cause a boost in engagement does not occur. So while there is an increase in likes, there will not be a resulting increase in user interactivity.

However, what Facebook doesn’t advertise is that many times an official page boost can also lead to a boost of fake likes and a decrease in page engagement. What causes this? Even if specific areas and demographics are targeted, fake users, who may be part of a “click farm”, will like many pages for free in order to avoid being detected and deactivated by Facebook. If they were to only like the pages that they were paid to like, then they could be more easily spotted. So when Facebook promotes a company, there is a chance that a fake user will like the page. This will then show the company page to the fake user’s network and eventually garner a mass of fake users. Again, this will promote the page, but lead to less engagement – which is the real prize that companies want.

All in all, page likes can be an easy way to measure the “popularity” of a page – but it also may be an oversimplified method of tracking engagement. It’s important for businesses to assess the risks of boosting Facebook likes before signing up for paid Facebook promotional boosts, both illegitimate and legitimate methods alike.


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November 2014