Facebook is ramping up its efforts to increase the social network's integrity because the situation, if left unchecked, could turn the social network into an artificially inflated bubble due to the perpetuation of services profiting from the sale of likes at Facebook's expense.
Simon Ashwin, head of social media, Asia Pacific, at Mindshare, said that Facebook's ad rate has gone up from an increased focus and investment by brands in the platform, potentially perpetuating the fake likes, adding that the rate has increased by 50 per cent quarter-on-quarter.
Even worse, brands, or their agencies, could even be using fake fans to click on competitors' cost-per-click ads, costing them money with no real business results.
“This initiative by Facebook is good for brand health, as it allows more transparency in fan acquisition,” Ashwin said. “If brands see significant decline in fan base, they should question their agencies about the strategy they [the agencies] have deployed….potentially some legal action might be taking place, seeing brands suing agency and supplier.”
Facebook estimates that less than 1 per cent of the likes on any page will be affected, but Ashwin believes that figure to be optimistic and asserts that the exact figure will vary from market to market.
Ryan Lim, business director of Blugrapes, advises brands to closely monitor their page status and glean insights during this period. This, he said, is a chance for marketers to approach social-media marketing with more of a long-term view, emphasising both the quantity and quality of the social-media communities they hope to build.
The problem, pointed out Stephen Thirgood, country head of Vocanic Singapore, is that too often, marketers enter an "arms race" for likes, forgetting what they are actually fighting for. “The purpose of gaining a ‘like’ is for a brand to earn the trust of an individual so as to lead them through a journey that either ends in a positive personal recommendation or sale,” he said. “Gaining a ‘like’ whether bought or otherwise, has no value unless the customer journey is well thought through and executed.”
A big part of the problem is the reliance of brands in Asia on 'likes' as a key success metric, Lim said. "Brands in Asia need to include other critical social-media metrics, such as the quality of communities built, community affinity, engagement and conversations," he said.
In fact, a reduced community size may be a better reflection of genuine consumers and prospects, he added. "There is no shortcut to being effective in social-media marketing.”
Vocanic’s Thirgood said while fan acquisition remains important, long-term engagement is a much more valuable proposition. “With a diluted proposition that lacks a strong link to relationship-building and a sales journey, senior decision-makers will find it difficult to justify increased spend on a discipline such as social marketing without a clear correlation to increased sales and improved NPS [Net Promoter Score]," he commented.
Helping to support brands with genuine customer-databases to draw on, Facebook has also recently launched a function that will allow brands to target ads on the platform based on email addresses and mobile numbers in their customer databases.
From a broader perspective, this initiative shows that Facebook is trying to have greater integrity as it faces increased pressure on brand investment and demonstrating ROI.
“Overall, Facebook needs to maintain the confidence of advertisers and brands by convincing them that Facebook is the best, most genuine database on the Internet," said Blugrapes' Lim. In addition, the moves ensure that Facebook alone profits directly from its database of users.
Clearing out the fool's gold from the real will be an ongoing battle for the social-media giant, however, said industry experts, because there will be a big incentive for hackers to crack its automated 'fake-like-remover'.
“Anything developed by humans can be undone by humans,” said Lim. “This will be an ongoing battle. As long as there is a lucrative market in generating fake likes, the problem will always exist.”