Why Likes Do Not Necessarily Mean Engagement

Social Media
July 15, 2015

We’ve all seen those ads on Google, Gumtree, Facebook and through Instagram comments promising 1,000 new followers “for just $5!!!!!!!”. Most of us brush these aside as a scam, but you’d be surprised how established, and very real, this activity is. Also known as like farming, minting followers has become a multi-million dollar industry. Researchers estimate that the market for fake Facebook followers is worth between $87 million to $390 million. Companies such as Coca Cola, Mercedes-Benz and Louis Vuitton have all been speculated to use like farms to boost the perceived popularity of their social presence. In 2014, Tony Abbott came under public scrutiny as a photo was published on the Internet showing that the majority of his Facebook fans come from New Delhi – a like farms hotspot.

This photo also shows Tony’s dramatic spike in Facebook likes over the space of just one month:

Tony-Abbott graph showing his Facebook Fan Spike

Definitely something fishy going on here…

Tony Abbott Winking on 774 ABC gif

So, what are “like farms”, you ask?

Click or like farms operate from usually abandoned or illegal buildings in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India and the Philippines. The employees (yes, employees – actual people do this work guys!) often work long hours for as little as $120 a year. They are paid a minute amount to create fake Facebook accounts and sit all day liking client’s pages. To avoid detection, the employees will like anything and everything in their path so Facebook views it as an active, authentic account. Ever wanted to know why you get so many bogus accounts trying to add you (or follow, as in the case of Instagram and Twitter)? Yep, this is partly why (and you should never accept their requests – in addition to like farms, fake accounts are often set up for identity theft, scamming opportunities, phishing and more sinister activities).

Why are they bad?

Well, apart from the obvious fact that they are morally and ethically wrong, inauthentic likes do not translate to better page performance. Bought likes do not follow up with engagement on your page. After the like farms have done their bit (that is, getting a page more likes), they will not comment, like or share your posts. This is important, as Facebook’s algorithm looks at how often your followers engage with your posts. If you have a good to high ratio of your followers engaging with your page, Facebook will automatically rank your future content higher in the news feed. If you have fake followers who do not engage with your content, your ratio will be much lower – and Facebook will downgrade your content to the bottom of the news feed. Meaning less, actual interested people viewing your content.

You don’t even have to buy likes to notice the impact like farms are having on page performance. For example, if you hold a Likes Campaign and leave targeting off (meaning, you target to a broad audience around the world), you’ll notice a high amount of bogus accounts that follow you just to keep active and avoid detection.

What can we do about it then?

While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are taking increasingly active steps to combat the problem of fake accounts, like farms are increasingly finding new ways to avoid detection. If you’re creating a digital marketing strategy to attract new followers or increase engagement on your Facebook page, this is what you should consider in your tactics:

  • When boosting a post or creating a likes campaign, define your audience so it reaches your target market.
  • If your audience is global, remove parts of the world where like farms are prominent. These include India, Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico.
  • If some of your audience resides in these countries, post the ad twice, but split the targeting so that one advertisement goes to areas where like farms are not prominent, and the other goes to the like farm hotspots.