What Facebook Doesn't Want You to Know about Advertising

Have you noticed your Facebook ads becoming really popular with users in India, Tunisia, Serbia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Albania...even when set to target users in a different region? Nobody - especially not Facebook - is talking about the flood of suspicious social media engagement coming from developing countries.  

In one recent example, reporters found that the majority of likes for the Los Angeles Olympics campaign came from users not in California nor the greater U.S., but from Pakistan. What's going on? 

Though you pay for an ad to be shown to users in a particular area, what marketing data may reveal is that peaks in engagement are actually coming from users outside your target. Not only is this wasting your campaign budget, but it will decrease the probability that real followers and targets see the ad. 

Click farm workers go beyond 'liking' the pages which they are paid to follow so as not to be tracked and blocked by social media platforms for suspicious activity. Artwork: "Like" by Tom Thomson.

Click farm workers go beyond 'liking' the pages which they are paid to follow so as not to be tracked and blocked by social media platforms for suspicious activity. Artwork: "Like" by Tom Thomson.

To understand this phenomenon, we must first take a step back. Stay with me.

Cheap Clicks

You might be surprised to hear the names of the brands and celebrities accused of purchasing fake social media followers - Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, Louis Vuitton, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Mitt Romney, for example. Your company probably hasn't done this, but the practice is an important factor in the erosion of your legitimate social media activity.   

To keep up with the increasing demand for social media influence, click farms have cropped in countries like those named above, in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. These businesses run like modern sweatshops where labor is cheap; for a small fee (for example $30-50) click farms deliver bulk social media activity (such as 1,000 'likes') by low-paid workers who use fictitious social media profiles to 'like' and 'follow' pages during long, boring shifts. Additionally, some farms are implementing technology, such as proxy servers to hide their actual location or software that disables cookies so their activity can't be tracked and eventually blocked by Facebook.

But how does this effect my company's campaign on Facebook? 

Erosion of Legitimate Paid Campaign Efficiency

Because fake activity has plagued social media sites since the beginning, Facebook algorithms are designed to track it and disable suspicious accounts. One way click farmers continue to avoid detection by Facebook's fraud algorithm, however, is by liking everything - including your legitimate ad content.

This is how your company is victimized by click farms even if they don't purchase clicks. Fake activity costs your company money by quickly consuming your ad budget without necessarily reaching the set target, it decreases credibility of the social media page, and essentially the brand, while also lowering visibility of other posts and paid campaigns.

Likes from click farms ruin your marketing data in terms of demographics but also by showing peaks of engagement that ultimately erode actual engagement and visibility. Because Facebook algorithms favor relevance, content that is liked by users who have liked everything - from cleaning products to government agencies - results as less relevant to your target audience and is consequently less likely to be shown to them, even with paid campaigns. 

"If you have thousands of fake followers, but they aren’t clicking on or sharing your content, your organic posts will rarely show to your genuine followers who would engage with it." - Alexa Amatia at Dazeinfo.

Evidence that Facebook's revenue is based on fake likes by Derek Muller of Veritasium.

Though it's policy states that the company is committed to maintaining the integrity of activity; it woulds seem that Facebook has economic motivation for not to be overly vigilant. The overall effect is a vicious cycle where fake engagement drives down campaign visibility so companies invest more and more money into Facebook campaigns in order to increase visibility, only to receive more fake engagement... 

"Advertising on Facebook is a waste of money, " said Derek Muller of Veritasium and the company is not likely to admit that it has "generated significant ad revenue from clicks that weren't genuine, which then suppressed the reach of pages that had low engagement, forcing those pages to pay again to reach inauthentic fans." 

Bottom Line

Until Facebook modifies the platform to block fake activity and delete fake likes (which it probably won't do as long as the current system continues to be extremely profitable) the effectiveness of paid campaigns will continue to erode. Perhaps it's time to 'unlike' Facebook from our marketing mix.