Will â€œBuyingâ€ Fans on Facebook Come Back to Haunt Brand Marketers?
Augie Rayâ€™s recent blog for Forrester, a technology research firm, raises a key issue all marketers should be thinking about as they navigate the ins and outs of social media.
Ray wonders â€œwhether rewarding people with freebies for the purpose of gaining followers is authenticâ€ when it comes to brands that manage to attract a great number of fans on Facebook. He cites the example of Bing offering FarmVille players three units of â€œFarm Cashâ€ for friending the search engine on Facebook. The result of the promotion? A gain of 400,000 new fans in a single day.
A Look at Loyalty and Black Hat Tactics
The question of course is how many of those fans are “actionable” and while its apparent that they are loyal to FarmVille, how many of those fans have any loyalty to Bing.
But Ray goes a step further, questioning whether such a strategy resembles â€œBlack Hatâ€ SEO tactics that were in vogue before search engines figured out how to stop the manipulation of search results. (Black Hat tactics refer to mostly unethical activities that are designed to get better search rankings.)
Drawing a comparison between unfairly loading the dice in search results and making enticing offers to consumers to get them to â€œlikeâ€ a brand may be comparing apples to oranges.
Personally, I think Black Hat SEO tactics were intended to mislead in a pre-meditated fashion, creating an undeserved advantage in the search game. Iâ€™m not convinced that a brand marketer who makes a compelling offer that generates a high degree of interest resulting in a large number of Facebook fans is doing something quite as manipulative.
It seems to me that the main difference is deception (rigging search results) vs. perception (rewarding consumers for a behavior). With search results, the consumer has no choice but to see the results that appear first (although he doesnâ€™t have to click on them). With a Facebook-related offer, the consumer can legitimately choose whether or not to take action.
The Value of Friends, Fans, and Followers
Plus there is the question of what being or having friends, fans, or followers actually means to consumers. Nearly everyone has one or two “friends” in Facebook who they don’t really know. The distance from true personal relations is even greater for “fans” of groups or pages or “followers” on Twitter. The likelihood of you knowing all your fans or followers is significantly lower.
From a brand perspective this brings up the question again of how many of those friends, fans, or followers can you consistently engage, because only those you can engage are actionable.
Reasons for Brands to be Cautious with their Social Media Recruitment Strategy
For a moment, though, letâ€™s go along with Augie Rayâ€™s argument. In urging brands to be cautious in their recruitment of Facebook fans, he says,
â€œâ€¦if buying links was considered to be an inauthentic way of increasing inbound links and improving search engine traffic, itâ€™s hard for me to imagine that compensating new fans for doing something they wouldnâ€™t otherwise do absent the reward will be treated any differently.â€
While Iâ€™m not in complete agreement, the underlying point Ray makes is worthy of some consideration. After all, bulking up a brandâ€™s Facebook following to buy their way into social search engine relevance really does call the practice into question if, in fact, that is the intent of the brand marketer. What was Bingâ€™s real motivation in â€œbuyingâ€ almost half a million Facebook fans by offering them virtual cash?
Yet the notion of making a compelling offer to attract a prospect is not very different from getting a legitimate response to a well-constructed direct response ad, direct mail piece, or emailing. Itâ€™s a pretty traditional and accepted practice for generating interest.
Still, social media marketing is a fragile game subject to easy abuse. Thatâ€™s why brand marketers need to run social media campaigns with a certain degree of responsibility. A smart social marketer should act like any other good marketer, someone who knows the difference between deception and perception. If he doesnâ€™t, his actions may come back to haunt him.
About Barry Silverstein
Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the worldâ€™s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.