In fact, if you really are still using the latter, do have the courtesy to put on a highway robber's mask next time you go in to see your client. It will erase any doubt as to how worthless your social media campaigns are for them and add a touch of honesty when you hand over the bill.
So, to test what marketers have kind of come to realise all along, the MIT researchers set up thirteen fake pages for "virtual electricity" with a message on each saying they were fake pages and shouldn't be followed. The fake pages were split in two. The first group of five had received an ad budget to go out, on Facebook, and achieve likes in the USA, France, Egypt, India and worldwide. The second group, of nine fake sites, were promoted via social like boosting companies, also known as "like farms."
Both an advertising campaign and a company dedicated to promoting pages on Facebook to elicit "likes" are long established ways of improving a page's popularity in social media. Trouble is, marketers have questioned the veracity of either approach, particularly like farms. A recent documentary in the UK flew a reporter over to India to reveal the rooms of people who sat at a desk setting up profiles and then manually liking pages that signed up to their service.
There's always been a suspicion that bot nets are also involved in this and the MIT research would appear to back this up. Not only did their fake sites get between 600 to 1,000 likes, depending on the region and the like farm used, these likes came in short bursts which suggested, as one possibility, that a bot was behind the likes.
The more conventional route of advertising the fake site also led to likes, despite the messages pointing out the sites were fake. Interestingly, nearly all the likes came from India, Egypt and worldwide campaigns, not from the USA and French campaigns. Even more interesting, the users who liked the promoted fake site tended to liked another 1000 pages, compared to a Facebook "like" average of around 40 pages. While the researchers came to the conclusion that the likes came from a particular type of user, such as someone who goes around liking pages for the sake of it, more cynical observers might well wonder whether the likes came from real people at all. If they did, they certainly didn't come from real people with a real interest in a site which was very blatantly warning people it was a fake.
So there is a massive warning here to any brand or marketing agency that chases "likes" with advertising campaigns on Facebook or, heaven forbid, a like farm -- honestly, if you're pursuing the latter, get that mask and pistol order in time for the next client debrief.
There's also another point to make here. With Facebook dialling down how many followers a brand can reach with its content, there really has to be a huge question mark against the value of a like in the first place. Facebook has clearly devalued the importance to a brand of those people who have chosen to like their page, so why measure success in what is, at the very best, a devalued currency?
When you then add that scientists have proven that even in the USA and France you can can run a cheap advertising campaign and get 50 likes for a site that tells human beings not to like it, you really do have to wonder -- as you remember that worldwide and in Egypt and India, the fake site attracted 500 likes. And don't get me started on like farms providing double that number.
So if marketers are stopping to verify the means of getting likes, they may well want to carry on that line of thought and wonder why they should even bother when even a real like by a real person has been so devalued, let alone those supplied by like farms and, potentially, bot nets.