Not All Engagement is Created Equal

While everybody in the digital advertising industry is aware of bots that simulate human clicks in order to drive up payments in cost-per-click deals, I suspect few knew that even the walled gardens of social media have their own bots that inflate different numbers.

As discussed in a New York Times article,  these bots compromise marketing spend from big advertisers and deliver absolutely no value.

The article highlights the perils of chasing quantitative metrics and using only these metrics as a gauge for success or failure. Advertisers and their agencies, tasked with finding ways to increase a brand’s cachet among elusive audiences, may find that some of that influence is not what it seems. What’s worse is that in social media, it’s often difficult to determine a bot from an actual human fan.

Here are some things marketers can look for on their own social pages, regardless of the platform. These are the traits that most likely make a user a bot:

1.      Every marketer wants their content to go viral, but when a post is crowded by excessive or unrelated hashtags and emojis, this is likely bot behavior.

2.      One or two word posts, especially in combination with too many hashtags or emojis, are red flags.

3.      A profile created recently (within the last day or two) that exhibits any of the behaviors in 1 or 2 should be flagged. A recently created profile has an excessive number of posts dedicated to a specific event, industry or brand in a very short period of time (a day or two).

Marketers should be even more on guard when it comes to qualifying social media users as influencers. There are many that are likely ideal customers for your brand, but will they inspire others to adopt your brand’s message? An Instagram user, or any social user for that matter, should be able to meet two main criteria:

1.      Does he or she have multiple social profiles and valid Web content of his or her own?

2.      Has news or content generated by the user been cited and recognized in a variety of sources, online and offline?

If any social media user cannot pass both the first and second filters, then they should be seriously re-evaluated as a viable brand audience.

Unfortunately, this is no easy task, and part of the effort is manual.  For every week dedicated to processing and analyzing social media users and posts, human review of a sampling of those users and posts takes up one full day.

Marketers should take responsibility for ensuring that their engagement and influencers are real, but they cannot do it alone. Beyond being on the lookout for “bot behavior," they should also be working with credible vendors.

And when they do, they must make sure that everyone is in agreement on the definition of “engagement," an often-discussed term overloaded with connotation. The second aspect is taking control and defining KPIs specific to social influencer campaigns.

The bottom line, though, is that marketers, publishers and vendors will all have to work together. Eliminating bots is a hard problem to solve. In this age of accountable advertising, a consistent cycle of testing, learning and optimizing is the ideal process to follow.

Moving the industry forward in such a way is everyone’s responsibility. Not only does it increase the bottom line, but it allows everyone involved to learn more about a medium that, despite its eventful history, is still nascent.

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