Want More Facebook Likes? Be Careful What You Wish For

The prevalence of social media in today’s marketplace is undeniable.  Nearly all the media we consume and every product we use on a daily basis has at least some social media component tied to it. Whether through QR codes on products, or share links on news stories, the grip of social media is inescapable; and for corporations and advocacy campaigns, utilizing those tools has become a critical component in reputation building, driving business and communicating a message.

While everyone knows how important social media is, for many organizations, the actual application of these tools to cut through the noise and get some well-deserved attention continues to be a mystery. Recently, the Michigan based political blog Eclectablog, reported a cautionary tale on one of the many pitfalls social media practitioners can fall into in trying to drive traffic and promote themselves on Facebook and how a small error can become a major headache in little time at all.

On May 31st Eclectablog reported on the social media campaign being waged in the Democratic primary fight in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District between Steve Pestka and Trevor Thomas.  Specifically, the story focused on 60 year old Peska’s traditional campaign compared to the much younger Thomas campaign, which had a strong insurgent social media presence.  Although Pestka led the race in paper endorsements he was lagging woefully in social media engagement, which has become an effective yardstick in evaluating a candidate’s grassroots support and GOTV activity.

Needless to say, many an eyebrow was raised when seemingly out of nowhere, Pestka’s Facebook page went from 1,000 likes to nearly 7,500.  Eclectablog was intrigued and decided to delve deeper into this massive Internet gain for an old school paper candidate.

After reviewing Pestka’s Facebook analytics, it was revealed that for all of his new “likes,” the most active age demographic on his page was 13 to 17 year olds. Worse still for Pestka, his most popular city was in Israel. The month prior, the Philippines led in returns.  When confronted with the data, the Pestka campaign told the blog that the increase in support was due to the campaign’s purchase of non-targeted ads on Facebook.  However, it strains credibility to say that non-targeted ads on Facebook created such a surge in support, especially from an international audience.  The more likely answer is that Steve Pestka was buying “likes.”

Firms that offer to deliver thousands of Facebook “likes” for pennies on the dollar have sprouted up to profit off the surge in social media interest. The catch is that when you buy these likes, you have no control over where they come from and what they will mean for your brand.

Campaigns, whether for elected office or consumer products, are built on trust and sound strategy. These are two keystones that cannot be replaced.  While your page may sport a surge in “likes” you are not accomplishing anything beyond a larger number.  These are people who are delivered to your site en masse; they did not seek it out on their own and are therefore not inclined to engage.  No one is being influenced or prompted to take an active role in your campaign.  In the realm of politics, no one is being mobilized to vote; nor can individuals from outside the United States donate to support the campaign.

Worse still, by buying Facebook followers, an organization’s entire reputation can be called into question. While Steve Pestka had been gaining support from established and notable political figures and groups, the Facebook story opened an unnecessary  line of attack inviting people to speculate how trustworthy his campaign is and in turn, how trustworthy he would be as an elected representative for the people of Michigan.  It also provided the Thomas campaign with a prime opportunity to criticize Pestka for taking the easy way out and rightly state that campaigns are won through engagement, grassroots activism and hard work.

The moral of the story is simple:  If you buy Facebook likes you get what you pay for.  Nothing replaces a sound social media strategy based on honest engagement, targeted goals and accurate measurement.  By following these steps an organization can build a rock solid campaign instead of one that can fold like a house of cards.

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