Justin Bieber’s faked up Twitter fans raises questions about Fakebook too.
The revelation that half of Bieber’s 37m Twitter fans are fakes comes as no surprise to many of us. We’ve all known for a long time you can buy fake Twitter and Facebook fans.
Social media statistics company, SocialBakers, estimates 16.7m of the singer’s 37m strong Twitter fan base are composed of ‘fake’ or empty accounts, with another 2.6m being inactive.
Bieber was number 1 and now falls to second place behind Lady Gaga – but are her fans real as well? In fact, all the top ten – which includes Katey Perry, Obama, Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Timberlake - seem to have between 30 to 50% fake followers.
And if the music industry is now auditing their social media, shouldn’t all brands be doing the same? I can imagine the question being asked in boardrooms all over the business world is, “how many followers do we really have?”
Only recently a client told me he’d been called up by a salesman offering him 1000 Facebook fans for £500. “That’s disgraceful,” he exclaimed. But his dilemma wasn’t a moral one but one of price. “That’s disgraceful because I can get them for £250 a thousand,” and he slammed the phone down. No wonder Facebook has earned the nickname ‘Fakebook’ in marketing circles.
Another person I know bought 2000 Twitter fans for a few dollars online. It really is that easy.
The old saying, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” should maybe be rewritten as “Lies, damned lies, and social media statistics” in light of Bieber’s revelations. (The original quote came from the 19th century British PM, Benjamin Disraeli, and was popularised by Mark Twain.)
The fact that Bieber has half the fans he claims really may not seem important, after all, who cares how many teenagers follow him? But what does matter is that it throws a dark shadow over the use of these figures as a measure of any value other than to massage an ego – I suspect the driving force here was record company egos. When real business or financial value is being measured, then we are now entering an area of fraud. And for an industry that has similar low trust levels as estate agents and used car salesmen, it does nothing for our profession.
Personally, I think faking up numbers to look good to your boss or worse – to get financial reward – is not only unethical and unprofessional but I would like to see some people done for fraud. If shareholder value was ever based on social media numbers then we need these figures to be professionally audited.
I can think of several brand websites that have a suspiciously high number of fans. One I investigated a few months ago for a blog (that we didn’t publish as it probably would have ended up in a law case) suggested that the brand’s agency was faking up a lot. We discovered a number of fans who only spent their time clicking on FMCG sites and had dubious profiles.
Another serious faking up comes from tricking real people into becoming fans when they had no idea. A well know cereal brand’s Facebook site is full of people complaining about being tricked into becoming fans of the site.
What started out as a piece of research with one top brand’s Facebook fans resulted in a revelation that half didn’t even know they were fans. It turned out that the digital agency was being paid an incentive and it was suspected they had tricked people onto the site.
Of course it’s easy to blame the small number of dishonest people you get in any business but you can also blame the ignorant ones who put pressure on marketing directors to get big numbers. Or marketing directors who lean on digital agencies.
I’ve recently done a small survey about this on LinkedIn (I can honestly claim all my 1163 followers are real). Evaluating the comments, if an MD is pressurising his marketing director to get lots of numbers, of course he’ll take the easy route and “fake up”. As one contact put it, “If he’s too dumb to know the difference between what matters and what doesn’t, he’s too stupid to know they’re fake!”
The longer term damage of this scandal, and like horsemeat I suspect this is just the tip of an iceberg, is the discreditation of social media, which is a shame. On the good side, it is making us re-evaluate what numbers matter beyond the bottom line.