Is the Facebook Like Dead for Marketers?

Derek Muller longs for the days when his Facebook page had only a few thousand likes.

“The other day I was just Googling, ‘How do I delete these likes?'” he said in an interview. “There’s no tool to do that.”

Muller is the man behind Veritasium, a YouTube channel dedicated to producing informative videos on science. He has a strong following on the video site with more than 1.1 million subscribers (his second channel has more than 150,000).

He also has a reasonably popular Facebook page with 131,000 likes. Those likes have turned out to be a barrier between him and his fans, and he explains why in a video uploaded to his YouTube page entitled “Facebook Fraud.”

What Muller alleges is a quirk of the Facebook ecosystem that has emerged as a byproduct of how the newsfeed has evolved to display content. In short, phony Facebook likes have become all too common even among pages seeking legitimate followers. Facebook is complicit in allowing bogus accounts to run up like totals because they act as a buffer between pages and their actual fans.

As a result, Muller saw his engagement percentage plummet as his page built more likes. His posts were appearing on the News Feeds of phony accounts that had liked his page that never interacted with his page or any other. Since Facebook’s algorithm is built to reward posts that have strong engagement, the phony likes were making his posts look bad.

The notion that Facebook has phony accounts or that likes can easily be bought is not a new one. A 2012 BBC investigation highlighted how fake likes permeated the site, and that the issue posed real questions for the value of Facebook advertisements.

Facebook marketing has improved, according to Jeff Selig, CMO of social media marketing firm BostonMediaDomain, but the like button in particular is almost useless. Marketing on Facebook is now about curating a following as opposed to just building numbers.

“We gave up on [likes] ages ago,” Selig said. “If you take likes out of the equation and you are actually selling something, I think you’re better off. I think the days of the popularity contest are over.”

Facebook recently admitted in a regulatory filing that as much as 11.2% of its accounts are fake, but did not publish any numbers about how many likes may be fraudulent.

Muller noted that while Facebook has cracked down on fake profiles at times, there seemed to be a permissive attitude toward so-called “click farm” pages. He pointed to “Paid-to-Like” as a company that operated with a page on Facebook and posted photos of receipts paid out to people for likes.

Muller did see a slight bump in total engagement, but said he now feels the need to pay for visibility to offset the dead likes that hurt his engagement numbers. His YouTube site went from 40,000 subscribers to 1.1 million, with his views rising along the way.

On Facebook, his rise in fans and likes after advertising diluted his fan base, Muller said, producing what he saw as negative returns. This model is in contrast to YouTube where he has found creators work with the site to generate revenue.

“YouTube is paid every time a creator’s video is viewed. That means it’s in YouTube’s interest that each of us reaches as many of our subscribers as possible because it’s financially beneficial to both of us,” he said. “Facebook has the opposite business model, where it’s not beneficial to them for us to reach our audience. They want to restrict our organic reach to make us pay for it.”

A Facebook spokesperson said that the company has worked to improve the results of its advertising with some success.

“Fake likes don’t help us. For the last two years, we have focused on proving that our ads drive business results, and we have even updated our ads to focus more on driving business objectives,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email. “Those kinds of real-world results would not be possible with fake likes. In addition, we are continually improving the systems we have to monitor and remove fake likes from the system.”

Muller admits that the idea of Facebook being complicit with click farms may sound far fetched, but that the results he experienced led him to no other conclusion.

“I hate conspiracy theories… I’m about the scientific method,” he said. “What I got was not genuine. What I paid to them was real money and what I got back was useless.”

What about you?

Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

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by Jason Abbruzz