BBC Investigates Facebook Ads

For many companies, Facebook fans are a much sought-after commodity. After all, plenty of people spend hours glued to the social media site, and having your business’s messages show up there makes you a part of their virtual community.

But an investigation by the BBC may make marketers think twice before buying Facebook ads asking people to “like” their pages. Graham Cluley of the security firm Sophos told the BBC that spammers and malware distributors create fake Facebook profiles capable of automatically hitting the little thumbs-up button on thousands of pages. By making all those connections, they build bigger communities of people to reach out to with their spam and scams, but they may also give businesses a false impression of how well their Facebook ads are working.

Facebook has revealed that 5 to 6 percent of its users, may be fake. That’s not a huge percentage, but it adds up to about 54 million profiles, and they may be disproportionately the ones that end up “liking” business pages.

To test how big the problem is, the BBC created a page for a fake business called VirtualBagel and bought ads designed to attract fans. In just a day, the investigation found VirtualBagel got 1,600 likes, “despite the fact that the page offered no products and no interesting content.” And, although the ads were aimed at the U.S., the U.K. and parts of the Middle East and Asia, almost all the likes came from profiles in India, Egypt, Indonesia and the Philippines, and many of them appeared to be fake.

Facebook told the BBC that it doesn’t see a “wave of likes” coming from false users, but Cluley suggested the social media giant has reason to downplay the problem. After all, its biggest revenue source is ads.

So, what can you do to make sure your business page is getting real Facebook friends? Of course, posting interesting, useful content is a major part of any good social media strategy. It’s also a good idea to keep track of the statistics that Facebook provides, and to use other tools like Google Analytics to see if Facebook fans are becoming customers.

Beyond that, different kinds of companies will have different strategies that fit them best, so an IT consulting firm can help you figure out your own best practices.

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