Facebook warns businesses of the downside to buying likes

6 Oct 2014

With the amount of Facebook likes a page receives often perceived as a barometer of its success, the temptation for companies to take a short cut to a really impressive number is understandable.

Scam artists thrive on that impulse and page administrators are often presented with deals to ‘Buy 10,000 likes for $40’ or offers of a similar ilk. Facebook itself is determined to stamp out the fakers. So determined, in fact, that the firm has obtained nearly US$2bn (€1.59bn) in legal judgments against spammers over the years.

In a fresh attempt to dissuade users from trading cash for likes, the social network has published a new blog post penned by Matt Jones, a site integrity engineer, outlining the reasons why users should avoid the temptation, as well as the tactics it’s using to stamp it out.

“One area we’ve focused on for several years is fake likes,” wrote Jones. “We have a strong incentive to aggressively go after the bad actors behind fake likes because businesses and people who use our platform want real connections and results, not fakes.”

Fake records

To deliver the likes people are willing to pay for, scammers will create a number of fake accounts or, in many cases, even hack into real accounts. Accessing people’s private pages is deplorable, but even if a page’s administrator is happy to look the other way when it comes to the moral issues surrounding buying likes, doing so can actually be counter-productive.

Buying likes, of course, won’t buy you an audience of potential customers as there’s no real human beings behind most of the profiles to engage with. But in addition to that obvious stumbling block, Facebook takes how often a page’s followers engage with the account when decided when and where to deliver its content. So when a page inflates its number of likes artificially, it’s actually less likely to appear on genuine user’s timelines.

“We write rules and use machine learning to catch suspicious behavior that sticks out,” posted Jones, quick to assert what Facebook themselves are doing to combat the problem.

“When we catch fraudulent activity, we work to counter and prevent it, including blocking accounts and removing fake likes all at once. As our tools have become more sophisticated, we’ve contributed some of our spam-fighting technology to the academic community as well, in hopes of helping other companies combat similar problems. We want to help block spam no matter where it spreads.”

Keep it real

As Jones points out, the amount of Facebook likes a page receives shouldn’t be the primary objective of a business who operate a page. “Your business will see much greater value if you use Facebook to achieve specific business objectives, like driving in-store sales or boosting app downloads.”

For alternative strategies to buying likes, social media blogger John Loomer outlined some useful tips back in 2012 that remain relevant today, including inviting appropriate people to the page, running competitions, promoting Facebook presence with in-store signs if possible and, of course, running an interesting page.

Last month, Facebook announced plans to change the way the site’s news feeds work in a move engineers say will ensure users “don’t miss the stories that are important to them”. With the proposed changes, the social network will now factor in topics that are trending and the rate at which people are ‘liking’ or commenting on a post.

Facebook like image via Shutterstock

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic