Buying Friends, Followers And Likes

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I got the call yesterday.

A national radio program was doing a segment on brands who buy Facebook likes and followers. They wanted to know if Twist Image buys likes, friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter or any other online social network. The first time the call came in, I was in a client meeting, so when I listened back to the voice message, I had to stop and think: "does my agency buy likes, friends and followers?" I guess when it comes right down to it, we do. We help brands strategize as to what they should be doing in social media (and where to place their energy), we help them build a presence, work with them on content, voice, tone and manner and, in some instances, we do social media advertising to drive attention to these spaces.

That’s not the type of "buying friends" these people are talking about.

The sudden interest in this subject comes out of the BBC and a story they ran on July 12th, 2012 titled, Facebook ‘likes’ and adverts’ value doubted. From the article: "The vast majority of Facebook’s revenues come from advertising and its performance will be scrutinised when it releases its financial results on 26 July… Earlier this year Facebook revealed that about 5-6% of its 901 million users might be fake – representing up to 54 million profiles… The BBC created a Facebook page for VirtualBagel – a made-up company with no products. The number of ‘likes’ it attracted from Egypt and the Philippines was out of proportion to other countries targeted such as the US and UK."

The popularity contest.

It turns out (and there’s no surprise here) that brands are willing to buy fans, likes and followers (and, while the BBC focused on Facebook, let’s face it, it happens in every channel). We’re not talking about creating attention that generates a genuine action on behalf of the consumer, we’re talking about doing whatever it takes to bump up the numbers. It wasn’t that long ago, that brands were also buying things like inbound links and more to bump up web traffic or visits to a blog. Let’s face it, if it’s possible to game the system (and it’s not all that expensive), there’s an actual incentive to do this.

The popularity contest is stupid.

So, you bought friends, followers and likes… now what? You have hundreds of thousands of people who have clicked a link for your brand (and who cares if they’re from Egypt, the Philippines or any other foreign land), what did you truly gain? You can tell your boss that the brand is popular? You can have more followers than your competitor? It’s a losing proposition and there’s no value in it. Why? Because it’s not how many people follow you. It’s how many people share, amplify and act as your ambassador. It’s about how many people really (and truly) care.

See, that’s the point of social media that no brand wants to face.

Numbers don’t mean squat in social media. Numbers mean everything when the people you’re connected to do something about it. So, your brand reached 100,000 followers. How many of them have muted you on their wall? How many of them, like, share and recommend you to others? How many of them are following you because that’s the channel they use to complain about you? How many of the active fans do you actually connect to, follow and engage with? Don’t kid yourself into thinking that this is obvious. It’s not. Just look at the BBC story and start doing some snooping around of your own and you know what you’ll discover?

Brands are chasing numbers not value.

Here’s the dirty little secret: buy all the fans, friends, followers and likes that you want. Once they click on your link, you’re dead to them. These consumers (who are not even real consumers) don’t see you, share you or care about you. So, what did those numbers get you? Do you feel good when you put your head down on the pillow at night? Don’t. Because, if you’re just buying likes and not actually finding true fans, the only thing more fraudulent than buying fake fans is the way you’re governing your own career.

Sorry to be harsh. But fake is fake and, in social media, there’s nothing lower.


  1. Thank you for writing this. It’s important for professionals in our industry to say these things out loud. It helps when leaders in the online marketing space like you, say these things. Thank you.

  2. Great post.
    If someone wants to buy followers or fans and someone’s there to sell them, I’m all for it. There’s no real value there, of course – which you describe very well in this post.
    Say what you will about Klout – even in its early form it does a decent job cutting through these false follows and likes.

  3. Some strong & noteworthy points. The true measure of your efforts in building the follower base would be (ultimately) the number of people who vouch for your product or brand and actually own your brand enough to be its face out of their own volition.

  4. Reminds me of buying links for SEO. A bad practice. It may not happen any time soon, but it seems like buying friends will bring problems, just like buying links. And most links you buy are worthless, just like buying friends.

  5. I agree with you, but the BBC report is actually about people who simply bought Facebook advertising that resulted in likes from fake profiles. So while there are certainly rogue services out there that allow you to “buy likes,” that was not the intention of the advertising campaign. They were looking to bring in relevant fans.
    The report has merit. I run extremely targeted advertising, yet I also began seeing some results that were too good to be true. It happens, in particular, when running Facebook’s new “optimized” advertising. Facebook shows your ad to people most likely to click it (though they should still remain within the target the advertiser sets). More often than not, that means lots and lots of likes, but many from fake profiles.
    Facebook needs to clean this up. I don’t want fake likes. I want real ones. I’ll pay more to make sure my ads are shown to actual people. But Facebook first needs to do a better job of preventing the fake profiles from existing in the first place.
    This is a whole different (or somewhat related) topic, but I still don’t understand the motivation behind creating fake profiles that then click like on advertising. What’s the point? Is it just to harm the value of advertising and ultimately Facebook?

  6. I came across a discussion on LinkedIn that was based around a similar topic and I definitely agree that social media is not about your overall reach and numbers but rather the engagements and relationship that you make from it.
    It really is a simple quality over quantity issue.

  7. Quality over quantity. It boils down to that
    1,000 likes might look good, but if 999 of them never check out your page, what really is achieved?
    Likening it to a popularity contest is spot on
    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  8. Couldn’t agree more. The fact that many agencies promoting a brand by mean of contest through likes and determining the winner by counting the most liked content is another flaw. To make it simple, those fake accounts might come in handy for case like this.

  9. Very Nice Article. I have met many people who sell likes and followers but they all are fake and send through bots and softwares. Likes do not represent the actual size of community

  10. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of new Twitter followers, offering “5,000 unique followers in 24 hours!” Ugh…
    Joel, this was certainly a refreshing article to read this morning. Thanks.

  11. A very dark possibility Jon is that an agency being compensated on client spend might be able to create advert click volume via some automated process from these fake accounts. You can be absolutely sure this is happening with less reputable firms using FB, Bing and Google ad programs.

  12. Brilliant post. Being a consultant who started out by looking at freelancing sites, it amazed me how many posts there were about getting 1,000’s of likes! As someone who “gets” what marketing is and isn’t, I didn’t truly get the point of paying someone to achieve so many likes, followers etc as I knew that it would be quantity but not quality.
    Thanks for writing this.

  13. I think that those people buy these false likes (even from fake followers) because they believe they can trick new consummers in believing they got a nice, product. It’s like creating false consummer’s comments on a feedback blog.

  14. I also paid into Facebook ads and also suspected fake fans after a few months, the page now has 86k FAKE ppl and it’s disheartening. And yes, Facebook needs to clean up it’s act. And we wonder why they do it…well, how else could they pull the money out of our pockets but set up the perfect racket…first pay for bloated numbers, then pay for promoted posts, best way for them to control the numbers and gives us a false sense that they work.

  15. Spot on, Mr. Joel. I rarely “like” anything on Facebook and if I do, it’s because I value it, or it was recommended by a valued friend and I think I might be interested.
    In my relatively short time on social media (primarily Facebook), I’ve come to value the authenticity that comes with connecting with people, pages, groups and sometimes products that I truly value.,
    Fake (purchased) “likes” or anything of the sort simply debases the currency and is worth considerably less than what was paid – zero, in fact.

  16. Great article! Thanks for putting it out there. This is an epidemic. I can’t believe we’ve arrived at this point in society so quickly. It’s a schoolyard, sandbox mentality. Many big brands are inflating their popularity by buying friends, followers, likes, etc, and setting the pace. As a result, it created a trickle down to smaller brands and made an acceptable practice and necessary way to get an edge on the next guy.
    I agree with Anand above that it’s quality of engagement over quantity. Unfortunately, quality takes effort and the masses only see quantity. It’s easy to buy fake friends but it’s much harder to engage.
    When you bend reality (ie: looking more popular or more successful than you really are), it’s not sustainable. Then again, what am I talking about? Maybe it is sustainable if you simply redefine what “sustainable” means. Isn’t that what happened with ROI?

  17. Wow! I almost got talked into doing this, but like you said, I probably would not have been able to sleep. Thanks Mitch for confirming my thoughts!

  18. I’m thinking they need to implement a permission system that weeds out the bots. Similar to an opt-in for email marketing. That way legitimate businesses can protect there marketing spend on Facebook and only have targeted prospects or those genuinely interested in a brand become a part of the their community.

  19. Had a boss once who gave me a hard time because our Facebook and Twitter growth was “organic.”
    I was shocked.
    Would it have been preferable to buy fans and followers?
    But some managers are so numbers-driven, they value quantity over quality.

  20. Thank you for this article, which I empathize with, even as an advertising professional, therefore prone to evil tendencies.
    In your opinion, what would be the correct metric to assess the positive impact of community engagement via Facebook or Twitter, In respect to the costs incurred by being there? (via internal department or agency)
    The qualitative approach feels appropriate on a customer by customer basis but how does a business assess ROI at a brand level?
    It feels that many brands engage on social media out of a fear of missing-out or being ridiculed for not being there (peer-pressure?).
    Really what this questions also boils down to I guess is what should a brand chase after and how should it measure its efforts?

  21. This is so true. A lot of so called social media marketers (especially who do FB, Twitter marketing) buy fans and followers. I spotted a lot of FB pages buying fans and they proud of the numbers.
    It actually spoiling the brand rather than helping.

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