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8/2/2012
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Facebook Fakes: Many Users Don't Exist

Facebook reports that as many as 83 million of its users are phony--but the numbers tell only part of the story.

5 Facebook Rivals Hot On Its Heels
5 Facebook Rivals Hot On Its Heels
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Like the number of people served at McDonald's, the number of users on Facebook is the stuff of legend: Three times the population of the United States! Almost one-seventh of the world's population, all using the social network!

Not so fast-- it turns out that a good number of those users aren't users at all, according to Facebook.

Facebook has said in a 10-Q filing that 83 million Facebook accounts are fake. Of that number--which represents about 9% of Facebook accounts--about 5% are duplicates, about 3% are misclassified, and about 2% are undesirable accounts, such as spam.

Facebook itself has made no bones about the fact that not all of its accounts are on the up-and-up. BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones shined the spotlight on this in July, when he conducted an investigation indicating that many Facebook "likes" may be bogus.

[ Does Facebook's future lie in e-commerce? Read more at What's Next For Facebook. ]

After being contacted by a social media marketing professional who said his clients were starting to suspect that their Facebook ads weren't reaching "real people," the BBC launched an unscientific investigation. It created a Facebook page for a phony company called VirtualBagel. The page received many likes, with a disproportionate amount coming from Egypt and the Philippines as opposed to the United States and the United Kingdom, according to the BBC story. It also seemed highly likely that many of the users who liked the VirtualBagel page were misrepresenting themselves in some way.

Facebook's Terms and Services could not be clearer on the issue of fake (and multiple) accounts: it states that users must commit to not providing any false personal information on Facebook or creating an account for anyone but themselves without permission, and to not creating more than one account.

If your business counts on Facebook for marketing, support, and general customer engagement, what should you take away from all this? First, it's important to stay on top of the numbers of users, not only for Facebook but for other major social networks such as Twitter. But as Facebook's news shows, you should take those numbers with a grain of salt. Focus more on who is using each network and how they're using it rather than on raw user numbers.

It's also important to keep your finger on the pulse of up-and-comers: Pinterest, for example, has only a fraction of the user numbers of Facebook or Twitter, but its numbers are rising--and the way that users engage on Pinterest is compelling.

The bottom line: User numbers tell only part of the story.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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PJS880
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PJS880,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2012 | 6:40:48 PM
re: Facebook Fakes: Many Users Don't Exist
This stinks you mean I donG«÷t have as many real friends as I thought. Lol I read the article describing the study that is mentioned and it doesnG«÷t really come as a surprise. It also does not mean that FB is not a useful tool for businesses. It depends on your business and how much you based your marketing off of FB statistics. I foresee people looking for alternatives to FB and there are some hot up and comers, Pinterest being one of them. I am sure that there a large number of reasons that an individual would want a duplicate or fake page if they are not 100% on the up and up. That is my thoughts on fake accounts.

Paul Sprague
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