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7/13/2012
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'VirtualBagel' Leaves Bad Taste For Social Ads

BBC investigation calls into question the value of Facebook 'likes.'

Facebook's History: From Dorm To IPO Darling
Facebook's History: From Dorm To IPO Darling
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
How much should advertisers like Facebook "likes?" That is a question more organizations will likely be asking themselves after an investigation by the BBC suggests that they may be wasting their money by trying to gain as many likes as possible.

It is assumed that any user who likes something on Facebook—be it a brand page, a comment, a photo, and so on—is interested and wants to be engaged somehow, maybe to the point of even buying something. Liking, say, Wholly Guacamole's Facebook page provides users with company updates and coupons. A like also provides Wholly Guacamole with increased exposure, as all the Facebook friends of the person who liked the brand page will be alerted, and they just might like Wholly Guacamole too. Facebook charges organizations to show advertisements designed to attract more likes.

There's more to it than that, of course, but it's become pretty standard operating procedure when it comes to brand marketing and advertising on Facebook: The more likes a brand has, the more successful it is.

Or is it?

A BBC investigation, conducted by BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, indicates that many Facebook likes may be bogus.

[ Ever wish you could do more than just "like" something on Facebook? Here are a few suggestions. Read 9 Facebook Buttons We 'Want' To See. ]

After being contacted by a social media marketing professional who said his clients were becoming suspicious 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 VitualBagel page were misrepresenting themselves in some way.

Facebook has said that as many as 6% of its 900 million-plus users might be misrepresenting themselves in their profiles.

Of course, all of this is important for the organizations that are increasingly relying on Facebook and other social media sites as advertising and marketing platforms, but it is also important in light of Facebook's disappointing IPO and its struggle to get a handle on providing an effective ad platform, especially on mobile. The majority of Facebook's revenue comes from advertising. It will be interesting to hear what Facebook has to say when, as a newly public company, it releases its financial results on July 26.

How much weight do you put on Facebook likes? Are they losing their luster? Please comment below or write me at debra.donstonmiller@gmail.com.

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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Deb Donston-Miller
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Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/16/2012 | 8:05:22 PM
re: 'VirtualBagel' Leaves Bad Taste For Social Ads
Thanks for your response, Paul. What you said about being careful about Likes is, to me, very interesting. I wonder if people are at a saturation point for Likes, and/or if they have moved on to other platforms because Facebook has gotten too "commercialized."

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
PJS880
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PJS880,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/13/2012 | 7:39:09 PM
re: 'VirtualBagel' Leaves Bad Taste For Social Ads
I am usually picky when selecting companies that I like on Facebook, simply because I do not want to start getting spam from said companies. This is actually the reason why I do not like a lot of companies on Facebook. I usually just end up liking the companies that I like and that I would not mind getting spammed from because I enjoy their products that much.
Now if you were referring to likes as far as pictures and other stories go, I am usually quite open and my like range drastically. I usually hit the like button without much thought. I would have to say that too many people on Facebook do just like things to like, and it means nothing more than that.
I do believe that companies can benefit greatly if they is social media correctly and selectively. Take for example Chobani Yogurt company, this is a video that clearly shows how to use social media to catapult and rebrand their business.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
Social is a Business Imperative
Social is a Business Imperative
The use of social media for a host of business purposes is rising. Indeed, social is quickly moving from cutting edge to business basic. Organizations that have so far ignored social - either because they thought it was a passing fad or just didnít have the resources to properly evaluate potential use cases and products - must start giving it serious consideration.
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