Forget Real Friends, Just Fake It

If someone “likes” your brand on Facebook, or gives your website or blog posting a “thumbs-up,” is that a meaningful metric as a marketer? If your Twitter followers keep increasing, does that mean you’re publishing valuable content and helping position yourself as an industry thought leader? I used to think so, but I was disappointed to learn how disingenuous the entire process has become.

If someone “likes” your brand on Facebook, or gives your website or blog posting a “thumbs-up,” is that a meaningful metric as a marketer? If your Twitter followers keep increasing, does that mean you’re publishing valuable content and helping position yourself as an industry thought leader? I used to think so, but I was disappointed to learn how disingenuous the entire process has become.

In pre-Facebook days, if we liked a brand/product/service, we would talk positively about our experiences. We’d gladly refer colleagues when asked, or write an email or letter praising the organization. If we were truly brand ambassadors, we’d proudly pontificate and evangelize at the drop of a hat.

With the creation of the digital “thumbs-up,” a click of the mouse records your endorsement or disagreement in a split second. And, as marketers, we greedily record and compare those statistics as a justification for the impact that our brand might be having on the target market.

Every time I post a tweet, I can’t help but glance at my increasing “follower” statistics and wonder what 140-character pithy remark prompted them to start following me. It also adds a bit of pressure to make sure I keep my followers interested and engaged with my marketing insights.

But on several occasions, when scanning a discussion group on LinkedIn, someone has created the challenge: “Like me/our company on Facebook and I’ll like yours!” My reaction is swift and from the gut… “Like you? I don’t even KNOW you.”

Perhaps I’m naive, but I was under the impression that if your brand provided quality products and services that were deemed useful to your target audience, or you posted information that was helpful/funny/smart, then your reader/user gave you the good old “thumbs up” as a reflection of their approval. So imagine my surprise when I found a site where you can buy Facebook “likes” or Twitter followers!

For a few bucks you can add hundreds or thousands of “likes” to your page, or increase your Twitter followers instantly … all with the goal of seemingly increasing your brand popularity and, in turn, helping your site move up in rankings and search results.

Who thinks up this stuff?

Clearly an entrepreneur who has figured out that anything worth having is a business just waiting to happen—even if it means that what you’re selling is a tool to help companies scam potential customers.

And what about those companies that purchase “likes” or Twitter followers? Perhaps if they spent more time and money on running honest and helpful businesses that customers truly liked and felt good about, they wouldn’t have a need to purchase fake “friends” to boost their fake popularity.

I know how hard it is to build and sustain a business in a world filled with ruthless competitors. But I can promise that your business won’t get ahead by faking friends.

3 Reasons Popularity is Overrated

It seems that we never really lose our obsession with the popular kids. Case in point: the current marketing craze of finding and tapping into influencers.

It seems that we never really lose our obsession with the popular kids. Case in point: the current marketing craze of finding and tapping into influencers.

The Palms made big news last fall when it announced the launch of its “Klout Klub,” a program designed to serve up top-tier service and access to guests with high “klout” scores (a measurement of social media influence). And the hysteria around finding and befriending top “mommy bloggers” is nothing short of out of control.

So, is all this adulation for and effort toward winning over the so-called beautiful people of social media deserved or necessary? Consider the following three points to help you answer that question:

1. Domain specificity of popularity. The problem is that popularity is rarely absolute; rather, it’s domain specific. This even applies to high school, where the reputations of even the über-popular kids rarely extended beyond their class and almost never out of their school district.

Translate that to the real world: A Java programming genius has a following of hundreds of thousands across his blog posts and Twitter stream. He’ll show up as a highly influential individual, but his influence is grounded in his expertise. Will his fans and followers care what he has to say about programming? Absolutely. About his opinion of disposable razors? Not so much.

For every rule there’s an exception. And her name is Oprah. (You thought I was going to say Mr. Bieber, didn’t you? Actually, his popularity is extremely domain specific.) Oprah’s popularity is as close to absolute as you can get, and if you have a chance to get on her good side, do so immediately. But you already knew that. Moving on.

2. Reaching out to the popular may not be the best solution. The real question isn’t whether influencers are important — of course they are. Ask yourself what you would do for influencers that you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do for the less socially skilled? Generally speaking, you always want to take an “inclusive outreach” approach — i.e., communicating with as many prospects, customers and influencers as you can, assuming there’s little or no incremental cost. That would be the case for much of what marketers focus on, namely using content, information or entertainment to promote a product, event or special offer.

Conversely, if there’s a hard cost involved or quantity is limited (e.g., a private event or physical gift), you have to rely on an “exclusive outreach” approach and limit the number of people with whom you’re communicating.

3. The real influencers may not be the most popular. Let’s say you’ve decided that an exclusive outreach approach is right for you. Before you resort to third-party services and elaborate algorithms and overlays to identify influencers, consider the possibility that you may already know your most influential advocates.

I recently looked at Twitterverse for mentions of our client’s brand and found that those who were tweeting had more than twice the number of followers than the average Twitter user. There’s a bit of cause and effect at play here. Those who are most active socially will often have the most fans and followers.

If you’re focused on an exclusive outreach program, start by looking close to home. You might be amazed at how many popular kids are already friends with you (well, at least with your brand). Don’t forget that the tried-and-true still holds: Always take care of your best customers, regardless of how they score on a popularity meter.