Saturday 27 September 2014

The real story behind Facebook 'likes'

There might not be much point paying for Facebook ads or "like farms" to increase the page followings of companies or campaigns, a new study has found.


If Facebook likes are anything to go by, Shakira is the world’s favourite person (closely followed by Cristiano Ronaldo and Eminem), Coca-Cola is the world’s top brand, Vin Diesel is more loved than Harry Potter and the Yes campaign won in the Scottish independence referendum.
At least one of those things is not true. In fact, when it comes to Facebook likes, quantity is no indication of quality - or even reality - according to new research from University College London and other institutions.
In what the MIT Technology Review called “the first systematic investigation into the nature of like farms and how they operate,” researchers found that the likes paid for by companies to boost their Facebook followings are likely to be fake, even the ones that are real aren’t worth much, and there’s no indication that any of them are human.
The findings suggest that Facebook might not be an ideal medium for effective advertising, and could have implications for the social network's targeted adverts and promotion sales.

The method
The researchers set up 13 content-less Facebook pages about virtual electricity. Each page included the description, “This is not a real page, so please do not like it.” These pages were split into two groups, with five in one and eight in the other.
They bought Facebook ads to promote the first group, targeting each page at users in a different region (the US, France, India, Egypt and worldwide) at a total cost of $90 over 15 days. They used like-generating services -,, and, which charged up to $190 for 1000 likes over the fortnight - to build the following of the other eight pages, targeting users in the US and worldwide.
The results
The genuine Facebook ads were successful at targeting users in the specified regions, although the majority of the worldwide campaign’s near-500 likes were based in India. The Indian and Egyptian pages also garnered more than 500 likes, while the American and French pages got fewer than 50.

However, the users who liked these fake pages also liked between 600 and 1,000 other pages - considerably more than the average Facebook user’s 40 liked pages, suggesting that targeted promotions attract a certain type of user who is less discriminate with their clicking. 

The pay-for-likes services were more successful in building page followings, mostly gaining between 700 and 1,000 likes - but instead of a gradual growth, the number of likes increased in “large bursts”, jumping by hundreds in just a few hours, after which there was not one new like. These likes were therefore more likely to be fake profiles operated by automated bots, the researchers said.

The conclusion
Although the study was conducted on a small scale, its findings show that a lot of the Facebook likes that companies pay for are fake - despite the social network's attempts to detect and remove false accounts - and even the real ones do not necessarily constitute an engaged following.
“Since our honeypot pages both for Facebook and like farm campaigns explicitly indicated they were not “real”, we argue that a vast majority of the garnered likes are fake,” the researchers concluded.
Facebook has processes in place to protect its users from fake profiles, checking more than 25bn actions a day.
“We stress that our findings do not necessarily imply that advertising on Facebook is ineffective, since our campaigns were specifically designed to avert real users,” they added. “However, our work provides strong evidence that likers attracted on our honeypot pages, even when using legitimate Facebook campaigns, are significantly different from typical Facebook users.”

Source : the Telegraph


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