Lessons to be learned from 'fake fans' documentary, claim social media experts

Brands must avoid playing the 'numbers game' if the industry is to drive out the practice of 'fake fans', according to social media experts following last night's Dispatches documentary Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans.

Facebook: Subject to fake fan likes
Facebook: Subject to fake fan likes

Drew Benvie, founder of Battenhall, and Danny Whatmough, associate digital and social media director at Ketchum, argued that brands must commit to building and engaging communities rather than prioritising easy metrics such as likes, views and follower counts, which can easily be inflated by paying companies to create fake accounts, a practice highlighted in the Channel 4 show.

‘Brands put a focus on numbers. It becomes a competition and it isn’t [about] influence or quality,’ said Benvie, who left Hotwire to launch Battenhall earlier this year.

‘People in control of their brand need to focus on quality, not volume. It’s like with the old measures and AVE, there are things you cant quantify like community. All brands should look at it [numbers] and realise, fake fans is all your going to get from it.’

Whatmough, who is also chair of the PRCA’s digital group, commented: ‘There is no doubt, as the Dispatches programme demonstrated, that it is easy and cheap to artificially inflate numbers of social media fans or followers.

‘I like to think we are moving away from seeing social media as a numbers game. Every marketer knows deep down that the number of fans alone is not a measure of success. That’s why a balanced, rounded approach to social media measurement is needed that encapsulates qualitative and quantitative metrics.’

Blaming a ‘lack of understanding’ by someone ‘looking at a spreadsheet’ or someone ‘at the coalface’, Benvie pointed to education and collaborative working as a way to move on from follower and fan counts.

‘Every different type of agency is in a land grab, creating a spammy black market. The only solution is to work together. The client and every single agency should sit together and work collaboratively,’ he said.

Whatmough added: ‘Agencies must be transparent about their approach to growing social communities. Building a social network of fans or followers isn’t easy. It requires research, a clear strategy, valuable content and advanced community management. There is no shortcut to success, so brands need to be vigilant – if your community growth seems too good to be true, then perhaps it is.’

Benvie added that brands also need to be more aware of what services they are buying from agencies and spend more time understanding and researching what they are getting.

Both Whatmough and Benvie praised the attempts of social networks to stamp out the practice, however, agreeing there was always more that could be done.

‘With popularity comes responsibility. All networks need to grow up a bit. It’s the same with trolling. They need to make it clean, safe, transparent and real,' said Benvie.

Whatmough added: ‘This is definitely an area where social networks are monitoring what is going on and I’d welcome any attempt by Facebook and Twitter to improve monitoring and investigation of growing fake communities.

‘Social media is now entering a maturity phase. Consumers and brands alike are increasingly savvy and that means there is more awareness of where bad practices are being used. There is still work to do but raising awareness of issues such as fake fans will, hopefully, make people think twice about it in the future. Fake fans impact the trust consumers have in brands and that affects all of us working in social media.’

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