The Nasty Truth About Social Media Marketing
Everyone's using social media these days to advertise. It's easy to jump on board when big-name companies like Facebook and Google are showing you the number of users they have. These aren't black hat community sites. These are household names. They have real users. They have an awesome ad network. They must be telling you the truth about how many users they have, right? Not so fast. You can spend a lot of time, and money, on various social networking sites like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn only to end up with a big marketing bill and no leads.
When you peel back the veil of secrecy on these companies, the numbers behind the hype aren't so appealing. In fact, when you learn the truth, you almost want to use so-called "blackhat" techniques to take advantage of what these social sites must already know: a big portion of their user base consists of fictitious users.
Facebook is one of the most well-known social media sites out there. However, it's currently taking a beating on Wall Street over recent discoveries of fake user accounts. Facebook admits that roughly 83 million users are fake or undesirable accounts. Accounts that are duplicates, set up for pets, or outright cypher accounts don't help advertisers and contribute to inflated user counts for the social networking site. Since investors and marketers count on this data when making decisions about whether to invest or market on Facebook, it's disconcerting to say the least.
A recent allegation made by online shopping platform provider, Limited Run, claims that 80 percent of clicks come from bots. This ratio holds true across the PPC platform, then it would help explain why big-name companies like GM pulled out of Facebook ads and instead chose to create more content for Facebook users. While GM never did dump Facebook altogether, back in May it did tell the LA Times that: "GM has not seen the success they want because they need to find people who are in the market to buy a new vehicle right now."
Regardless, the fact that Facebook ads don't seem to be converting for many advertisers shows there's a kink in the system. For small advertisers, this kink could be enough to seriously suck money right out of an already small ad budget.
Google has its own problems with fake accounts. One of the most embarrassing being a fake Bank of America site that remained active for a week before being reviewed. The fact that no one from Bank of America even bothered to check out Google + to see what turned up under their own name speaks volumes about the potential on Google's social network.
Google is quickly trying to delete fake accounts, but the fact that more of them keep slipping through the cracks damages Google's already shaky position in the social networking niche. Want to advertise on Google's network? It's a well-known platform, and Google does have a lot of the kinks worked out of its system. However, there's a huge elephant in the room there. When is the last time you tried using Google's keyword tool? It's notoriously inaccurate, your ad spend can shoot through the roof in a matter of minutes, and the $.01 clicks are all but gone. Once you get past the initial expense of setup and basic campaign management, you still have to manage click fraud on the network.
Is it 2 percent, like Google claims? Or is it closer to 19 percent, as Click Forensics has claimed in the past? There are a lot of reasons to like Google, but there are also a couple of reasons to question the official fraud numbers. One of those reasons is third-party analytics. We really want to trust Google as the "don't be evil" company, but companies like Click Forensics seem to be making a liar out of big G.
Linkedin has its own share of problems. Its fake user base has grown since the company went public. While LinkedIn has tried to buckle down on eliminating the fake accounts, they're still out there. All you have to do is spend some time lurking in groups and searching for "open networkers." Another problem with LinkedIn? It's premium pricing for ads. At least one case study suggests that LinkedIn charges a lot of money for advertising though, to be fair, every niche is going to be priced differently.
Twitter is notoriously difficult to manage. It's fake user base is estimated to be around 70 percent according to at least one report. It's really incredible if you think about it. Lady Gaga reportedly has 30 million follows, but only 29 percent of them are active users on Twitter. Can you imagine trying to advertise on a platform like that?
What To Do About Social Media Networks
It's a little disheartening to think that a lot of your money could be wasted advertising on these networks. No marketer likes wasting money, and no system is perfect (yet). You really only have a couple of options open to you:
- Recognize and accept that there is click fraud and budget for it.
- Don't use social media platforms for advertising.
That's it. The real takeaway here is that fraud probably does exist to some extent on every ad network. Advertising is expensive. In direct mail, the fraud came from mail houses throwing away mail or faking postage costs to increase revenues. In online advertising, it's fake clicks and inflated user counts. About the only safe haven you have is your own email list (and even that's not always completely clean). And while you shouldn't totally give up on social media marketing, you should walk into it with the understanding that it is - in some ways - a little overrated.