Sheena is a click farmer

image of The RamonesIn case you missed it, there’s been plenty of great articles and posts recently asking a very simple question about Facebook: How many Facebook accounts are bullshit due to fraud from click farms? A well-made video kicked off the recent spate of stories on the topic. Here’s a run down of what’s been in the news:


Veritasium on YouTube: Facebook Fraud 

Washington Post: This blogger paid Facebook to promote his page. He got 80,000 bogus Likes instead

Salon: Facebook’s black market problem revealed

USA Today: Want fans? Hire a social media ‘click farm’

This of course leads to the natural follow-up question that any marketer should ask: So how much bullshit am I paying for when I buy an ad on Facebook?

I really loved the “Facebook Fraud” video (the first link above, by real-life science geek Derek Muller). However, there are some very big caveats to his video which need to be mentioned. Muller starts off mentioning an experiment run by a BBC reporter back in 2012. The reporter set out to determine what a “Like” was worth by building a Facebook account for something called “Virtual Bagel.” Then, he used Facebook’s ad platform to buy $100 worth of “Likes” … in countries where known click farms come from (gee – wonder if that affected results?).

The lesson here is fairly obvious. If you don’t target your ads (which is fairly easy to do on Facebook ad manager settings) I would imagine that of course you are attracting a lot of bottom-feeders. That’s lesson number one (and keep track because there will be a quiz). Facebook in 2012 since then said it deleted millions of “fake” accounts from click farms — something Muller follows up on by reproducing (more or less) the “Virtual Bagel” experiment.

What he discovered, however, is that nearly all of those new likes he got from a recent experiment were not engaging with his page. So … nothing seems to be solved, and may indeed be getting worse (according to Muller). In fact, it gets more nefarious. Many of these new accounts didn’t appear to come from known “click farm” countries. They seemed to be coming from the US. But there was something odd about these Likes … these accounts “Liked” way too many things to seem natural — and the things these “people” liked were odd.

My own experiment

Recently, I conducted some testing of Facebook (and other) ads for a client. I’m not going to divulge the results, but I will say this. Of the recent Likes we gathered, I decided to look at a representative sample to see if I could find accounts that screamed “click farm” — clearly.

I did not find a torrent of fake accounts. Not by a long shot. You see, I took the trouble to carefully target the ads.

However, I certainly found between 10% and 20% that were suspicious. A few fairly screamed click farm — which seemed to represent about 12% of the total (I looked at a sample of my new Likes — not all of them). Either way you cut it, paying for obvious fraud is not acceptable.

One of the new Likes my client gathered was from a person I’ll only identify as “Sheena.” Because there is a small chance — very, small — that I’m wrong, I won’t identify the account completely. But let me tell you a bit about “Sheena”…

Sheena certainly likes a lot of things. And yet, the only thing on her profile is that this blonde-haired twenty-something is female. Good to know! Oh, and according to her timeline … she changed her cover photo. There are no other posts to see.

Oh, and she sure likes a lot of things. To be specific … 33,000 things. Just to put that number in perspective, if you “liked” five things a day, for every single day of the year, rain or shine, come hell or high water, it would take you 18 years to hit that number. Or let’s say 20 things a day, for every single day of the year for 4 and a half years … Possible, but not plausible.

And it’s not just that Sheena likes so many things (and she’s so young and … blonde … too!) This little OCD like-monkey has quite the unusual taste in what she “likes.” It seems, for instance, that she “Likes” 10,000 restaurants. Which is quite the feat. I’m sure I’ll get to know “Sheena” better when we all see her on a future episode of “My 600-pound life” on the The Learning Channel. And it’s not just that she likes so many restaurants … she even likes every location of a franchise! Isn’t that neat-0!

She also “Likes” the Chicago Blackhawks AND the Montreal Canadiens. If you know hockey, you know how ridiculous that last sentence is. That’s like saying you’re a vegetarian who just LOVES to pick out their own baby cow to kill to make veal patties.

The sad reality is, I don’t really know if Sheena is a click farmer or not. I do know her account fairly screams it. My concern is that … I can’t tell. And that should worry Facebook a lot that people putting money on the table can’t really tell what’s fake and what’s real.

(And yeah, I supposed I should have named the blog “Is Sheena a click farmer?” … but “Sheena is a click farmer” sounds too close to “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” by the Ramones. And I like the Ramones. Suck it Robin Thicke)

I will say this: if you don’t target and test, you are opening yourself up to manipulation by fraudsters. Maybe that’s the price of playing this game. Nonetheless, I doubt there are very many businesses that contain an asterisk in their billing statements that reads “*Your results may vary. Sometimes you’ll be paying for a lot of fraud.”


Photo credit:By Plismo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Is the “land rush” phase of social media ending?

Land rushYou can’t really get away from it these days. The constant proliferation of social media tools and techniques keeps chugging along.

I thought two years ago that the world of social media was still in its infancy and needed to grow and catch up with usability. I think this phase is nearing its peak. What I mean is that using social media tools and platforms has become easier (though I still have many gripes about Facebook metrics), and that ease-of-use will accelerate.

But look on the web at any producer of content and what do you see? What do you see at the top of this post? A number of different ways to promote, like, share, etc.

I can’t help but feel that all these silo-ed social media platforms are inherently … messy. And while they all contribute to “social validation” (good content gets lots of activity across many tools), does it really make an impact — to the non-marketer/end-user/reader/client?

I was talking with an old friend last night over a beer or two at The Publick House in Brookline. We kept circling back to a main point: Social media effectiveness is inherently opaque to the recipient/reader. That can’t last forever.

The proliferation of tools and platforms feels like the “land rush” phase of any technology: many businesses and solutions crowding in to every available space. At first it was first-come, first-serve. Then the market space quickly became crowded and winners emerged.

But it still feels “early phase” to me — like the beginning of the car industry. Did you know in 1920 there were more than 40 car companies — selling many different models? That did not last much beyond a decade — and we know how fast the digital world works.

As a marketer, I don’t mind this phase, and the adoption of content marketing continues to rise. But proving the effectiveness is a constant battle. I know companies such as HubSpot are addressing this (and companies like AgoraPulse specialize in Facebook metrics).

But what I’m sensing is that social media has to get beyond this silo-ed, fractured set of tools in some way. Either a clear walk-away winner emerges (not likely), or there is something on the horizon which makes all of this look … quaint. And old fashioned. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but I sense it’s coming.

Most Top 20 public companies in Mass. invisible on social media

Are marketers like myself in a bubble when it comes to social media? I think so. We read and research so much about the topic that we naturally think every company is involved in some way.

I just tried a little experiment that says that’s not true — not by a long shot.

I took the Boston Business Journal’s 2013 Book of Lists and looked at the home pages of the top 20 largest public companies and the top 20 largest private companies in Massachusetts (measured by revenue). I looked for social media icons on the home pages, and only the home pages. I understand some of these companies are “parent” companies of well-known brands, but still, I wanted to see what their home pages presented to the world. After all, if you’re not promoting your social media accounts on your home page … where would you?

The results: 65% of the 20 largest public companies had no social media presence at all on their home page.

Do  you find that astounding? I do. And these are companies with 2011 revenues between $1.85 billion (Waters Corp.) and $25 billion (Staples).

Private companies fared much better: 30% had no social presence on their home pages (which I still find fairly high).

Almost universal to both public and private company home pages, too, was the hidden nature of social media icons and links. In almost all cases, the social media account links or icons were located at the very bottom of home pages — and very nearly invisible (low contrast icons).

After looking at a few of these accounts, I understood why: a large number (I didn’t tally specific results) showed very poor sharing habits. They might have many followers, but in turn followed precious few other Twitter accounts in return. This screams to me they are using Twitter as a broadcast platform only — and don’t seem much interested in sharing content or listening to others.

I will look deeper into the top lists and report more later when I’ve tallied results, but I think this cursory look says a lot: Big companies, private, and especially public are prone to ineffective and superficial use of social media.

A good counter argument  is that these successful companies are not engaging social media much because they effectively engage in customer feedback in more traditional ways. That’s fair enough.But these days, I’m surprised at the very cold, impersonal “front face” these companies show to the public.Nstar Twitter page snapshot

Look at Nstar’s Twitter account in this image above. Do you think — especially to younger customers — that this says anything about their responsiveness to their customers? Yes, I understand they are a regulated utility. Does that really prevent them from “Following” others? Really?

Even if it’s a holding company, doesn’t it say something when a company uses social media only for its brand properties only? Doesn’t it seem to communicate a kind of “facelessness” that seems cold, impersonal — not really human?

At least that’s my impression. I’ll report more data when I’ve looked at more companies, so stay tuned.