Beware of Facebook "Like Bait" Ads

By David Veldt - 04/08/2013

(Note: Some folks in the industry frown on "outing" other companies for using black hat tactics. However, I find these practices deceitful, dishonest and lazy. Quite frankly, I think we are too easy on spammers, and the web won't get any better that way).

Social networks of today have a lot in common with the search engines of 10 years ago. We're seeing social signals slowly but surely take authority away from links within search algorithms, the title "social media strategist" gathering a certain stigma similar to "SEO," and of course, an influx of people figuring out how to game the system.

The difference, of course, is that the true value of social media is still difficult to measure, and some people still don't know exactly what it is they're trying to achieve. This results in spammers clinging on to the one clearly visible and prominent metric: Facebook Likes.

The truth of the matter is that Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers are mostly vanity metrics. The big number looks nice, but if those fans or followers aren't engaging with your brand---or worse---don't even know much about your company, the number is meaningless.

Regardless of this fact, brands are increasingly engaging in black hat techniques (nope, "black hat" isn't reserved for SEOs) in hopes of inflating these numbers.

Enter the use of Facebook "Like Bait" Ads. The concept is rather simple: Drive Likes or other actions for your page by presenting users with vague ads under the pretense that they are Liking something else.

Facebook Like Bait Ad

I'll start with a simple example, shown on the right.  Not surprisingly, I like baseball. Therefore, I see plenty of baseball-related ads when I sign into Facebook, such as this ad. If you're just glancing, you might think "Sure, I'm ready for baseball! Like!" However, you'll quickly discover that you aren't liking the concept of baseball season arriving, but rather Top Recruit Baseball, which is a Las Vegas-based baseball camp series. I took the screenshot of the ad around two weeks ago and at the time of this posting, they have gathered 1,961 Likes.

Whether the number of Likes mean anything or not, these guys clearly accomplished their goal of driving Likes on their page, and probably did so at a relatively low cost. Personally, I wouldn't want to be associated with dishonest ads, but they probably did get some exposure to their actual site through these efforts and some people may even consider this to be more "grey hat."

Taking It Too Far

Just like in black hat SEO, several companies have taking things way too far in the social media realm, which brings us to the worst offender I've seen so far. Go ahead and soak in that Facebook page for a moment. Butterfly Networking is a social media marketing company out of British Columbia that seems to have one employee. Yet, they have over 131,000 Likes.

Holy shit, that one employee must have been, like, prom queen or something!

Their website is riddled with cheesy stock photography and according to their Facebook page: "We help business owners "get found" on-line!" On-line? *shudder*
But, with 131k Likes, they must get a lot of engagement on the site, right? Well, considering most of their blog posts are shared on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ 0 times with 0 comments, my guess is no.

Facebook Like Spam Ad

So how'd they do it? Check out the ad to the right (Note: This ad screenshot was also taken around 2 weeks ago, showing they've gotten another ~4,000 Likes since then).  At least in our baseball example above, the ad and the company were at least somewhat related. What does cool cars have to do with social media marketing?

Naturally, they don't stop there. Their Facebook page employs further black hat techniques such as the following:

Facebook Like SpamFacebook Like Spam Bait

What's so bad about a Pug Yoda, you ask? Well, if you try to "vote" on one of these posts, you are instead redirected to a registration page for their upcoming Facebook webinar "5 Keys to Social Media Marketing Success" which, of course, has nothing at all to do with the original post.

There's no question that social signals are becoming increasingly important and with that, they will be under more scrutiny. Once again, this brings us to the parallels with search engines and links 10 years ago. We all know what happened there---search engines discovered (and continue to discover) the ways the black hats were taking advantage of the system, and have instituted updates and slaps to combat them.

Not only do social metrics currently tie in directly with search engine rankings, but they have an undetermined amount of influence within things like Facebook Local and Graph Search. Does this mean we can expect to see "Facebook Slaps?" In my opinion---most likely. Although, we would first have to know more about how metrics such as the number of Likes affect how a particular page performs in Facebook Local or Graph Search to determine whether or not a penalty has been imposed.

My advice to companies and consultants alike is the same as it is within the search engine realm: Employ honest tactics, focus on the metrics that matter, and develop a strategy that sets you up for success in the long run, rather than these short run "wins."

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