Fighting Bots and Fake Numbers in Social Media Marketing
In a recent article published by Forbes, we are given a glimpse into the world of bots. The bots specified here are identified as “software programs designed to load webpages, use mobile apps continuously, and binge ad supported streaming content.” Interestingly, this has created an iceberg of a problem for marketers, appearing on the surface to be of little concern, but actually a problem of much larger proportion. The problem also extends into the realm of social media marketing, since marketing analytics are based primarily on impressions, followers, and engagement.
This is because many marketing agencies and social media managers are often in the habit of sponsoring online content to get more impressions or purchasing followers for their social media accounts in an effort to look more popular and credible. Marketers can get caught up in the allure of thousands, millions, or even billions of impressions, most of which are inevitably from bots. Advertising fraud can even result from this since advertisers pledge to reach such a large number of people. The statistics that come back may look great, but rather than coming from real people viewing the online content, those massive numbers are triggered by millions of bots.
Bots in Social Media Marketing
Unfortunately, the story is similar for social media, which is also rife with fake accounts created to drum up impressions. Because of this, companies might see hundreds and thousands of views on social media platforms that are producing very few real customers.
Dr. Augustine Fou, the writer of the previously mentioned Forbes article, says this of the impressions earned on online ads:
“Bigger numbers also applied to what advertisers thought was engagement – numbers of clicks and click through rates. Humans don’t like ads that much, often use ad blockers, and don’t click on ads that much (when was the last time you deliberately clicked an ad?). But bots’ job is to load as many ads as possible and click on some of them, to make it appear there was ‘engagement.’”Forbes
This applies to social media too, except the lack of real engagement is much more perceivable on social media. There are so many companies with tens of thousands of followers on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/etc. but their pages have very little engagement because the followers are all purchased and therefore, empty and without true value.
Unfortunately, because marketers and those who employ them have grown to expect massive numbers as indicators of success, anything less looks dismal. We are again brought back to reality by Dr. Fou, who exposes the folly behind such expectations:
“There aren’t enough humans on earth or enough hours in a day for those humans to do that [i.e. produce billions of impressions], so the majority of the 500,000 billion ad impressions sold every year is not caused by humans, but by bots. When half-a-quadrillion ads are being shown annually, mostly to bots, marketing itself is broken. Marketers are used to seeing unrealistically massive quantities of ads and unrealistic click through rates. It’s hard to get back to reality because real numbers would look so small in comparison — literally 1/100th of what they are today.”Forbes
In light of this, what we really need are real numbers that reflect real people and real engagement. If selling real products and services to real people is the goal, fake viewership and drummed up numbers are counterproductive. They contribute to incredibly unrealistic expectations for marketers and businesses alike. A desire for unrealistically large numbers can only be fulfilled by unnaturally earned numbers.
Throwing Your Ad into the Ring
So what is the solution? The most important things your business should do to form an effective online marketing strategy are to remember your goals, reevaluate your expectations, and implement a plan consistent with those goals and expectations.
What are your goals? Presumably, you are trying to reach a real audience in hopes that they will purchase your real products or services. How do you know that your online content is reaching real people and not simply being “seen” by fake accounts? Rather than relying on impressions as your measure of success, might we suggest a better metric – engagement. You want real people having real interaction with your social media content and with your brand.
Because impressions can be misleading, we need to see what produces real engagement, so let’s look at some real, proven strategies to produce real engagement.
If you want engagement, you have to be posting content that real people want to engage with. Rather than always selling and promoting your brand on social media, share content that will be interesting and helpful to your target audience. Then they will actually want to like, comment, and share. What are the best types of content to achieve this?
We love organic content; these are the posts that are not sponsored or boosted but create the content base for your audience to turn to for information and updates. Focus on becoming a resource for your followers. Consistently posting helpful organic content builds trust with your brand. By doing this, you set yourself apart as an authority in your industry so that when someone in your audience needs the product or service you offer, they will come to you because you have proven yourself to be an expert.
Visual content is online content that is visually appealing like photos, illustrations, infographics, GIFs, videos, etc. Simply put, a strong piece of visual content is something that really catches the eye. It is far easier for people to take in information from visuals than from text. Because of this, sharing strong visuals on your social media profiles grows your business by driving high-level engagement and boosting brand visibility. If you would like to know more about the benefits of visual content and how to share it effectively, check out our article on the topic here.
This is one of the surest ways to get real viewership and engagement to work with and analyze. Not to mention live streaming is one of the best ways to interact with your audience. This is an amazing tool that companies should be utilizing more in general but also draws real followers and real engagement. Give your audience a window into your brand so they see the real people behind it. You can also use live streaming as an opportunity to provide great customer service by answering any questions your audience members may have.
It is far more important for a marketing company to bring real value to real people than to pay for a huge number of impressions. Impressions are all looks and little return. A high engagement rate indicates real people are receiving real value. Buying followers and providing clients with impressive statistics that aren’t worth anything should not be an option. Expect more from your marketing team or agency. A smaller number of impressions can be okay if you are earning a high engagement rate. The value of social media marketing is not as much about huge numbers and good-looking graphs as it is about reaching an audience of real people with content that is valuable to them.
This is our goal at FlightCast. We want to bring real value to businesses through social media. Instead of boosting our numbers to give our clients a false belief that our marketing is effective, we target real people and invite real engagement. We use these true numbers to accurately inform our clients and form better strategies that produce effective results.
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