This is a touchy subject, since there are factions out there on the interwebs who will state unequivocally that you should never, ever pay for, say, Facebook Page Likes. They say that it’s unethical and a waste of a money and nothing but a vanity metric.
Oh, if only it were that simple.
We’re going to talk today about what it means to buy followers. Although you should never buy an email list, we’ll talk about why it might actually make sense for social media, in certain situations and circumstances. And we might uncover some uncomfortable truths about internet marketing and social media growth that some experts might not want you thinking about. But that’s OK. We’re all critical-thinking adults here who want what’s best for our businesses and our customers, and we can approach this objectively. Right?
So let’s get started.
What Does It Mean To Buy Followers?
At a basic level, buying followers means paying a social network or third party for someone to follow your brand on a specific network. We will be speaking specifically about brands here, rather than personal profiles, which means Facebook Pages, Google+ Pages and LinkedIn Company Pages. Twitter and YouTube do not currently differentiate between profile types.
Much of what we’re about to discuss will apply to other social networks as well, like Pinterest or Instagram.
A Like to your Facebook Page is a follow, just as a new Twitter follower, connection on LinkedIn, subscriber on YouTube, or being circled on Google+ all count as followers. While the terminology among social networks may differ, the end result is the same. Someone indicates an interest in your brand and from that point forward, is eligible to receive updates from your brand that you post to that network.
Some networks, like Facebook, offer brands the option and ability to buy followers directly from the network. Count Twitter and LinkedIn within this category.
Some services, like ViralWoot.com, set up reciprocal systems where users earn credits for following others or sharing content for a specific network, and then those credits can in turn be used to gain new followers or have preferred content shared. These credits can also be purchased, which means that these services can be viewed as another way to purchase followers.
And of course, there are countless websites and Fiverr gigs which promise bulk followers at bulk prices, like this seemingly great $5 deal:
So with all these options, what’s the harm in a business buying new fans?
Why Shouldn’t I Buy Followers?
I’m glad you asked.
First, if a business owner wants to buy new likes or followers just so that they can show that they have a high number of likes or followers, they’re motivated purely by the vanity number and need to check their ego at the door.
It’s highly unlikely that a new customer or prospect is going to base their purchase decision on how many Twitter followers you have. Improving your website and landing page copy is a far better use of your time and resources.
Second, most, if not all, social networks specifically prohibit the purchase of followers in their terms of service. That means that while you’re investing in all of those Fiverr gigs to ramp up your numbers, what you’re actually doing is putting your entire social profile at risk.
Now, while the cynics among you might feel that the social networks just want to control the market for followers, the fact is, most of those gigs and bulk buys are fulfilled using bots and fake accounts. There’s simply no other way someone could guarantee X amount of new followers within 24 hours.
Which brings us to our third reason not to buy social media followers, which is that, at best, most followers will be untargeted. And at worst, completely fake. Either way, they’re useless. How is a robot script, or someone in the far reaches of Russia, supposed to help you and your business?
They aren’t. So tell me why buying followers is a good idea, again?
Why Should I Buy Followers?
Because there are incredible targeted means of gaining, not just more followers, but new fans who may be interested in your status updates and content, might share some of your posts with their connections, and might be interested enough in your brand to subscribe to your list or even become a paid customer.
You see, it’s one thing to add a bunch of nameless, uninterested “blue heads” (accounts that don’t even have a profile pic and are still using the default blue profile graphic). It’s something else entirely to invest in people who might actually be interested prospects.
This is why many of the social networks do offer the option and ability to pay for more followers. If it was entirely immoral, they wouldn’t do it. The difference is in how the followers are solicited.
Instead of a script running on someone’s PC, using hundreds of fake accounts to Like your Facebook Page, your business gets to put an ad in front of targeted social network users, giving them the option to Like your Page and become a follower.
A Real-World Example Of Buying Prospects
Consider, for a moment, the following scenario. Let’s say you were living back near where I grew up in Huron County, Ohio. And let’s say you’d decided you wanted to help make Huron County a better place to raise a family, and were going to run for Huron County Commissioner, one of three individuals that manage the County. If you were like me, you’d be very familiar with your hometown, but probably not so much the rest of the towns in the County.
How would you reach out to all of those voters? Even if you’d lived there your entire life, you’d still need to talk to as many other voters as you could to tell them about who you are, what you’re running for, and why they should vote for you.
To start, you could and would go door-to-door. You’d walk up and down every street and road and alley in every town with registered voters. You’d knock on every door and gate, looking for a chance to speak with someone.
But, as with any advertising campaign, one “touch” is seldom enough. You need to remind people who you are and find other ways to communicate with them your story, persuading them to think about you when it comes time to punch their ballot.
Traditionally, that means you’re going to want to use Direct Mail. You could write down each and every address and voter’s name as you go door-to-door. But if you’ve never gone door-to-door (and I have), you should know that most people aren’t home or don’t answer their door, and of those that do, many aren’t interested in speaking to you. In fact, if it’s a partisan election, it’s likely that anyone tending to vote for the opposite party is going to be a complete waste of your time. You need to focus on speaking with supporters of your party and independents, right?
So you could build up your mailing list slowly, manually, painstakingly.
Or you could cough up $10 at the Huron County Board of Elections for a complete, up-to-date list of all registered voters, complete with addresses and party affiliation in a sortable spreadsheet.
That’s not even a tough decision for you. Of course you’d buy the list. You’d buy two if you could. You just powered up your direct mail, targeted your door-to-door, and perhaps even a phone campaign. All for a few bucks. And if you’re lucky enough to live in a district that’s been collecting email addresses, you’ve got the makings of a Facebook campaign as well.
Wait, Facebook? That’s right. We’re back to Facebook.
You see, with Facebook Advertising, you always have to specify your target audience. Usually, it’s composed of elements like Fans, Geographic Areas, Interests, Age, and so on. But you can also upload an email list and either target those people specifically (assuming they’ve used the same email address for their Facebook profile), or what’s called a Similar Audience that looks at the Facebook profiles associated with the people in your list and creates a list of similar Facebook users. With these ads, you can drive these potential voters to your Facebook Page, promote posts to them, or invite them to sign up for your mailing list, or perhaps attend an upcoming event.
That, folks, is the reality of business advertising today. Mechanisms exist which permit businesses to invest in ways to identify and market to prospective consumers. You can buy email lists, residential or business addresses, telephone numbers and, of course, social media followers.
But, as I mentioned before, quality is still more important than quantity. It does you no good to buy thousands of anything if they’re not real, whether it’s email addresses or Page Likes. And this is, perhaps, the reason why paying for social media followers and activity is becoming so worthwhile to businesses.
Honestly, I’d much rather buy email addresses. If I have your email address, I get to open a potentially two-way conversation with you, whereas virtually every other form of marketing and advertising is just me broadcasting and hoping you’re listing and take action. But it’s really hard to buy good email addresses these days.
Instead, businesses can invest in targeting people on social media and asking them to follow the business profile, or take some other action like engaging on a post, or signing up to download a valuable asset.
Inexpensively, businesses can create series of ads on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, introducing themselves to people who are very likely to be interested in that business and what they have to offer.
In this situation, you’re not just buying followers. You’re using the social network to present yourself to someone whom you think might be interested in you, and giving them the choice of whether to follow you or not.
What’s more, when you run an ad campaign like that, you get to determine what your budget will be, and you only pay for those who choose to follow you. Meanwhile, your ad is being displayed to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people, representing essentially a free branding campaign.
For example, about this time last year, I ran a brief experiment with some Facebook Ads. I created an ad graphic and copy that gave some indication of the kind of content my Facebook Page offers, and ran a $1 per day Facebook Page Like campaign. Each day, the ads would run until my $1 was spent. I averaged about $0.46 per Page Like so I got a couple new fans each day. But at the same time, my ads were being seen by at least 50 – 75 people a day.
That was just a brief experiment that served its purpose. Had reaching and acquiring new Facebook Page Likes been the real goal, I might have spent some time refining the ad graphics and copy to pique a higher ratio of ad viewers – the more interest there is in your ad, the more Facebook will display it and the less it will cost you.
Was I buying social media followers? You bet. I took full advantage of the opportunity Facebook, in particular, gives me to target extremely specific people.
How Should Businesses Buy Social Media Followers?
So we’ve ruled out buying followers in bulk, since that’s largely composed of fake or untargeted people.
I’ve tried the reciprocal following services a few times and that falls into the same untargeted boat. 100 new followers who aren’t interested in me or my brand are worthless to me, even if they’re real.
Which leaves purchasing and targeted through the social networks themselves, as we’ve been discussing.
As to which one, there are several factors to consider.
First, if your business has already targeted a specific network for other reasons, such as a preference for the kind of content you tend to provide, that’s a strong consideration.
Or if, for instance, you represent a large brand with constant hiring needs and regular industry updates, having a strong LinkedIn following would be beneficial.
But if all external factors are equal, what matters then is determining who your target audience is, and which network can best facilitate reaching them. Facebook is particularly strong when it comes to geographic and demographic targeting, as well as interests and other personal factors. On the other hand, you may find incredible opportunities to target followers of other brands on Twitter, or to place your ad at the top of streams based on trending hashtags.
The bottom line is that it will take a little research and experimentation to find the right mix of platform and ad approach to create an advertising system that nets you a steady stream of targeted, interested new fans. But it’s well worth it, as long as you have the right goals and mindset.
If you have more questions on this or other related Social Media topics, feel free to leave a comment below. Or, better yet, why not ask the experts? I’ve pulled in three of my friends, true Social Media mavens, into a live Hangout today at 12pm ET. It’s your chance to listen to and learn from Jeff Sieh, Dustin W. Stout and Rebekah Radice, and those who attend live have an opportunity to get their questions answered. Hope to see you there!
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