Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.
Like most entrepreneurs I am constantly looking for ways to reach new audiences. And, when growing our brand, my strategy needs to be very targeted and rather creative. Therefore, I try new approaches and measure the results. Recently I experimented with Facebook advertising. After all, everybody is doing it, right? Americans spend more time on social media than any other internet activity. So, how could it possibly go wrong?
Facebook allows businesses to pay to promote their page (obtain Likes) and boost their posts to expand their reach to new audiences. With 665 million active daily users it is an ocean of opportunity. But there is one very big problem - it is increasingly difficult to reach relevant audiences.
In return I got a $400 invoice, about 30 page Likes and 200 Likes of a sponsored post. At first I was smiling. But that didn’t last long. After scanning the people that “liked” my content I noticed that their demographics were nowhere near what I wanted. I targeted insurance agents and got forklift operators, nannies, and even a gumologist.
Naturally I was confused. I mean, what does Bubble Yum have to do with insurance? Why was I paying for random people to like my content? I did some research and discovered that this is a very widespread problem for Facebook.
According to Facebook’s latest annual statement, they estimate up to 140 million fake accounts using their service. They break these accounts into three categories: duplicate accounts, misclassified accounts and "undesirable" accounts.
Yet there are two very relevant categories they fail to mention: bots and click farms.
In a nutshell, a Facebook bot is an automated software program that is designed to create and control a fake account. They mimic real people on Facebook to harvest private data from users, and expose them to other security risks.
A click farm, on the other hand, is a business that pays employees to click on website elements to artificially boost the status of a client's website or a product.
But I didn’t hire a click farm and I sure didn’t accept any friend requests from people I don’t know. So, why would they be clicking on my posts?
In response to the growing number of fake profiles Facebook has written an algorithm to weed them out. They are able to distinguish bogus activity from authentic engagement - at least to a point. To beat the algorithms, the fraudulent websites try cover their tracks by clicking the Like buttons on many honest pages as well. And because they have liked everything under the sun prior to me running my ad, they fall into my chosen demographic.
As a result I paid for fake Likes. They don’t really like me, after all. What’s worse is that my organic reach is significantly diluted as the content is spread across interested readers, and the fake profiles.
Ride the current
Which brings me to referral marketing. Perhaps a stretch, but this is just another example of how money could be much better spent to reach new audiences.
Recent studies show that people trust recommendations from close relations 7 times more than typical advertising or independent search. Even if your Facebook ads reach real people, they still don’t have the value of a referral. You need to win their trust first. With referrals, the trust transfers from existing clients. Moreover, your existing clients know your target market much better than Facebook does.
The catch - you must have loyal customers. But if you are a company that excels at making them happy there is significant opportunity.