July 13, 2012

Facebook Likes Becoming Less Valuable

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

We´re familiar with the lexicon: Businesses and organizations often ask their fans and followers to “like” them on Facebook. From giant billboards to tiny, side ads on various websites, companies sure do make a fuss about people liking them, but are these likes worth the expense and effort? The BBC conducted an investigation to get to the bottom of the “Like” game, and the short answer? It´s hard to tell. With so many false profiles running around on Facebook, some wonder if the value of a like has become diluted in the Facebook economy. Not only do these fake profiles lead to no one in particular, the personal details in these profiles are also fabricated, further complicating any demographical data.

According to the BBC, Facebook has said that they have "not seen evidence of a significant problem".

To test the value of a “like,” the BBC created a fictitious advertising campaign for a fictitious business called VirtualBagel, purveyor downloadable bagels for virtual eaters. With nearly no business information, the BBC then decided to run an ad on Facebook for VirtualBagel in the UK, the U.S., Egypt, India, Malaysia and other countries to people in between the ages of 13 and 45. The results were astounding: After just 24 hours, VirtualBagel, a company which sells nothing, was able to garner over 1,600 likes. After a week, this number nearly doubled as nearly 3,000 people had liked VirtualBagel.

According to the BBC report, nearly everyone who liked VirtualBagel hailed from Egypt, and 75% of them came from 13 to 17 year olds.

When they looked at some of these profiles, they noticed something peculiar: some of the profiles were obviously fake. Take, for instance, the profile for one “Ahmed Ronaldo.”

Though his profile claims he lives in Cairo, the profile says he works for Real Madrid and houses several pictures of the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Ahmed Ronaldo has also liked more than 3,000 pages on Facebook. Even more interesting, there seem to be a number of Ahmed Ronaldos on Facebook. While the name may very well be a popular one, nearly all of the profiles on Facebook had some things in common: Mainly, a picture of Cristiano Ronaldo. Clearly, there aren´t that many Cristiano Ronaldos in the world who also play for the same team and bear a strong, striking resemblance to one another.

Facebook announced earlier this year that as much as 6% of their 901 million profiles–about 54 million or so– are fabricated.

"Spammers and malware authors can mass-produce false Facebook profiles to help them spread dangerous links and spam, and trick people into befriending them," said Internet security expert Graham Cluley with Sophos Security.

"We know some of these accounts are run by computer software with one person puppeteering thousands of profiles from a single desk handing out commands such as: 'like' as many pages as you can to create a large community.”

"I'm sure Facebook is trying to shut these down but it can be difficult to distinguish fake accounts from real ones."

A spokesperson for Facebook said they haven´t noticed any evidence of excessive likes or “obsessive clickers,” though as Mr. Cluley told the BBC, Facebook makes money every time a businesses ad leads to a fan. Therefore, it´s in the best interest of Facebook to downplay problems like these.

In stark contrast to Egypt´s seeming affinity for digital baked goods, hardly anyone in the UK or US took the time to like VirtualBagel. As the BBC noted, these two countries are two of the most valuable markets for advertisers.

Therefore, when false profiles lead to false likes in less-than-valuable markets, the value of a “like” may not be as great as some companies would hope.