So You Really, Really Want To Grow Your Facebook Fans And Twitter Followers...

AvalancheSee, Colorado’s fake snow avalanche looks very real.

Photo: NSIDC

If the rationale for engaging your business in social media is to openly communicate with your customers, here’s a question: does it truly matter how many Facebook fans or “likes” your business has?Idealism aside, because social media has increasingly become viewed as a form of advertising for businesses, the answer is probably yes–to a point. 

You want as many people that are actually interested in your business at your disposal, but building numbers just for show is useless. There’s little proof that social media proficiency has any tangible benefit on sales even with loyal customers, let alone people who clicked “like” just to get whatever discount you used to bait them.

Except for one thing.

As we noted last week, businesses can’t ignore the viral nature of social media. Sure, your newest fan might not care at all about your product, but he or she has a valuable network of friends. News feeds and retweets spread word from your uninterested fans to potentially loyal customers. We like to compare it to the imagery of a snowball rolling down a snowy mountain and becoming an avalanche. Your company needs those first few specks of snow to get the ball rolling.

That explains the recent influx of companies, such as Fans and Invites and SocioNiks to name a couple, that promise you Facebook fans for a price.

According to Herb Kremer, owner of Iowa-based Fans and Invites, his company gathers potential fans through an extensive network it has constructed over several months. Fans and Invites shows your business to its first-degree network, asking interested people to “like” the page, and to send it out to their network. This process continues until your page reaches the guaranteed quota. Kremer believes this can ensure that, for the most part, these new fans are actually interested in your business. His company charges $115 for 1,000 U.S. Facebook fans, or $99 for the same number of global fans.

Australia-based SocioNiks, on the other hand, appears to have a more robust consulting plan that brings Twitter followers to your company in addition to the standard Facebook fans. But like Fans and Invites, SocioNiks president Mohit Gupta can’t guarantee getting fans any more localised than by nationality. He did insist that many of his clients were bigger than you might think.

Which is good, because for many traditional small businesses the inability to pinpoint the location of these fans renders the service useless. Yet SocioNiks and Fans and Invites could be valuable tools for internet startups.

One highly regarded PR firm that specialises in social media tested out the pay-for-fans service and concluded that it was “complete junk.” (It’s worth noting that if they weren’t “junk” these companies would be cutting in to many PR firms’ line of business.) The firm created a page and commissioned an undisclosed company to get them fans. Though their page did garner the promised number of fans, no one at the firm seemed to believe these newfound fans had any legitimate interest in their business.

But–back to the avalanche analogy–does it really matter that the origins of the snowball were fake if it picks up some real snow along its way downhill? If social media is all about authentic communication with real customers, is it troubling that companies can simply pay for popularity?

The answer is murky, but it depends almost entirely on the type of company and brand you’re attempting to build. For a localised shop trying to generate a sense of trust in its neighbourhood, paying for fans is a costly proposition in more than just a monetary sense. But a business dependent on a fad — The Snuggie, anyone? — or Internet notoriety, could probably benefit from a few (thousand) extra friends.

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