Businesses are Risking Authority by Buying It

Recently, I was in a discussion in a social media leadership group on Facebook and I was astonished when one of the members defended buying followers. A couple of years ago I wrote a post that Numbers Matter. In that post, I didn’t object to buying followers, likes, clicks, etc… in fact, I felt it was an investment that was often worthwhile.

I’m changing my mind. It’s not that I don’t still believe these numbers are important. It’s that I believe companies are putting their reputation and authority at risk by utilizing these methods. And a ton of companies are. Buying authority has become a huge industry. If your goal as a brand is to build authority by displaying bigger numbers… you’re at risk of losing that authority along with any credibility by doing so.

This reminds me of the search engine optimization industry. Google announced for quite some time in its Terms of Service that buying placement for links was in direct violation. The benefits; however, outweighed the cost and many people profited from buying links… until the hammer fell. Now some of these companies that invested tens of thousands of dollars have lost millions.

I predict this will also occur with social media. The Terms of Service of all major social media sites already warn that utilizing false information to drive up numbers:

  • Twitter – You may encounter websites or applications claiming they can help you get lots of followers quickly. These programs may ask for payment for followers, or ask you to follow a list of other users in order to participate. Using these is not allowed according to the Twitter Rules.
  • Facebook – Can I buy likes for my Facebook Page? No. If Facebook’s spam systems detect that your Page is connected to this type of activity, we’ll place limits on your Page to prevent further violations of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
  • LinkedIn – Unlike some other online services, our members need to be real people, who provide their real names and accurate information about themselves. It is not okay to provide misleading information about yourself, your qualifications or your work experience, affiliations or achievements on LinkedIn’s service. User Agreement.
  • Google+ – publishers may not direct users to click a Google+ button for purposes of misleading users. Publishers may not promote prizes, monies, or monetary equivalents in exchange for Google+ button clicks. Button Policy.
  • YouTube – Do not encourage others to click your ads or use deceptive implementation methods to obtain clicks, including clicks on your videos to inflate views. This includes commissioning third party agencies that advertise these services to increase your viewership. The purchase or gaming of subscribers, views or any other channel features is a violation of our Terms of Service.

So… when a corporation or member of that corporation utilizes these platforms, they agree to a legally binding agreement with each one of these companies. When you violate their terms, you’re breaking that contract. While I don’t believe any of these giants would pursue damages for violating their terms, they are cracking down. Vevo, for instance, lost all of their views and their authority on YouTube when Google figured out they were buying views to keep their numbers up.

While corporations may skirt these terms, it will be interesting to see how governments view it. Even President Obama’s social team has been caught red-handed… with over half of his following being fake. Of course, there’s no doubting President Obama’s authority… so I’m not sure why 10 million or a 100 million followers matters outside of ego. The State Department has also been caught – spending over $630,000 on Facebook Likes. (Not to mention that I’m not sure citizens want their taxpayer money to be utilized this way).

There is an even darker side to these numbers, though, and that’s trade regulations. Virtually every country has a governing authority who is charged to look out for consumers. What if a consumer reviews a company online, sees high numbers of fans, followers, likes or retweets, and makes a purchase decision based on those false counts? Or even worse, what if an investor reviews a company they wish to invest in and are provided a false impression that they’re much more popular than they really are? The goal of these purchases is to influence consumers… and I believe that’s happening.

If a mere word or two can be utilized by the FTC to penalize a company for false marketing or advertising, how will buying fans, followers, retweets, +1s, likes or views be looked at with unscrupulous corporations? Will the company be held liable because they manipulated those counts?

I believe in the future they will be. Make sure that your employees are not utilizing these tactics. I would also make sure that any agency or third party you’re doing business is not employing these tactics.

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