Last week, Google did something that made me question everything I thought I knew about social media.
It started with a conversation I had with a friend…
My Friend: I’m thinking about hiring a company that buys Facebook “likes” for brands. What’s your opinion on that?
I reminded him that the real value of a “like” depends entirely on who is doing the liking. Buying Facebook “likes” is an awful lot like buying a huge email list. Go ahead and spam the list, but you’ll be lucky to get a 1% conversion rate that way. On the other hand, if you build up your own list of opt-in, permission-based fans, you might get a conversion rate of 30% or more.
As Chris Brogan wrote about social media success, “The goal is that you’re using the tools to better connect with people.”
We don’t advise our clients to buy “likes.” It’s SO much better to earn them. The whole point of having a following on social media is to gain credibility and build up trust and likability. You do that by participating, by conversing. By being a human being. You don’t do that by artificially inflating “like” numbers. That leads your boss to question the ROI of social media.
Or to engage in black hat approaches.
Remember – twenty active, loyal, and dedicated customers are more useful than the names of 200 complete strangers. Quality over quantity.
And then, last week, I read a blog post about Google, written by Christopher Penn, Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at Blue Sky Factory, that made me wonder if it was time to rethink my entire approach to social media.
Christopher blogged that Google’s search results are becoming highly influenced by your social connections. In other words, if you would be so kind as to retweet this blog post, it will become so much more likely to show up in the search results of the people who follow you!
So why is this such a potential game-changer for how the Internet works?
First off, it means that no two people will see the same results on page one. That’s a pretty huge change for the SEO industry, no? What will those poor SEO companies who promise everybody and anybody “Page 1 Results, Guaranteed!” do?
Here is an example of the results I get when I Google “follow brand facebook” (without quotes) when I’m logged into Google.
And here is the same query when I’m not logged in.
But Chris pointed out a few other implications. First, the bigger your social network, the more influence you’ll have over search results.
Let that sink in for a moment.
This seems to gives a huge boost to the quantity of social friends over their quality. As Chris wrote, “If you’re marketing something, there’s now a direct incentive to build your network as large as possible among your prospective customers. Size matters.”
But here’s the thing. It’s still better for your company to have 1,000 fans on Facebook who engage with you, “like” you, and share your content than it is to have 100,000 fans who ignore you. After all, Google doesn’t care how many “likes” you have. It only cares if those people are sharing your content.
In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Google, down the line, considers it a negative indicator for search results if a particular piece of content has a ton of social connections (potential sharing) but little to no ACTUAL sharing. Facebook already does something along these lines.
Buying “likes” or any other kind of perceived social media influence is fleeting. As John Haydon wrote, “It’s like becoming a vegetarian for one month because PETA offered you free groceries.”
It’s a shortsighted strategy, practiced by those who care more about raw follower numbers than actual engagement.
What do you think? Does it ever make sense to buy social attention?