This is the article that no one in the social media community wants me to write. It’s the story of the unspoken agreement that exists between in-house and agency-side social media managers and so-called ‘compers’ (to define the term, a ‘comper’ is someone who sets up social accounts purely for the purpose of entering competitions); an agreement that sees one side deliver instant results to clients, whilst the other walks away cackling over a haul of iPads and free holidays. This is the story of the great social media conspiracy.
But first, a little background…
Over the last few years, Google has released a series of updates which have changed everything for online marketers. For the most part these changes have been for the better, shifting focus away from linkbuilding to quality content, and yet they have also been responsible for pushing companies into using social media.
Ever since update Vince in 2009, Google has been encouraging businesses to create a more holistic brand presence on the web. This means that it’s no longer good enough to have a great website; businesses now need to ensure they take advantage of the full gamut of marketing tools, which means a Twitter account, Facebook account, LinkedIn company page and (of course) a Google+ page.
Google wants to see businesses that are committed to their online presence, and aren’t afraid of showcasing their brand and personality on social networks. However, as a by-product of this initiative, companies all over the world which are fundamentally unsuited to social media are being forced to create and manage accounts.
Hence, countless small firms throughout the UK are now the proud owners of identikit social accounts, flaccidly tweeting case wins and special offers to an uncaring, uninterested public. Their marketing managers, more suited to traditional PR and marketing, know nothing more than that they ‘need to do this’, and that they need to demonstrate its value to their directors. Thus, for the social media manager or agency responsible for the account, the difficulty becomes: how can I demonstrate progress to my superiors? The easy answer: fans and followers.
In 2011, this lazy solution to demonstrating social media ROI gave rise to the trend of buying ‘likes’ and ‘followers’. Social media managers could simply purchase fans and followers for Facebook and Twitter accounts as a way of delivering a ‘quick win’ to clients.
These ‘fans’ and ‘followers’ were dummy accounts, incapable of delivering any value to the companies they were purchased for, and yet for a brief period they were a godsend for unscrupulous social media ‘experts’, desperate to show progress. Thankfully, the bigger social networks quickly cottoned on to the practice, and now regularly purge these inactive, useless accounts.
However, this process has been replaced by the comper conspiracy. Under its terms, the army of compers currently active on social media will like your page provided you regularly offer prizes and giveaways. Hence, Facebook pages accrue tens of thousands of fans (good stats for head office), and yet 99% of them are there purely for competitions – they have no personal investment in the brand, despite this being one of the core reasons brands get involved with social media in the first place. This is why we see Facebook brand pages with tens of thousands of likes, and yet the only engagement (that is: liking, sharing or commenting on a post) comes when a competition is announced.
It is true, however, that compers do have a place in any social media marketing strategy: their retweets deliver hundreds, sometimes thousands, of mentions for your brand on Twitter, bolstering your search engine rankings. The trick for the canny social media marketer is striking a balance between competition and content-led social marketing; between the consistent growth required by clients, and the all important brand interaction that builds trust and naturally increases your brand reach on social networks.
Get the balance wrong, and you’ll be left with a Facebook page that is little more than the tip of an iceberg, and only the tip; strap on your mask and air tank, dive under the surface, and all you’ll find is an empty expanse of ocean.
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