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Guest Column: Is FB doing a good job on its clean-up drive?

15-October-2012
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Guest Column: Is FB doing a good job on its clean-up drive?

If you run a Facebook Page, you must have heard the news. Facebook has decided to clean up your ‘Likes’ by automatically removing those that it believes are ‘fake’. So what’s this all about and why the fuss?

Let’s start with Facebook’s official version of what it has set out to do. “We have recently increased our automated efforts to remove ‘Likes’ on pages that may have been gained by means that violate our Facebook terms. It is possible your page was subject to these automated efforts. On average, brand pages will lose less than one per cent of likes on their page,” stated Facebook. It further added, “By removing ‘Likes’ that were obtained through illegitimate means, you will have a better sense of your fan demographics, thus making targeting more effective and increasing true engagement around your content.”

In principle, if any page has indeed acquired fans through unscrupulous means, then Facebook has every right to clean them up. However, in practice this does not seem all that simple and marketers have been left wondering what’s going on. Here’s why…

How does Facebook determine a fake ‘Like’?
Clearly Facebook is going back in time to do its clean-up act. Hence, it must have designed some algorithm that determines what a fake ‘Like’ is. Marketers would be rather curious to know what this is, especially those that have played by the book. One must remember, Facebook is not removing a profile that it believes is fake, rather the action of ‘Liking’ a page by what it considers is an otherwise genuine user.

Why do many large brands that have solely relied on advertising (apart from organic means) to grow their community also get hit?
Facebook must admit that there are many large global (and Indian) brands that have done nothing against their terms. They or their agencies have not themselves or through other agencies bought ‘Likes’ or deployed Trojans/malware to bloat their community. They are thus left asking what went wrong.

Why is Facebook not open to disclosing how many of the ‘Likes’ removed were acquired through advertising on Facebook?
We are seeing that pages with larger communities and those that have advertised heavily have also had more ‘Unlikes’ in the clean-up. Therefore, Facebook should ideally share the source of acquisition of the ‘Unlikes’ made as part of the clean-up. Advertisers would find it hard to live with the nagging feeling that some of the fake ‘Likes’ could have actually come through paid advertising as well.

What is the guarantee that user accounts will not get compromised again in future and the same scenario not take place again?
It is a well-known fact that at times user PC’s get compromised and the Facebook UI is altered by these Trojans to even show Google display ads. It is quite possible that such compromised PC’s may be exploited to create ‘Likes’ without the consent of the user. If this is a source of fake ‘Likes’, then this is something that will continue to take place. Facebook needs to reassure brands how even in this environment it can detect and prevent accounts from becoming a source of fake ‘Likes’.

Having seen data for this clean-up from close across many of the top brands on Facebook in India, we have seen that the number of ‘Unlikes’ has been around 0.5 per cent to 0.9 per cent for large brand pages. The data emerging is that pages with smaller number of ‘Likes’ (below 100,000) have only been marginally affected and strangely a page of a very well-known hospitality brand which had never advertised has had no loss of ‘Likes’. Also, the interesting part is that there has been no measurable change in the reach or virality of updates made by pages post the clean-up, nor has there been any significant change in the demographics reported in analytics.

In summary, it seems brands which have been heavy advertisers have had the most number of ‘Unlikes’. This is rather strange considering Facebook would like brand marketers to put their money behind paid fan acquisition as the most authentic means of getting the right people to ‘Like’ the brand page. We hope that Facebook is able to strengthen its security systems such that brands don’t have to face such clean-ups again. At a time when Facebook needs advertiser confidence the most to reassure the markets, the last thing required is a fake ‘Like’ controversy.

The author is Managing Director of Interface
 

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