Because social media is still such a new medium, one big question mark hanging over the heads of influencers and brands that drive massive engagement across various networks is how real that engagement truly is. Since social media began, the landscape has been littered with bot accounts, fake likes, shady tactics like buying verification badges and much more.
The ability to buy your way to the top of these social media platforms not only makes for a poor user experience, but it also puts into question the validity of those who've busted their ass to drive actual likes and engagement -- causing brands and advertisers to think twice before investing money into these channels.
On Thursday, Facebook took a formal stand against fake engagement by suing a New Zealand-based company responsible for making close to $10 million selling fake Instagram engagement. Since Facebook acquired Instagram back in 2012, the parent company has seemed pretty hesitant to tamper with Instagram's business decisions -- allowing the photo-sharing platform to, for the most part, remain autonomous.
As of late, it's become clear Facebook is increasing its influence over Instagram's future as the app grows bigger. The recent resignations of the original Instagram co-founders over differences in the company's direction (who were quickly replaced with Facebook loyalists), is a prime example of this shift. So is Facebook taking ownership and filing a lawsuit on behalf of Instagram.
With enhanced technology and more resources to monitor activity, social media companies are beginning to lay down the hammer on fake engagement more than ever before. From Twitter recently deleting loads of bot accounts to Facebook's crackdown, illegally paying for clout is, thankfully, much riskier than it has been in recent years. This increased oversight only makes sense as brands continue to pour more of their marketing budgets into social media.
In other words, as an entrepreneur, you need to care about this. Here are the four key takeaways you should apply to your own marketing campaigns:
1. Focus on impact, not followers.
Whether you're a creator or a company, the main objective to strive for through social media is connecting with your core audience or customer base, and solving their problems. The rest is just background noise.
When looking at social media through this lens, it makes you understand how and why fake engagement doesn't get you any closer to achieving your business goals. In fact, all it does is pad your ego. Having 100 highly-engaged followers is much more beneficial to your company's bottom line than having 10,000 Instagram bots liking and commenting on your posts.
2. Use trusted tools, not sketchy tactics.
If you want to boost your Instagram presence so badly that you're willing to pay for fake engagement, why not invest in trusted, ethical tools that can get you the same results? With apps like Crowdfire and Hootsuite, you can easily follow and unfollow relevant social media users, engage with their content, and more. While following the straight-edged path may take longer and require more grit than shady tactics, it's much safer than risking your account being deleted altogether or having a lawsuit slapped on your desk.
3. Start buying ads.
In business, it's all about the dollars. Social media is no different.
One of the main reasons social media giants don't want you to buy fake followers or pay for engagement is it takes away the incentive to spend money on the network's ad platform. Facebook would much rather you spend $10,000 paying for Instagram ads with the intention of gaining more followers than spending that money elsewhere.
With social media companies becoming more influential than ever in terms of cultural impact and being prominent players in the business world, it's in their best interest to slash organic reach and force users to pay for native ads.
So, if you want to increase your follower count or engagement on Instagram, your safest bet is to funnel your money into Instagram ads.
4. Build up authentic relationships with influencers and brands.
Social media apps are moving towards a "Facebook-esque" news feed algorithms based on engagement rather than chronology. Despite these constant algorithm changes on social media, one best practice sure to always drive results for you is having large accounts engaging with your content. If noteworthy influencers and prominent brands are consistently engaging with your posts, that's an indisputable sign to the algorithm that you're publishing high quality content.
One ethical way to increase your social media influence is simply by building authentic relationships with brands and influencers in your industry. To start, begin thoughtfully commenting on the content these accounts publish on Twitter, LinkedIn and beyond. You can also attend industry-related conferences and become active in relevant Facebook groups or masterminds.