Facebook's Pretend Friends
Are fake accounts a problem?
The quarterly reports for Facebook announced that there are 83 million accounts that are fake. This includes accounts for pets, jokes, or just "unusable" accounts. The initial feedback from marketing communities was that this show that marketing money spent on Facebook is a waste of money, going to fake accounts rather than real ones.
This is something of an over reaction, and here are some reasons why.
Facebook advertising is bought on a cost per click basis: you only pay when someone is clicking on your advertising. If you advertise to a fake account, there won't be a click, so you won't be spending money. Or you'll get a click from the owner of the account, who will be a real person. And if the account is never logged on to, then there won't even be a wasted impression of the advert.
This also highlights the age old problem of digital - transparency. In the digital world we can provide plenty of numbers to show how advertising has worked. You can see the number of times an ad was displayed, how many times it was clicked on, who clicked on it, what they did afterwards, and even if they went away from the site and came back later through another means.
These reams of data make digital a medium which is very transparent in terms of performance. As soon as you can see the numbers, you can interrogate them, which means you can then see where the problems are. As long as you put the time and effort in, you can then work out how to fix these problems. This is a blessing but also a problem, as it allows us to analyse the performance of marketing and make it better, whilst also making it easier to critique marketing efforts.
Compare this to traditional marketing methods where there is little ability to measure the performance of marketing. Posters are measured in footfall through the area, but hwo many people actually walked past the poster whilst it was up? Press advertising is measured by the circulation of the title, but how many people read that page? And television is measured in opportunities to see, but how many people actually watched the advert when it was on?
In a way, Facebook's fake friends are really just a part of the marketing world. They are similar to the people who should be watching TV, but are actually putting the kettle on, or the commuter who picks up a copy of The Metro, but only looks at the sport page. There is wastage is almost every marketing campaign, but Facebook is able to say how much of their audience is fake, compared to traditional media where we have little understanding of fake or non-existent audiences.
The revelation of these fake friends therefore isn't a shock for marketers who, ironically, will be amongst those create fake accounts for clients. It is clarity on a situation, and one which we shouldn't worry about.