05.08.2013 Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans: The lessons for social media community managers

Tonight’s ‘Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans’ Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 made fascinating viewing for anyone responsible for managing social media communities.

The programme controversially showed Coronation Street actors plugging bogus products on Twitter, potentially in breach of marketing rules.


The documentary also looked at the issue of fake ‘Likes’ on brand pages. A Facebook page  set up by the programme makers in praise of courgettes was used to show how ‘click farms’ – often staffed by low-paid workers in developing countries – are selling fake likes to brands.

For those managing social media communities – or companies that entrust an external agency with this work – the issues highlighted in the programme present potentially major headaches.

Click farms are a challenge for companies and organisations that rely on the number of likes their brand page has to measure the impact of their social media activity, as likes are meant to indicate approval by real people.

And with the practice of using celebrities to endorse products or services on social media channels becoming increasingly widespread, it’s important to get your approach right or you run the risk of devaluing your brand and putting your hard-earned reputation on the line.

Here are the key things you need to know – or should discuss with your agency – to make sure you’re on the right side of an increasingly blurred line.

What are the rules that apply to celebrity endorsements on social media?

The Advertising Standards Authority states that individuals endorsing products on Twitter should make it clear using symbols “#spons” or “#ad”.

Celebrities should always make it clear if there is a commercial relationship behind a product-endorsing tweet by using these hashtags to avoid falling foul of the law.

The ASA has investigated footballer Rio Ferdinand and model Katie Price, who were both paid to promote the chocolate bar Snickers, when it received complaints that their tweets were not obviously identifiable as adverts. But it dismissed the complaints because the tweet included the hashtag “spons”.

However, the advertising body banned a Nike Twitter campaign featuring the Arsenal star Jack Wilshere as he had not disclosed his sponsorship deal within his tweets.

What are click farms and are there any rules against using them?

Click farms employ teams of low-paid workers to generate fake likes for brand Facebook pages, selling this ‘service’ from as little as $15 for a thousand likes.

The importance of likes to consumers is well-documented. Almost a third will check ratings and reviews, including likes and Twitter followers, before they choose to buy something, research suggests. That means click farms could play a significant role in potentially misleading consumers.

Lawyers have suggested that because of the misleading nature of fake likes, the practice could breach a number of laws, including consumer protection and unfair trading regulations.

More crucially, any organisation engaging in the practice of ‘buying’ likes runs the risk of losing credibility and all-important trust in their brand.

Click Farms seem like a quick way of building Likes – what are the alternatives?

There are plenty of ways of building communities of real human beings on Facebook, such as promoted posts, targeted advertising, and creative engagement campaigns. Did you know, for example, that only 16% of your community will see any single piece of content you publish organically? So promoting posts is a great way of increasing the reach of your content.

We recently ran a campaign for Cwmbran Shopping’s relatively new Facebook page, which sought to find the new faces of the Torfaen shopping centre. Facebook users had to like the page to vote for their favourite, and were encouraged to share their vote. The short campaign added over 2000 genuine likes to the page, sparking meaningful interaction and engagement with shoppers.

We also worked with a restaurant to develop a ‘Facebooking app’ that allowed diners to book a table through Facebook,  then automatically share news of their booking with friends by publishing it to their timeline. Every time a single table is booked, an average of 400 people are exposed to the brand, helping to build organic likes alongside brand awareness.

These are just two examples of how a creative approach  to social based on engagement and shareable content will help build genuine and meaningful communities.

For more information on how to make the most of your social media presence please email martin@cakecommunications.co.uk.