The going rate for one thousand Australian Facebook "likes" is A$90.
Critics of buying likes say it's not worth paying for them as they are often not valuable. But Carpenter, of Newcastle, Australia, disagrees. "There are a lot of stigmas attached to buying Facebook likes and Twitter followers etc, and many are simply not true," he said.
NSW Fair Trading said it was not unlawful to buy or sell social media followers but it might breach the contractual terms and conditions of using a social network. Australia's competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said concerns could arise when an artificial social media fan base was used to influence consumer choice.
Carpenter's site is one of a growing number that sell online followers. Outsourcing websites like Fiverr, Freelancer, Odesk and Elance have long had people posting on them wanting to buy or sell popularity.
Clients of Carpenter's are splashed across his website's front page and include Australian burrito chain Mad Mex (18,267 Facebook likes), paint shop Inspirations Paint & Colour Gold Coast (1100 Facebook likes), manufacturer and distributor of consumer electronics Soniq Australia (104,187 Facebook likes) and blog of graphic design firm cargocollective.com (the firm's Facebook page has 146 likes).
Inspirations Paint & Colour's head office initially denied its Gold Coast franchise was a client. "We are not happy about the fact our logo is being used in that fashion so we'll be following that up with the site you mentioned," Inspirations Paint & Colour's Joel Goodsir said. But he later retracted the statement after Carpenter confirmed with them that they were a client.
"They did once use a company to get more traffic to their Facebook page," he said of the Gold Coast franchise, adding that buying likes was not something its 132 stores had been pursing.
Carpenter's site not only sells Facebook likes, but Twitter followers, YouTube views and Digg votes, all of which can be purchased under different packages which vary in the quantity of followers, views or votes required. For example, if a company want 50,000 Facebook likes they would pay A$3400. Meanwhile, 50,000 YouTube video views costs A$590 and the same amount of Twitter followers will set a company back A$1750.
'WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY'
Vuki Vujasinovic of marketing firm Click PR said it was a "waste of time and money" and would never recommend services like Carpenter's to clients. "Some companies that do it just want to look bigger and more important by having tens or hundreds of thousands of fans," he said. "But when you buy fans, you get little to no interaction."
He said from a social media management point of view it was better to only have 1000 highly-engaged fans that interact with your business, than have 50,000 fans with zero comments or likes on your posts.
AUSTRALIAN FIRMS BUYING LIKES
Melbourne search engine optimisation specialist Jim Stewart, of StewartMedia, said about 20 per cent of a room of between 30-40 people at a recent online retailers workshop he presented to put their hands up when he asked them if their companies had purchased popularity online. "They said the value was pretty pointless," he said.
Iain McDonald, co-founder of Sydney digital advertising agency Amnesia Razorfish, said he was amazed that some of his clients actually wanted to pay for Facebook likes. But his company never agreed to participating in the buying and selling of them. "We try and grow [a client's followers] organically," McDonald said.
"The value of a like from somebody that you've just bought has nowhere near the worth of somebody that you've earned, certainly for our brands."
Stewart has a simple answer as to why a company might want to purchase popularity. "I think some brand managers are scared that their brand doesn't have as many likes as their competitor," he said.
A spokeswoman for Mad Mex confirmed the burrito chain had used Carpenter's site in the past and said it hadn't been useful, but didn't say whether it was for Facebook likes or something else. "We did not engage with Get With Social for long enough to provide comment," said Mad Mex marketing manager Sarah Herbert.
Soniq Australia's spokesman had no comment but said the firm was "looking into" Fairfax Media's inquiry and would reply "at a later stage". No response was received at the time of publication by the CircleBox Blog.
70K TWITTER FOLLOWERS FOR $25
Just to prove to his media friends that an online following was not always a good indication of popularity, WA TV and radio presenter Jason Jordan recently purchased 75,000 Twitter followers for A$25.
He said he did it after Channel 9 did a story about a Perth Twitter user who had in excess of 100,000 followers. "No one in Perth should have over 100,000 followers," he said in a blog post this month.
"I challenge you to find anyone in Western Australia with anywhere near the notoriety required to exceed 50,000 real followers."
No one took him up on his challenge in his blog's comments.
HOW TO DO IT RIGHT
Electronics retailer Kogan Electronics, founded by Ruslan Kogan, has 209,000 Facebook fans. It stands side by side with other Australian business like Commonwealth Bank, which has 218,000 Facebook likes.
Kogan said deep Facebook integration on kogan.com.au was crucial to his company's Facebook page growing in popularity, as well as posting interesting comments and deals users would want to hear about. "You see too many companies screaming at their fans and not really responding and communicating with them and treating Facebook like a one-way conversation," he said.
Vujasinovic said he builds a client's online reputation by helping them devise the best ways to build a community around their brand, product, or service. "Fake followers or fans won't help with that one bit."
"For others we manage day-to-day social media activity, where it's all about engaging users, maximising feedback (shares, likes, comments) and mutually beneficial dialogue. It's a great way for businesses to learn more about their customers - and diluting that with fake fans is counterproductive," he said.
- Posting good content that encourages people to share it.
- When you have a new product share it on your page.
- Don't censor posts (he does censor swearing though).
- Be transparent with customers.
- Integrate your site with Facebook.
HOW CARPENTER'S BUSINESS WORKS
Carpenter said his firm can guarantee real users "and this is what we deliver to our clients".
"We put our clients Facebook pages in front of thousands of regular internet users (via an interstitial advertisement) and each user chooses whether or not to like the page or to skip the advertisement," he said. "We keep showing these ads until our client reaches their quota
"If a client of ours decides to post to [sic] much or not entertain their fans than [sic] they may decide to remove it from their feed ... This is obviously out of our control."
What he also couldn't guarantee was that those users would stick around. He also said that delivery times were subject to terms and conditions which state that turnaround times "should be used as a guide only".
"We can't guarantee an exact delivery date as our traffic does fluctuate, however most businesses who purchase Australian Likes tend to see around 50-100 likes per day and we don't stop sending users to their page until they hit their quota," Carpenter said. "If for some reason we don't hit the required number we do provide a refund, although we've yet to have to do this."
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