|To fake or not to fake? That is the operators’ question with Facebook.
Facebook has come under scrutiny for fraud around fake clicks, fake accounts, and fake likes. While the social network was proud to announce its one billionth user on 3 October 2012, it didn’t provide the net number of valid accounts, which would have brought the total closer to 913 million. In Facebook’s latest SEC filing, it noted the number of bad profiles (accounts) as 8.7% of total 955 million accounts, or 83.09 million bad accounts in all.
With such a large and global platform, it is understandable that there can be some bad profiles here and there, and certainly Facebook is a target of fraud. Many enthusiasts and even professional computer engineers, make a game of hacking Facebook. They put spam scripts on profiles, run bots to like pages, write programs to click ads indiscriminately, and other sundry “black hat” activities. Naturally Facebook frowns on these practices and has taken some steps to deter them.
However, neither individuals nor companies (including mobile operators) are immune from fraud when they use Facebook. There is such a pressure for companies to become social that fraud has become increasingly sophisticated and in many instances, nearly indistinguishable from regular Facebook activity. In fact, the buying of likes and comments through independent firms has become quietly legitimate, and even some large marketing companies maintain their own bureaus and software to automate likes and comments across their clients’ Facebook accounts.
We advise operators to be vigilant about their presence and activities on Facebook. It is impossible to ignore the platform as a part of everyday life, but we warn that Facebook has real risks that operators need to consider. We see this especially in the area of customer support, one of the key business cases for operators on Facebook, but also something that can backfire, as it did recently for Telenor Denmark.
In August 2012 one angry customer was able to gather some 24,000 likes in support of his complaint again Telenor about a botched automatic payment system. Within a week there were more than 3500 comments and 32,000 likes for the post, more than the number of fans on the Telenor page itself. The issue did not cool down until Telenor took a beating in the press as well as on prime time television where there is an even larger audience than Facebook. Perhaps even more discouraging for operators was the fact that Telenor’s generous offer (posted on Facebook) to refund all the charges for customers with the particular maligned payment service as well as the creation of a special help desk were drowned out by the digital mob.
Strand Consult investigated the post closely and found that the vast majority of respondents were neither friends of the person who made the original post or even customers or fans of Telenor. In fact, we found that 34% of the comments were either totally unrelated to the original post or comments about other operators. The incident calls into question Facebook’s notion of “community”. Is it a real community when the stakeholders for the issue are not even part of the conversation and random users post unrelated comments?
With so many people willing to pimp their preferences on Facebook (they do it for fun or for money), we suspect that the credibility of Facebook will decline. Likes and comments collected by such means create distortions in the transparency of Facebook and cheapens the work of sincere marketing managers who are trying to solicit genuine likes and comments. However, buying Likes and comments may be an effective tactic for a company to achieve short term goals to boost likes, especially if the goal is to communicate to an uncritical audience about the popularity of a particular brand or page.
And while we don’t support fraud on Facebook, we cannot ignore the other side of the equation, that of users. One new method to protect individual identity has emerged, that is to “fake” profiles.
This not indefensible suggestion comes from journalists Pernille Tranberg and Steffan Heuer, who citing privacy and security concerns on Facebook and other digital platforms, instruct users to create fake online identities on purpose (when used for other purposes than purely professional). Their new book Fake It takes a critical view of online identity and how it can be violated by digital platforms. They detail a number of unresolved risks and questions for users of Facebook and other social media and propose a menu of digital self-defense tactics so users protect their identity online. Their upcoming presentation at TEDxOxford suggests their ideas are gaining momentum. www.digital-selfdefense.com
Indeed the journalists raise important issues of uncertainty and unpredictability in the Facebook environment. Facebook can change its terms of service for any time and for any reason. Some changes can have material impacts to operators, for example the move to the Timeline format which essentially voided operators’ investment in designing their page in Facebook. Millions of dollars of development costs to create mini-websites in Facebook, tabs, apps and so on turned out to be a waste. If Facebook can’t be straight, why should its users be? It turns out that to “fake it” is a rational response.
Operators need to be vigilant in their use of Facebook and ensure that they take a multichannel marketing approach, to minimize risk of any one platform. Ideally operators should build their own communities on their own properties (website, email, SMS, customer support websites etc) with their customers.
To learn more about the risks of Facebook from an operator’s perspective, order our report The good, the bad and the ugly side of Facebook – A report that describes how Facebook affects the mobile industry strategically, operationally and financially