Vanity Metrics #5

"Like is not the fancy hot sh*t anymore".

I wanted the big story this week to focus on the results of a timely multi-year study into fake followers. Given the week it’s been, it seems right. There’s also a ton of smaller moves that are sure to affect your work worth noting. Thanks again to all of you for coming along! Let’s get to it.

The Big Stuff


It’s so hard, to say goodbye, to likes and shares*

  • Something I talk about a lot is vanity metrics (get it?). Specifically, the need to question the value of likes, comments, and shares. Before you toss this newsletter in the bin, this isn’t just me saying it. Automated systems, paid ‘like factories’, and shady practices with no policing have almost completely hijacked the basic KPI systems we use in social media…

  • Fake followers, zombie/hacked accounts, and organized manipulation suck money from paid campaigns (in particular Influencer and programmatic marketing), burn our strategies to the ground in client meetings, and make it impossible to tell if interactions, comments or followers are real. I don’t want to get into a debate about the ethics of social media here, because we’ll never crawl out of that hole. Let’s instead look at how the data tells the story instead…

“…Facebook is a big bubble, with a very high percentage of dead or at least zombie accounts”. - Inside the Fake Like Factory

  • The presentation itself is over an hour, and heavily scientific. If you want to dive in, watch or listen here, but I’ve pulled a few major points:

    1. Manipulating likes isn’t just done by bots. It’s a real, paying job. Users at one company (Paidlikes) make between €15-450/month clicking likes off a to-do list across 2 or more social platforms. This includes liking pages, comments, and posts.

    2. Internet of Things (IoT) devices, like smart fridges, lights, and doorbells, are regularly hijacked to automate the process of creating and managing fake accounts. There are an estimated 31 billion IoT devices online today.

    3. Over 40 billion profiles have been created on Facebook since 2009. 75% of them are invalid accounts as of July 2019.

    4. Monthly Active Users (MAUs) for Facebook rose 178 million in 2018, but 2 billion accounts were created.

    5. There are more active accounts on Facebook right now (10 billion) than there are people on earth, with a majority of them created in the last 3 years.

  • It’s disheartening. Not because this is a new issue but because, as a platform-level problem, there’s nothing we can do about it. Social media platforms need to acknowledge there is a root-level problem and begin to rebuild the fundamental metrics systems that might have been suitable in 2007 but are utterly broken in 2020…

So where do we go from here?

  • Here’s three suggestions the presenters argued should be considered if we’re to begin to make positive changes:

  1. Make interactions scarce. Identify and de-value “hyperactive users” (accounts with thousands of interactions daily) vs. less active and likely real users. It’s a balancing act to be sure, but it could help reset the metric without having to tear it down completely. Consider the value between a 3-second video view vs a complete view. Cue the, “I’ve been shadowbanned!!” crew.

  2. Demand authenticity. This would be a “one person, one account” solution. A much more difficult thing to do in reality, as platforms have no way to know who is actually interacting with them and no end-user is going to submit government ID to a private company in order to like a dog video. This would also pose huge issues for professionals who manage legit multiple accounts.

  3. Ditch the like button. Downranking (an unlike button) could just as easily be manipulated. Simply remove the metric, broken as it is. Instagram has already tested this and a larger global rollout is underway.

  • The results of this study were presented to Facebook, who replied that they “regularly delete accounts”, and it’s “under control”. They also banned Paidlikes. Temporarily. Take that as you will.

Addendum: The War on Fake War

  • With the tumultuous and fast-unfolding crisis in the Middle East this week, social platforms like Twitter become an invaluable source of information for keeping on top of developments in real-time. It’s also a haven for bad actors that find perverse pleasure in serving up bogus and unsubstantiated information in the hopes of… I don’t really know and I don’t want to speculate. Please, affix your critical thinking caps when it comes to breaking news and what’s real…

  • and follow Buzzfeed Canada’s Jane Lytvynenko, a go-to resource for flagging fake content and accounts. Be safe out there.

*This is funny if you sing it to the tune of Boyz 2 Men’s “It’s so hard to say Goodbye”. I thought a lot about this.

White slacks and denim shirts? Was the theme for this shoot, “Canadian Wedding”? Amazing. Let’s move on…


The Small Stuff

We tripled our subscribers over the holidays, and a quick check shows a 70% open rate for this little newsletter each week! You guys are awesome. 30% of you are in deep trouble. See you next week! As always, if you liked what you read, please share it with someone you think might too.

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Ryan LaFlamme has worked in social media marketing and advertising for longer than the job had a title. He formed the independent social consultancy Hub and Spoke in 2016, and can be found hanging out on Twitter @ryanlaf Now accepting new clients and speaking engagements.