The mysterious case of the invisible Facebook fans

Small biz owners are receiving thousands of Likes from foreign fans they didn't ask for and don't want. What the heck is going on?

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Many people would love to suddenly get 5,000 new fans for their Facebook page overnight. Some might even shell out cash to buy fake ones. But not Christine O’Hare.  The co-owner of casual gaming site Ultimate Cool Games says these fans are a pain in the butt. She has no idea how they found her, and she wishes they’d just go away.

I got in touch with Chris while researching a feature on the fake fan biz (see “Almost Famous: Inside social media’s fake fan industry”). In examining my own fans, I noticed that some of my newly acquired fakes were also fans of Ultimate Cool Games on Facebook. So I visited that page and looked around.

 

The Ultimate Cool Games Likes chart showed the exact pattern I’d been noticing for months on dozens of other Facebook pages; a graph that crawls along the bottom axis for weeks or months and then suddenly shoots up like a rocket over the course of a day or two.

O’Hare says she did nothing to attract those fans. She didn’t buy them outright, and she didn’t hire a social marketing firm to promote her page. They just showed up one day and started commenting on her posts. In Arabic. And they weren’t commenting about the post, they were using her posts to have conversations with each other.

 

Though O’Hare uses Facebook ads to promote her posts, she only advertises for fans in North America. She certainly isn’t looking to corner the Arabic market.

“I don’t do any advertising in Dubai or Eqypt,” she says. “I don’t have anyone from there playing games on my site. So why all of a sudden do I have thousands of fans there?”

This is not the first time Facebook pages have displayed funky fan behavior. In my research I've contacted a half dozen small businesses who had similar hockey stick-shaped Like graphs on their pages and could not explain them. Back in July, BBC reporter Rory Cellan-Jones performed an experiment to test the effectiveness of Facebook’s ads. He set up a Facebook page for a fake product – The Virtual Bagel – and bought some ads to promote it. Within four days the page had garnered more than 3,000 Likes, almost all of them from the middle east, and at least some of them from obvious fakes.

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