The value of paid advertising through Facebook has been called into question amid rumours that many of the 'likes' it achieves are worthless.
There are many ways in which Facebook can be beneficial to a business looking to promote itself online. Building up groups through which you can share links and information about your product is a great way to build your audience, but paying for that audience may not be the best thing to do.
Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent, recently conducted an experiment
by setting up a virtual business on Facebook. His VirtualBagel company doesn't exist, it's only claim is that it sends its users bagels via the internet. In short: 'like' the page, see a picture of a bagel.
But by paying just $10 (£6.50) Mr Cellan-Jones was able to generate more than 3,000 'likes' for his page. He chose initially to have his advert pop up to users in the US, the UK, Russia, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. It was targeted at those under 45 who showed an interest in cooker and consumer electronics, providing a potential audience of 112 million customers.
Within 24 hours the page had received 1,600 'likes'. The vast majority of these clicks came from Egypt, Indonesia and the Philippines, with Cairo identified as the city which generated the most 'likes' for VirtualBagel.
So far so good. In fact, this is a surprisingly high return for such a low investment. But then the advert was tweaked so that it only appeared to UK Facebook users, theoretically the most important audience for a British business. Everything changed after this and the page received only a trickle of attention with just 17 'likes' clocked up over a day.
Mr Cellan-Jones drew his conclusions from the experiment: “It seems that Facebook adverts can be very effective in generating interest in your business from certain countries but not in the US or the UK. And I think my experiment raises a lot of questions.
“Who are these people in some countries who are clicking in an apparently random way on thousands of Facebook adverts and earning the network a small fee each time? Is Facebook worried that there seem to be a number of fake profiles in certain countries generating fake 'likes' and so devaluing the worth of its advertising system?”
The research suggests that while Facebook advertising does have some uses, it is unlikely to build a significant audience of genuinely interested individuals in certain geographical areas. It could well be worth investing more in developing quality content to share through your Facebook page instead. This will then be picked up by your users and awareness of your brand or business can spread organically.