There’s a video making the rounds that making a lot of online marketers and the brands who hire them uncomfortable. “Like,” posted by Field of Vision, is an 8-minute long video with a powerful message for marketers (see below).
Directed by Garrett Bradley, the video is shot on location in Dhaka, Bangladesh and takes a low-key yet intensely powerful look inside the world of paid likes. It’s important to note that the people shown working in this video are doing nothing illegal. These are humans liking Facebook content, not bots or other types of digital ad fraud.
It’s quite a simple process. If you want to make money in this form of digital marketing, you simply join one of the myriad closed groups on Facebook dedicated to building likes for clients. The admin of the group sources the companies who are willing to pay for likes — they go as cheaply as $50 for 1,000 — and alerts the members of the group what content to like and comment. That’s it.
It’s easy to scale — an admin could run any number of client projects, and the group members are paid points for each like. This isn’t exploitive labor either; these digital marketers work independently and choose how much to participate. There are no bosses screaming about quotas or long hours with low pay.
“I work for a maximum of an hour a day, or little as five minutes,” explained Jewel A. Rob. The money goes to pay his bills and allows time to create his art, a passion for many young people in his hometown, where opportunities for work in the physical world are limited.
It’s estimated that 30-40% of all paid “likes” are coming from outfits like these in Dhaka. While Facebook did attempt to address the problem directly by shutting down some known “like farms,” the volume of likes processed by the platform by 2013 were a staggering 4.5 billion likes a day.
A year later, Facebook had pivoted to their pay-to-play algorithm and was soon making 90% of its revenue from ads. It was no longer a place for brands to invest their time building relationships with their audience; rather it was the place to get as much attention as quickly and cheaply as possible. That was the turning point for us here at Freeport Press; we left the platform to engage more deeply with our audience in ways we could control rather than leave it up to a third party. Many brands left the platform entirely; those who stayed did so fully aware of the irony of paying to engage on a social platform.
“For us, it’s like love,” said one marketer in the video, “but for Facebook, it’s like prostitution. You give them money, and they’ll give love or like.”
If that’s the case, then why is this kind of human “liking” still so lucrative? For one, the developing world has not caught up to the nuances of digital marketing; amassing likes still seems like a huge value to many. Even in more advanced sectors, companies are still chasing vanity metrics. And where this is a need, there will be a service to deliver it.
The people Barrett interviewed for the video were reflective on the process. Quite quick to insist that what he is doing is not illegal, Rob made the case that these are real humans liking this content. And that, he believes, helps the brands, helps the workers and helps other users find a like good content.
Yet another questioned the overall wisdom of buying likes, asking “If a like is so valuable, and on the other hand a like is so cheap to collect, what is the value of that like?”
That’s the question we really need to ask … both as it relates to the origin of those likes, and what impact they really have on your bottom line.