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Are bots bad for Marketing?

11th Apr 2017
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Don’t look now, but bots and fake social media accounts are invading social media.

According to latest research findings, a large number of fictitious social media accounts exist on major platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. According to research crried out at The University of Southern California and the Indiana University, it was found that on Twitter, at least 15 percent of accounts have been discovered to be bots.

Bots—what are they?

But before we discuss the proliferation of social media bots and repercussions in your business, what are bots?

Well, bots are algorithms that imitate and act out human activity in social media networks. To the outside world, these bots look like they are real social media users who come in various shapes and sizes. Many bots are evident since many of them have been created just a few weeks or months ago. They have few likes or followers, are registered under odd user names, and Tweet or post very low quality content.

Building a bot is easy. You can pay online for a company that specializes in bots for as low as USD $5 on Fiverr. You can also create one using a bot software program in the comfort of your office or home, within just a few minutes. Many software solutions are freeware, so it is really not that difficult to create bots.

In fact, social media bots are so pervasive and seem natural that it can be sometimes scary. One study showed that nearly one out of three social media users think a bot account is real. The well-made bots may even be able to gain your trust. For instance, Lajello, a bot member in an online network of book lovers, became among the most liked as well as appreciated users within the network. Why is that? It is because this bot recommended books automatically to every other network user, working like a good Amazon recommender system.

Going back to the latest research findings, Twitter has some 319 million users who are active monthly. That means some 48 million Twitter users are not real people but are actually bots.

On Twitter, this means there are a lot of bots whose accounts are run remotely by a person or group that automates messages they send online, as well as activities they carry out on the platform. It is hardly surprising that businesses use and pay to have bots to follow social media accounts or even manipulate chatter or discuss controversial subjects. These businesses, politicians, and celebrities know they are fake, but they are after Social Proof. Basically, Social Proof is the psychological reason that when people stumble across your profile and see all the followers, likes, retweets, and shares they tend feel comfortable enough to follow you themselves and get in on the sharing action.

The Business of Social Proof

What does this mean for you a social media marketer? Here are some reasons why bots may be bad for the business of a product or service.

  • Bots may result in manipulated website analytics. The analytics metrics of your company’s website show a very high spike of new visitors coming from China who are looking at your website, visiting pages, and looking at your products. Does this mean your business should do more operations in China or create website pages in China? Sure, that is a good idea, unless the users from China are mostly bots. Worse, what if your company has a marketing analytics software solution does not even have the capacity track and analyze bot visits? Not knowing the monthly website visits coming from bots should be a huge concern for products and services.
  • Bots may lead to manipulated lead attribution reports. Your business may lead to skewed lead attribution reports that can mistakenly show you multiple clicks on an online asset or a particular advertisement as a real user instead of a bot. However, unknown to your business, the website clicks and views you might be getting might be generated by bots all along, running wild online. Since your business is not aware of this, you may mistakenly invest in the formulation and creation of ads and assets based on skewed lead attribution reports. There are lots of fradulent, niche-specific marketing companies that say they are pushing traffic to your YouTube video, but really they are just buying YouTube views and subscribers, essentially giving you vanity statistics.

  • Bots could make businesses invest in social media channels for promotion that turn out to be a wrong move. Marketers should understand and be aware that impressions do not mean anything in today’s bot-driven online landscape. Marketers who have not studied the landscape well enough may wind up shelling out a lot of cash if they reach influencers who are not human beings and only affect Twitter bots. The site TwitterAudit says, one in four followers of then Republican candidate Donald Trump is fake. That is also the case with the social media accounts of Trump’s then rivals for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.

  • Bots may result in wrong or mistaken decisions about landing page optimization. In truth, bots on social media are not really subject to the usual rules of psychology. They do not even have color preferences. Someone on your team might be buying retweets on your Twitter account, and you might mistakenly think this content is performing better than it really is.

  • Bots are not subject to the rules of psychology and have no color preference. For instance, what if A/B testing metrics finds out your business has majority over visitors choosing blue over orange when it comes to a concrete call to action on the website? That is why it is important to know the number of visitors are actually real human or how many of them can be considered bots.

  • Bots can result in higher PPC costs for businesses. Bad bots can crawl across websites, and as they click on various ads, it can drive up PPC costs. Bots can send huge traffic to various websites, leading to the belief that your site performance has been boosted. The better bots can also perform user-like actions, such as browsing pages, filling out forms, as well as varying time on page.

But in most cases, this so-called spike in traffic is unusable or non-valuable, damaging the reputation of the websites and misleading revenue streams.

As a social media marketer, you should have a control how to protect your business from bad bots. In addition, you should also remember that social media marketing is not all about getting the highest followers or getting the most likes. The challenge is to get social media followers and likers who would actually buy your products and services.

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