BLack or white

How to prevent black hat Facebook tricks in Vietnam?

Today my mentor, Charly Leporce released his first insightful blog about Facebook Black tricks in Vietnam. This was published in Vietnam Travel Blog. I copied and shared it here so that we can free discuss about how to protect inbound marketer from this disadvantage.

As Facebook’s latest stats on its user growth uncovered Vietnamese’s social media devotion, we are likely to see more and more Facebook pages of local businesses in Vietnam. It is an inviting playing field, judging from the number of the Facebook users in Vietnam revealed in the 2012 statistic count.

“Globally, Vietnam is Facebook’s fastest growing country, growing 146% in the past 6 month alone”, according to “94% of Vietnam’s Facebook users are under 35, while 54% of those users are aged from 18 to 24”.

There are now over 5 million of Facebook users in Vietnam. While this might be a sign of a more Facebook-friendlier stance by the Vietnamese government, it’s definitely an interesting place for businesses to develop their online brand awareness and customer engagements, as a part of their social media marketing strategy.

However, it almost seems that for the past few years the “strategy” has been solely interpreted as a race to the highest number of “Facebook Likes” on the businesses’ pages. In Vietnam, where quantity rarely rhymes with quality, this effort to rise above the crowd got some of the businesses’ pages putting on the black hat to get “Likes”.

Black Hat?

Some define black hat social media as techniques that are essentially designed to game the system. That also means buying “Likes”, creating “Fake Followers”, even using sweepstakes game that features catchy images saying “Click here to know what age you’ll be married!” or “Which one of your friend is looking at your picture the most?”.

Black hat trickUsing such tricks, a brand is undeniably likely to attract clicks from those millions gullible users who sometimes do not even know that they just subscribe to a page they may not be interested in.

I found more and more pages using similar black hat technique as I was looking for travel related pages about Vietnam. One of which was a famous page related to ‘travel in Vietnam’that has successfully gathered more than 400.000 likes since 2010. That’s a remarkable number, but most marketers would agree that it is definitely not the most important metric when determining brand influence.

In 2011, Facebook began introducing a new parameter; they display the “talking about this” number below the cover image, next to the number of likes. This number is supposed to tell much more about the influence of a brand, but is also as controversial as the infamous Klout score.

This brings out the real question, which benchmark is best used to calculate influence? If the Facebook algorithm considers the number of likes or the number of post shared from its users, does it have any significance if a traveler in a Vietnam related page is publishing the latest popular song from the winner of American Idol?

The said ‘travel in Vietnam’ page I found has the ratio of “likes/talking about it” at around 0.5%, while City Pass Guide page’s ratio varies between 8% and 15%.

The Land of Speculation

Even though it is hard to see fan growth rate and Likes as a brand success metric, it is not surprising to see a lot of businesses here in Vietnam are convinced that it’s the quickest, if not the best, way to judge results. Vietnam is well known, in all fields of activities, to be the champion of speculation. We have seen apartments that are sold three times before even being built, or football clubs that are bought and sold back after one successful season. This is no difference. Facebook pages seem to be victim of the same short term campaigns.

I dug more about that ‘travel in Vietnam page’ and discovered that the owner of this page isn’t even involved with the tourism industry. It seems to belong to a communication agency who will then offer to sell pages at VND1.000/like + VAT.

This is not an uncommon practice. Like domain names are victims of domain squatters, Facebook pages are victims of the same parallel business. A few weeks ago, a domain was purchased for VND 2 billion by a corporation from a young woman who owns nearly 2000 domains. She has been called the “domain queen” by the Vietnamese press.

As social media is taking more and more space in our everyday life, this phenomenon is likely to happen more often. Fortunately, Facebook does not allow changing the page name if the number of Likes is exceeding 200. Still, considering that tourism is one of the biggest players in Vietnamese economy, a page with more than 400.000 fans and rising is likely to be sold at a juicy price.

The Best Metric

Albeit controversial, I still think that the best success metric for business pages on Facebook is engagement and not merely numbers of Likes. Engagement is hard to measure with numbers, but we can actually track how much the fans are actually consuming, engaging with and sharing the content of our pages.

Some interesting studies show that as many as 90% of Facebook users don’t even return to a fan page once they click the Like button. They only see and interact with the content in their news feed. So brand needs to focus efforts on consistently posting relevant content that gets seen in the fans’ news feeds and inspires lots of engagement with comments, likes, shares and tags.

That is just what we’re trying to do at City Pass Guide pages. Some can argue that black hat social media methods can give brand a jolt of visibility boost, but we believe that visibility alone will not guarantee a successful social media marketing strategy. It is the engagement that counts and you are less likely to get engagements without relevant contents, or of course, from fake fans. As we aspire to be the premium information provider in Vietnam and respected as such, every single Like that we have is a Facebook user who chooses to follow us and all content in our City Pass Guide’s pages is created to bring insight to visitors in the language he reads.

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