How Fake Social Media Data is Hurting Your Business

by: Dustin Hawley | Thursday February 28, 2019

With the evolution of social media has come the evolution of data and metrics associated with all facets of digital information, particularly as it pertains to business. Brands are becoming more cognizant of the data that affects their bottom line and are growing increasingly granular in their focus behind how to optimize their business efforts.

As a small business owner, you understand the value of measuring and collecting campaign data. The measurable benefits of social media marketing are largely associated with both its effectiveness and appeal. However, many entrepreneurs still fall victim to the value they associate with vanity metrics like follower count and likes regardless of whether those numbers contribute to the company's greater marketing and communications goals. Unfortunately, these so-called vanity metrics may only offer a narrow view of the overall impact of your social media marketing campaign. Not to mention the risk of those numbers potentially be inauthentic.

But even more important than how it may be affecting your social media marketing efforts is how it may be affecting your social media data in its entirety. Beyond social media, third-party data also is coming under increased scrutiny. Bot fraud is estimated to have duped client companies out of $6.5 billion in 2017, according to the Bot Annual Baseline Report

illustration of robot clicking mouse

The biggest players in the social media space are doing something about it, with Facebook and Twitter making a noticeable investment in banning bots and inactive accounts. The number is actually much larger than you would likely imagine. In fact, according to a newsroom post published by Facebook, a staggering 837 million spam posts were deleted in the first quarter of 2018. Let that sink in for a moment. The number is almost beyond comprehension, and the main-stream social media platforms are not only taking a stand against spam posts, but they are also banning fake accounts as well. Facebook reports it disabled 583 million fake accounts in the first quarter of 2018. Twitter also recently cleaned house and purged more than 58 million accounts over the past few months. This is a clear indication that the issue is very serious and in need of immediate attention.

Facebook recently took a stand against this troubling trend and ran ad campaigns across Chicago, posting ads on billboards, bus stops, and train stations.

facebook clickbait ad campaign image

 

On the surface, this would appear to be a way to let the general public know they are taking this issue seriously. This is likely due to Facebook still reeling and attempting to save face after the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal that rocked the organization to its core. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the situation, Cambridge Analytica used private data from over 50 million Facebook users to assist President Trump’s 2016 election campaign. 

 

Everybody hates fake users

Fake users have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to the social media ecosystem. Or the business landscape for that matter. They are merely occupying space, posting wasteful spam, and harvesting information about you. These days, you have to be very mindful about who you are allowing into your personal or professional networks. Typically, once you allow or 'accept' a social media connection, they will then be able to see some of your personal information that you have shared on your social profiles.

But fake accounts don't just create issues for consumers, in fact far from it. They are also equally harmful to business. Fake data has absolutely no place in your business, plain and simple. Take a moment to think about your social profiles. Now imagine all of the countless hours of hard work and dedication you've been putting in to grow your following, only to come to the reality that a large portion of them are actually bots. What could possibly be worse than that?

Well, imagine that you are boosting a Facebook ad or running a social media campaign, and come to find out a majority of your engagement on the content is from bots. That means most of your money was an absolute waste because your efforts fell upon the ears on people who didn't exist. It's a real problem. So much so that Facebook even released a 'transparency report' on how they were combating the growing epidemic.

 

facebook transparency report screenshot

 

Bots: Front and center in the social media spotlight

Let it be known that social media is not the only area where fake data is damaging your business. Other consumer data points you collect on your website also have an elevated risk of invalid results. Social media bots are in the front and center in the spotlight and under the microscope at the moment. But there are many types of bots around the web, and none of them should be casually overlooked. This is not a new development in the digital world.

Bots have been around for a long time, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. And with the constant advancements we see in technology, almost seemingly on a daily basis, it's a high probability that bots will likely only increase in volume. Additional types of malicious bots include spam bots, hacker bots, botnets, and download bots. 

Businesses are vulnerable to be targeted by spam bots on their web forms, for example. A group of fake accounts spamming your web forms can clog up your database and cause site slowdowns, which in turn can be bad for business, especially as it pertains to actions like inbound leads. Also, bots spamming a business’s web form can be equally detrimental to a company’s email marketing campaigns. Much like how Facebook says fake accounts are not your friends, fake email addresses are not your friends. In fact, they are your adversary.

 

how can bots damage your website?

 

When companies are provided with fictitious lead information, it creates email delivery failures, being that you are sending emails to people who don't exist. However, companies do have the ability to add a layer of protection to their forms such as Xverify. This tool can verify if the accounts on your email list are legit before allowing them to submit. 

Fact is, both web surfers and online businesses collectively suffer from the issues caused by bots. Protecting your privacy, and protecting your business should be at the forefront of your online security efforts.  

 

How You Acquire Harmful Emails

We all get those spammy, bot-voiced emails from time to time. Some are harmless pieces of information mass mailed to anyone and everyone. Others have more vile intentions. Regardless, they find their way into your inbox and clog your storage, waste your time, or worse; perhaps mislead you into clicking an unsavory link. But how do you acquire these harmful emails? How did they find you in particular? There are a few ways these bots find and select their 'targets'.

  • TYPOS:
    As more users are accessing your site on their mobile devices, it's much easier for typos to occur. Genuine human errors typically account for about 2-5% of data quality issues.

 

  • BOTS:
    Bots are continually scanning your page. About 56% of website traffic is made up of bots. However, not all bots are malicious. The problem is that some of the bots are harmful and will purposely push you fake data.

 

  • BUYING DATA
    Purchasing data always comes with problems. If you are working with data brokers or affiliate marketers you are never getting the best quality data. Often they are users who are not engaged or consist of fake accounts which are not valuable to you.

  • DATA GONE BAD
    Good data can also go bad. Users abandon accounts, and some convert into traps. It's best to check up on your existing data regularly to prevent problems in the future with your list.

 

How "Bad" Data Is Harmful To Your Email Delivery

The number three is sort of a magic number when it comes to our next topic. For many businesses, having less than a 3% hard bounce rate from your website is a benchmark and top-of-mind goal. In many cases, exceeding this threshold can create huge problems for your reputation and inbox deliverability. Hard bounced email addresses are usually a result of typos at the point of collection, or sometimes outdated email addresses, spambots, etc. Nonetheless, the more hard bounces that occur with your email delivery systems, the more damage it does to your Sender Score.

For many, this may be the first time you have even ever heard of a Sender Score. You are certainly not alone. But it's an important function to monitor, particularly as you begin to scale your digital marketing efforts. Think of your Sender Score in a similar light to the way you look at your credit score. When something bad happens - such as a hard bounce or spam complaint - your Sender Score lowers. Similarly to when you apply for a credit card and are denied, and the 'hard inquiry' on your credit report at least temporarily dings your credit. But when something good happens such as whitelisting and increased engagement rates, your Sender Score improves, much like your credit does with on-time payments and proper credit line management. 

So basically, when it comes to the ways bots affect this scoring system, the simple way to put it is; 

Bad Data = Hard Bounces

Hard Bounces = Lower Sender Score

This is information to keep in mind, particularly if you are paying affiliates to send traffic to your site. There are certain affiliates who will try to send you harvested data. Many times these can be fictitious email addresses, mass created email addresses, or email accounts that are so dated they no longer exist. Think of it like voter fraud, where votes are accumulated by unsavory methods that produce inauthentic results. The type of results that have long term consequences if the proper precautions are not implemented. It is often easy for this factor to fly under the radar, especially if you don’t have a layer of security in place designed to audit these types of things.

We also mentioned above how typos affect this realm as well. Based on the sheer volume and content of today's digital world, typos are more prevalent than ever. More and more users are on the go every day, using mobile devices for more and more aspects of their daily lives. It feels like it's 100 times easier to create a typo with your thumbs rather than on a full sized keyboard. And we still aren't full proof on those either. Add in factors like autocorrect relentlessly trying to make real words out of nicknames that are often frequently used for email addresses, and you have a witches brew of potential flaws and inaccuracies to account for. 

But hey, enough of the scare tactics. The question on everybody's mind is, "How do I prevent this stuff from affecting my business?"

 

3 Ways To Effectively Prevent Harmful Data

 

1. Begin with a Syntax Check
At the end of the day, having some kind of validation is better than nothing at all. This is where a simple syntax check can be helpful. It's a system that makes sure all necessary form fields are filled in before submission. It can also make sure that invalid characters are not submitted, which is a common theme with bots. A syntax check will also ensure that an email address is formatted correctly, meaning that it contains an @ symbol and that it will have an appropriate ending, things of that nature. This is a simple yet effective first measure.

Note* Having a syntax check in place is a good starting point but it will not solve all of your problems. However, it will help reduce issues with bots and typos.

2. Try Using a Captcha 
Love them or hate them, Captcha's are extremely helpful at reducing bots. But as alluded to, they also have their drawbacks. Many times they are both vague and frustrating to the end user, and as a result, can sometimes cause your conversions to drop. However, if you are having a problem with bots, and currently do not have a Captcha in place, then it is ideal to implement one to begin the clean-up. While sometimes frustrating, they certainly do their job.

3. Enhanced Email Verification 
When it's all said and done, proper e-mail verification is the most powerful way to secure your site, and protect your sales funnel from damaging data and disruptive bots. Real-time email verification acts as a syntax check, a Captcha and so much more all in one fell swoop. By validating incoming data on your site in real time, you ensure a much higher degree of assurance that the information you are receiving and introducing into your ecosystem is legit. 

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