Click Farms: An ethical dilemma in launching a new brand

Imagine after months of hard work and market research you have developed and are ready to launch the perfect lipstick brand.  Everything you’ve done so far predicts that this will be a winner in the competitive cosmetic market.

It’s environmentally friendly, not tested on animals, has shades for all skin colours, and stays on without bleeding for 8 hours or longer.

Market research has indicated that this lipstick will outsell its nearest competitor two to one – and this new brand name is catchy and relevant with your young upwardly mobile target market.

You plan your communications plan – a fully digital launch – twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and bought ads on relevant websites and search engines.

The only problem is this new brand only has 16 followers on social media platforms for the day that you are scheduled to launch the communications plan.

What to do?  To launch with so few followers makes the brand seem smallish and amateur.  First impressions, especially in social media matter. 

So, what do you do?  Do you launch and hope to build a following or do you purchase followers, likers, and retweeters from a Click Farm to make the brand and product look like it already has a large following of loyal customers?

A Click Farm is an organisation that sets up fake accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) and replicates engagement on accounts such as likes, views, and retweets.  It is an instant way to increase the perception that you have many more followers or engagement with your brand than in reality you actually do.

This is an interesting dilemma – everyone seems to be buying “likes”, “follows”, and “views” from Click Farms to make their followings seem larger than it actually is. 

In Australia, it is believed of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s followers about 30% are fake; with the opposition leader Bill Shorten’s estimated followers are believed to be 60% fake.[1]

Even the President of the United States – Donald Trump’s. 100 million followers on Twitter are believed to be 50% fake accounts.  The US State Department admitted to using Click Farms to make their social media post look more popular than they were and in 2013 spent US$600,000 for fake followers.[2]

So, is this a legitimate business tool to use to boost the perception of your brand online or is it a fraudulent activity that should be made illegal?

If the leaders of our country and the leader of the USA all do it surely it must be legit!

This is clearly a grey area that needs to be reviewed. 

Launching a product or message with fake followers, likes, shares, views or retweets – is deceptive.  In fact, that is precisely the reason why organisations and politicians purchase them from Click Farms – it’s to appear more popular than they really are!

We know that marketers and consumers alike take these numbers seriously.  Marketers pay influencers to promote their brands based on the strength of their followers.  Consumers look at these numbers as an indicator of the popularity of a brand or message – and will respond accordingly. 

This isn’t merely a manipulation of the digital tallies – but jades the entire message.  To report that a product has 90,000 likes when it doesn’t have any – is just as bad as claiming a film has had 90,000 viewers when it has none.  

We all know – that while likes and number of followers – are not part of the message that we write as marketers – it is a big part of how the message is interpreted by our consumers. 

And while it may be tempting to launch a new product with 100,000 followers or likes – which would greatly improve the perception of that product in the eyes of the consumer – to do so is being dishonest and deceptive.  Deliberately deceiving the consumer is illegal under Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act. 

So even if the ad itself is not deceptive – to purchase followers or likes from a Click Farm makes the total message deceptive.

I believe the purchasing of fake followers, likers and retweets is deceptive to the consumer, which according to Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act is illegal.

So while the practice of purchasing from a Click Farm may be tempting, and an easy way to get traction with a digital campaign, ultimately it is deceiving to the consumer making it an illegal activity – but not only that – it’s just wrong to deliberately lead people to believe something about your brand that is untrue and fake. 

As marketers we are better than this.

At the very least we are better than our politicians.



Published by cynthiaburgin

Cynthia Burgin a senior marketer with over 15 years experience in marketing and communicatons in Australia and Asia pacific markets. She has Masters of Business (Marketing) and am studying Digital Marketing and Marketing Analytics at RMIT to refresh my skills after an absence from the Industry.

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  1. Really interesting post this week Cynthia! As you have pointed out, the purchasing of followers, likes and subscribers is most certainly done with an intent to deceive. It becomes a much more serious issue when brands invest into sponsored posts and brand partnerships with influencers who have purchased their following. Brands are essentially paying to get awareness, when actual fact, these brands would gain only a fraction of the reach that the paid for. I’m glad that these situations are being brought to the public’s attention, so that we can begin naming and shaming brands/influencers that purchase from Click Farms.


    1. I find it somewhat pathetic that our Politicians find it necessary to make themselves appear more popular than they actually are. Their response to being informed that many of their followers are “fake” is always – “it wasn’t me who did that”. If not them – the clearly the people who work for them – or their agencies. Ultimately it is us, the taxpayers who end of footing the bill for this deception.


  2. Great article! It is so frustrating how easy it is to replicate the hard work of others. Some gain followers and ‘clicks’ through real hard work and building their own reputation, others just pay for it. This really confuses the playing field given that we give so much value to followers and likes. In the future I believe there will need to be some way to tell if someone has purchased their clicks, in order to make brands more transparent and ethically responsible.


    1. I agree that these ‘fake’ clicks need to be managed – as they seem to grow larger each day. I believe that this can only be done by the social media organisations when opening new accounts.


  3. Great blog post Cynthia. I definitely would have to agree that the practice of buying followers and likes is unethical and from a branding perspective shouldn’t be done as it deceives customers and creates a false representation of that brand to customers. This can mislead especially the vulnerable that may be convinced to buy a poor quality and overpriced product believing it is popular and successful when really the brand just fabricated all this interest in their brand. I believe companies like Instagram and Twitter in particular should be made to monitor this type of behaviour and delete accounts that are fake.


    1. Hi Sarah – I agree the large social media sites should take on the task of removing fake accounts. But I don’t see it as a high priority for them as they use all the accounts when reporting account numbers. The higher the number the more that they can charge advertisers in using those sites as communication channels. These organisations make more money with the fake accounts boosting their numbers. I believe that unless they are legally sanctioned to remove fake accounts we will witness only token gestures of their participation.


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