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Digital Advantage: Advertising vs. promoting on social media

By Jason Holmes
March 7, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.
Updated March 6, 2014 at 9:07 p.m.

By Jason Holmes

Many local businesses confuse advertising with promotion and marketing or vise versa.

The difference can seem subtle, but promotion and marketing are actually very different from advertising.

To illustrate, many local businesses promote their products and services on Facebook by collecting likes through contests and online promotions. Using Facebook's free tools and building a fan base is a marketing example.

Facebook also offers self-service tools to advertise your business. If you manage a page, I'm sure you've seen the "Get More Likes" button. The targeting capabilities are very sophisticated and flexible. However, there are some issues with Facebook advertising that you should be aware of.

As we discussed in an earlier column, there has been and continues to be a huge underground industry based around artificially increasing search engine traffic to business pages by tricking Google and other search engines into recommending pages as relevant.

This is called black hat SEO, and it's a cat-and-mouse game between the "black hats" and the search engines.

Similarly, there are now black hat social media practitioners that are more than happy to "sell your business likes." You can find several sites on the Internet that will give you a set price for say, 1,000 likes.

The issue with these sites is that most of those likes will come from click farms, where people are paid about $1 per 1,000 likes in developing countries like India, Nepal and Egypt.

As you can imagine, these likes are useless to local businesses that are trying to build a fan base, and Facebook bans this practice.

Your Facebook page can be penalized for violating this policy. Also, since the people who like your page from these sources usually will never interact with your page again and ignore content you post, they actually hurt your page by making it appear less relevant to Facebook. Facebook will then distribute your content to fewer and fewer fans.

However, Derek Muller, creator of the YouTube science channel Veritasium, reported on a disturbing trend in legitimate Facebook advertising last month. The video illustrates how a large percentage of likes acquired through Facebook's own advertising platform also often come from developing countries, and their behavior is similar to that of the click farm likes - low engagement from users that appear to "like" hundreds of competing brand pages.

So what's going on here? Is Facebook selling likes the same way the black hats are? Nobody knows for sure, but the prevailing thought is no.

But the black hats are still likely to blame. The same way Google and other search engines attempt to uncover link farms and networks, Facebook has targeted click farms and their customers for sanctions and removal. The theory is that this action has caused click farms to train their employees to behave more normally and to include legitimate advertisers in their click regiment.

So what's a local business that wants to grow their real Facebook audience to do?

The best answer I can give is to be authentic and interesting.

Post creative content and not just about your business or the brands you carry.

Inform your followers.

Run contests that you promote and advertise in other local media.

Most importantly, be patient. Social media success takes time, but it is the new word of mouth.

You can see the Veritasium video at

Jason Holmes is the general manager of Advocate Digital Media, a sister company to the Victoria Advocate that focuses on digital marketing. He welcomes questions and column ideas at



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