What’s the difference between buying Facebook fans and buying a email list?

Eureka. I might have finally “gotten” it. I may now understand why people think its OK to buy Facebook fans. These same people have been buying direct mail and email lists throughout their marketing career and they equate buying Facebook fans to buying email lists.

I thought we were “done” with the organic relationship vs. the purchased relationship. But I guess not. If I may tell you a story: about a month ago, I received an email encouraging me to sign up for Private Jet partnership. You know, those gigs where you basically timeshare a private jet. Now, what’s wrong with this picture? First of all, the email is a pathetic attempt. At first, I thought it might be a slick email scam akin to sending someone in Africa $1,000 on the promise that I will get $10,000 back. The email isn’t personalized, and whoever wrote it didn’t even TRY to make it look or sound professional. There’s absolutely NO “benefit” “promise” and even the call to action is weak. I mean, its so disappointing, you’d think that a high-dollar pitch like this could be a little more craftier.  After fits of laughter, I erased the email, but I didn’t opt-out. I just wanted to see if it was a fluke. Guess what – it wasn’t! Jets.com STILL wants me to come fly with them. I WOULD like to fly with them, but I left my American Express Black Card in a previous life. So I finally opted out.

But here’s the thing: When I DO start buying time on private jets, it won’t be with these guys. I’m not impressed with the way they run their marketing program, and I fear that it may trickle over to the maintainence department. So, by buying this list of unqualified email addresses, they’ve actually lost what they considered a lead and done damage to their brand, and they don’t even know it.

Buying Facebook fans is like that, only worse. Because at least when you buy a random email list, you KNOW you don’t know those people. On Facebook, you can kid yourself into think these people are genuinely interested in your product.

So let me say this: If you are a social media “expert” promising thousands of Facebook fans in weeks, then STOP IT. Just stop it. You’re damaging YOUR reputation, your CLIENT’S reputation and the reputation of reputable social media professionals. Misleading your client into thinking that these thousands of people are “leads” is just..icky. Smarmy. These “Fans” are no more potential clients of theirs than I am of Jets.com

If you’re a business who is knowingly buying Facebook fans, then you’re misleading yourself into believing that a fan=sale. Fans who are organic, who truly appreciate your product and service can equal more sales. High numbers of random  Facebook “fans”  who don’t know your business is a tactic about as effective as dropping a marketing piece out a hot air balloon. If you advertise on Facebook to get more fans, then be prepared for higher fan numbers and low engagement especially if there isn’t a strong brand and content strategy. If advertising brings them to your Facebook business page, its up to you to turn then into advocates, and that’s a tough challenge. Not impossible, just not as easy as you likely think.

But here’s what makes buying Facebook fans worse than buying an email list. Social media is about genuine connections, not sales pitches. When you see those stats about how valuable a Facebook fan is, or how much more they spend, notice that the real value is customer engagement. Engagement happens through conversations, not sales pitches. Period. End of story.

So if you’re building a Facebook Page or starting to put some thought into finally giving your Facebook page life, please remember that buying fans is a waste of money and probably a threat to your brand. Organic relationships have value, even when there are fewer of them.  There are no short cuts to organic relationships. So save your money and your reputation and go organic.

What do you think? Are buying Facebook fans worse?