Zombies are fake social media accounts; phonies designed to bolster social engagement in the form of impressions, likes, comments and shares. We have been talking to a famous beauty blogger in Hong Kong and China to find out what effect zombie accounts are having on social media.
“I started blogging on Weibo in 2012 and made some progress with 66k followers who share a common passion for beauty. They are often obsessed with following multiples (and I’m talking about hundreds) of beauty bloggers, bloggers who are known for different areas of expertise: skincare, make up, foreign brands, Korean trends etc. Some bloggers don’t even do make up themselves, but win thousands and thousands of followers just from translating and transporting foreign beauty content. Why don’t you guys follow brand accounts? I asked out of curiosity. Responses are unsurprisingly aligned: brand content is boring and lacks credibility.”
Naturally, brands and businesses are not overlooking the significance of digital and social. They rush to verify their virtual identity across a multitude of platforms, and are eager to establish dialogues with their fans and followers. The fear of being left behind has sent brands flocking to social platforms. Some brands are doing well, experimenting with new technologies and creating innovative social campaigns, however, most brands fall far short of achieving any degree of social media nuance.
When social efforts are not generating engagement, brands spiral into digital paranoia, sparking inquisitions into firmly measurable KPIs and engagement metrics.
The easily accessible and blatant nature of engagement metrics has exerted pressure on social media marketers to meet KPIs, subsequently fostering an increased demand for controllable variables: the spawn of which is zombie marketing.
The zombie business has become firmly entrenched in the realms of digital marketing. The phenomenon: zombie agencies (sounds like a B-rate sci-fi flick from the 80’s, I know) offer brands the ability to buy social engagement and frame successful social media campaigns.
“I always receive spams for paid followers, coming in forms of scattered text, emoji digits and deliberate typos to escape spam filters. Back in the days when Weibo (microblogging) was new, it was ¥7 (~1.1 USD) for 1000 fans, but with the platform exploding into success over all these years, the price had been adjusted to ¥8. This is just a basic fare for boosting up the number in the followers list. More premium services are available from daily liking to reposting and comments. If they are paid to promote your campaign, they can generate sentences of set formats featuring the product’s name to conquer the comments field, all of this is automated of course.
Take Lancôme for example. With 426k followers they post on average, 1-2 times a day. However, reposts can range anywhere from 0 to 18k: it doesn’t take a detective to suspect that something doesn’t quite add up. The piece that recieved 18k reposts is a post that hired “KOLs” to promote their Valentines Day gift box campaign. However, all the reposts from the KOLs share similar lifeless characteristics, garbled usernames, generalised content and even recycled sentences posted by different accounts. Events like these generate beautiful numbers: 18k reposts, 11k comments, 18% engagement rate. But behind all these numbers, real people are rarely reached.
I asked my weibo-addict girlfriends if they knew Lancôme had a valentines campaign – a few of them are even the brand’s long time advocates – but none of them had heard about it.
I have 66K followers and a blog post of mine with 361 reposts hits 889k views with no paid media push. According to Weibo metrics, the Valentines Day campaign hashtag records 275k views. With 361 against 18 thousand, you can easily see that their so-called “18k reposts” is false. But chances are, the brands may not know, they may never know.”
Behind all these ‘impressions’, ‘readerships’, ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, there is a hollow reality of social media marketers opting for cheap, ‘effective’ social marketing, thriving on an insistent desire to meet KPIs.
Sina Weibo is one of the largest active social media networks in the world with over 275 million registered accounts, of which 66.6 million are daily users.
Recently, The University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre reported that 5% of Weibo users contribute to 90% of posts, and 60% of accounts had never posted a message. Begging the question: how many of these accounts are human?
Lately, state regulation has cracked down on alias accounts as they present a low risk, high reach medium through which people can vocalise anti-state sentiment. As a result of this crackdown, China’s Internet regulatory body reports that last year saw an exodus of 57 million accounts from the platform.
Therefore, we enter a curious scenario where the Chinese state is indirectly fighting the zombies of social media, perhaps resulting in a healthier social media environment in China, where campaigns are judged on their effectiveness and impressions, likes and comments regain their intrinsic worth.
Follow Kiwikeely on her blog: http://blog.sina.com.cn/kiwikeely