To Click-Farm or not to Click-Farm?

Why the standard advertising platforms are losing credibility

In a dark room in the basement of a ragged building about 200 kilometrs east of Bangkok, the police burst the front door open and raid the premises halting all operations carried out within. Hundreds of cellphones and several hundred thousand SIM cards are confiscated, tired and distressed workers are asked to show IDs and three Chinese men are put under immediate arrest. They are charged for running a business operation without a permit and importing phones without paying taxes [1]. The police officers originally thought the men were running a fraudulent call center, but the suspects said they were being paid to operate a vast network of bot accounts on social media.

Click-farm being busted by Thai police

This is a scene that is becoming more and more common especially in South-East Asia where internet penetration is very high but labor costs remain low. Countries like India, Bangladesh and Thailand have been the perfect building grounds for a new cyber-threat that has been called click-farm. Many new issues have risen from the internet such as identity theft, cyber-bullying, cyber-crime, fake-news, but click-farms are the latest hazard that is plaguing the net. But what are these click-farms that the media has been talking so much about lately?

What is a click-farm?

In broad terms, click-farms are undercover operations in which individuals fraudulently interact with a website to artificially boost the status of a client’s website, product or service. This kind of fraudulent activities have especially plagued social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where likes and followers can be bought directly online by business and individuals that want to boost their exposure on these networks for just a few dollars. The number of likes is considered very important amongst many consumers. In fact, 31% of them will always check ratings and reviews, including likes and number of followers, before making a purchasing decision [2]. Therefore, click-farms such as the one that was discovered in Thailand, play a significant role in potentially misleading consumers. With such a high demand for likes and followers, many shifty businesses have prospered by distributing fake likes/followers to businesses that desperately need the internet’s attention in order to emerge from competition and obtain more sales.

However, not everyone is happy. Due to the ever-increasing presence of fake accounts on social media, many are upset that such deceitful activities are ruining the trustworthiness and legitimacy of entire platforms which users rely on for some honest advice. Although click-farms are technically committing large-scale fraud by fraudulently manipulating social media posts, their crimes still remain in a grey area in many parts of the world. In Russia, for example, a vending machine was spotted in a shopping center near the Kremlin that sells fake Instagram likes and followers [3].

A vending machine in Russia distributing Instagram likes and followers.

Why click-farm?

These click-farms have become such a sensation mostly because many businesses view them as the only way to increase the exposure of their products and services. This is especially true if the business has just started and its chances of getting a substantial following on social media are slim. Moreover, these click-farms are incredibly cheap. Many legitimate businesses will try to run marketing campaigns on social media such as Instagram and Facebook, in the hopes of increasing their followers.

However, oftentimes this does not happen. This drives marketers to be tempted to buying artificial followers which usually turns out to be much cheaper and effective than driving actual campaigns. Moreover, marketing campaigns can usually take months to deliver results whilst click-farms can provide what they promise in a very short time span.

Why not to click-farm?

Apart from taking part in a very shady business-plan, click-farms also hide darker unethical gimmicks to drive their profits. Usually, these activities are modern labor camps which pay workers pennies with horrible working conditions forcing them to work non-stop for many hours in pitch black rooms. Considering the kind of treatment the employees receive, as well as the questionable nature of their activities, it is no wonder that many of these click-farms are raided and closed down. However, just like with many other illegal activities, as long as there is a demand an offer arises. Nevertheless, the consequences of their undertakings have deep ramifications for businesses with a presence on social media.

One of the most common consequences, is that many businesses fall victims of ad frauds. In fact, although many click-farms mainly produce Facebook likes and Instagram followers, some of them focus on pay-per-click ads. By having dozens of people clicking all-day long on click-ads on their own site, these deceivers can produce a considerable profit from your ad budget depleting it completely. With pay-per-click ads ranging from a few cents to several dollars per click, even a few hundred forged clicks can cost your company a big portion of your advertising budget.

What is more, the credibility of a brand is often completely ruined when real users discover the fakeness of the amount of likes and followers a company’s page has. Users are, in fact, more and more aware of such practices and can easily spot out when a company has been fabricating its own popularity. This has very undesired consequences for a company that is trying to arise on a very competitive marketplace. Once the scheme has been discovered and unearthed, it will be very hard to win back the trust of the internet consumer-community.

Why not to click-farm (again) and what can be done instead

So, what is a business supposed to do in order to be discovered and retain its customers? Well, for many, the big advertising platforms, Facebook and Google, have been the standard way to reach one’s target-groups. However, some argue that their effectiveness has been overstated. According to a report released this January, Facebook does not have a way to accurately measure its active users and evaluate how many of them are actual people and not bots [4]. Going on, the same report declares that up to half of Facebook’s users could be fake. Even if these statements are just partially right, this means that businesses are spending their marketing-budget to target an audience that is partially non-existent, therefore, wasting its precious resources. Businesses with ambitious growth-targets are, therefore, challenged to find new ways to attract new customers and drive their retainment.

Meniga has been working to create such a solution that can help retailers drive their sales in a simple and measurable way. Meniga has introduced the world to a whole new data-driven marketing platform. But instead of being driven by users’ likes or search requests, it is based on the analysis of REAL purchasing transaction-data. The raw transaction-data is consciously lent by customers who connect their pay-cards to Meniga’s app, and in return receive rewards in the form of cash-backs that really reflect their brand preferences. This is achieved through intelligent algorithms that after being fed enough historical purchasing data, provide statistically validated predictions of brand preferences and upcoming buying behavior. In this way, businesses can be sure to always be visible to the right customers that are truly interested in their brand.

This system has coined the concept of Transaction Driven Marketing (hereafter referred to as TDM) which simply means marketing based on the customer’s transaction data. TDM is without a doubt a very intelligent way to understand customer’s wishes, build loyalty and retainment. Moreover, the data cannot be falsified as it is directly linked to actual people with real payment cards and bank accounts. In addition, the analytics of such transaction-data provides retailers a detailed overview of target groups, user retention rate and even the possibility of keeping one’s own competition under scrutiny by viewing market shares in real time.

Meniga Campaign Manager enables businesses to create their campaigns using Meniga’s reward system.  Probably, the best part of Meniga Campaign Manager is that it only costs companies when it actually works for them. A small fee is paid to Meniga when its users visit the stores of brands advertised on the app and make a real purchase. Differently from other cash-back solutions such as for example Refunder, that only work for online retailers, Meniga’s solution caters to both online and offline businesses.

Meniga’s platform already serves many satisfied small to big brands in Sweden and Finland. With an ever-growing user base, this hot data-solution will likely shatter the conventional marketing boundaries businesses have been used to.

For all struggling businesses out there that are in need for an extra card to play in their day-to-day marketing efforts: help is on the way! Meniga is already showing the world the substantial opportunities that lie in TDM.

Join our community of retailers on our platform for free and start viewing your customers’ data. Claim your business today!