Chris Martin, the Chief Content Officer at Lifeway Social, has written an interesting blog post calling out what he perceives to be a growing and disturbing trend in the Christian corner of the social media sphere.
A big part of Martin’s job is helping Christian authors, leaders and influencers develop effective social media strategies to get their message out there and sell some books, and to do so with integrity. But according to Martin, there is a disconcertingly large number of Christian leaders who are artificially inflating their social media influence through dishonest means: advertising to international audiences.
Here’s how it works. Facebook charges users to “boost” posts, and it’s a good way to get new followers. But it’s a lot cheaper to boost posts targeting international audiences.
Martin explains it like this:
Facebook is going to charge a U.S.-based Christian leader more money for U.S.-based, or even just English-speaking, engagement on Facebook than they will charge him for Indonesian engagement. The Indonesian engagement is less valuable to the Christian leader in the eyes of Facebook, unless the Christian leader happens to be trying to reach Indonesians.
Because international engagement is less valuable than domestic engagement, the same amount of money spent on each type of engagement will yield different results. These numbers are theoretical, but $100 spent on a Facebook ad could possibly yield 400 international engagements and maybe just 200 domestic engagements.
So why would a U.S.-based leader try to target international audiences? To puff his or her brand a little, pretending to have a bigger following, tricking others into thinking this person has a far larger, more engaged audience than they actually do.
“In short, you are being tricked into thinking Christian leaders—pastors, authors, and otherwise—are more influential than they actually are,” Martin says. “Why does this matter? It matters because Christian leaders get book contracts, jobs and more because they have learned how to trick people into believing they have, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans that actually have zero interest in them at all.”
Martin doesn’t name names, but he does post screenshots of a few anonymous Facebook posts from pages that appear to be indulging in this trickery. He highlights one American Facebook page in particular that has an impressively large audience, only 13 percent of whom can speak English, according to Facebook’s data.
These methods may very well be common outside of the Christian social media sphere, but the fact that they’re common in it — among people who should claim to care about integrity — does smack of hypocrisy.