When implied popularity can be purchased, a problem will arise. That’s exactly what has been plaguing social media, a blatant spamming to help promote accounts, updates or links. Social spam is so popular that it has even become a multi-million dollar business. Politicians, celebrities, sports figures and Internet marketing “gurus” have been purchasing handfuls of followers in order to instantly add implied popularity. Purchasing followers and retweets is cheap, and it can make you look good … for now.
Yesterday, the The New York Times featured two researchers that called out celebrities and brands that include Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz, Newt Gingrich, Jared Polis, 50 Cent and more. The research looked at large gains in Twitter followers in one day that were deemed unnatural. The issue has also spread to retweets and shares in order to get messages seen by more folks.
So what’s it in for the user… why buy the fake followers? Firstly, while the followers are fake it isn’t easy for the average user to see; many get away with it. More importantly, it’s embarrassing to not have an audience. Imaging alleged Twitter-buying Mitt Romney competing against President Obama for the presidency with one-50th of the following. Or for a celeb who joined Twitter late in the game to only have a few thousand followers. It is very easy to look inadequate on Twitter. Followers can also show an indicator of power. Here’s an example of how alleged Twitter follower-buying handicapper Danny Sheridan used Twitter numbers to help strengthen his message in an email. He throws out his follower count in the first sentence to add importance to himself and his message. Simply put, Twitter followers equate to implied popularity/power.
Want to see through the spam? There are some tools that exist to try and monitor fake followers like SocialBakers’ Fake Followers or StausPeople. While these tools attempt to show the volume of fake vs. real accounts they should be taken with a grain of salt. The numbers aren’t precise but can be used to look toward the bigger picture – the percentages. It looks like 21% of my follower count is chalked up to spam/empty followers:
While other accounts of alleged Twitter purchasing feature vastly different percentages (in the wrong direction):
What can we do about it? Unfortunately, not much. Twitter has been getting much better at identifying and deleting fake accounts, but the low cost to purchase makes it easy for users to keep spamming. Last year at SMX Social Twitter Head of Trust & Safety Del Harvey mentioned that the fake followers were low on their priority as they’ve been targeting more egregious hacking.
The best course of action with all this is to pay attention to quality, not follower number and wait for the social networks to straighten it all out.