A few weeks ago, I alerted readers to the growing problem of fake Twitter followers and now news comes that this is not the domain of underground players but one where large brands and stars may also be playing, purchasing fake followers to puff up their social media presence.
To understand how one identifies the presence of fake followers, a little pattern study must happen. In the case of someone who has purchased fake followers, the account generally sees a spike in user numbers followed by an equivalent drop in the number of followers about a month later.
According to the New York Times, two Italian security researchers, Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli, are naming a few of the larger buyers of such fake followers, a list that includes brands like Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz and Louis Vuitton, politicians like Newt Gingrich, Representative Jared Polis and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, and the rappers 50 Cent and Sean Combs, known as Diddy.
But why would brands or stars do something like this? Since the early days of social media, the number of followers has been a key metric of value but getting there is tricky business. With services like Klout and PeerIndex, the raw number of followers has come to be equated, in the public mind as a measure of popularity. Agencies dealing with endorsement contracts, publishing deals, and even credit reports often take number of followers into account when figuring out who to go with and how much money should go in those deals. So having a large number of followers has come to be equated with a value of quality, which may be based on some flawed assumptions.
In a world where 1000 fake twitter followers can reportedly be purchased for around $5, increasing the amount of followers on an account can become a relatively inexpensive way to improve one’s perceived visibility. And as users look at that number, the number of fake followers gets augmented with real ones over time. Burst campaigns, where a brand or star purchases large amounts of followers can easily be traced because they show sudden increases that tend to be out of step with traditional patterns. So people like former US presidential candidate Mitt Romney can find themselves in hot water when it is unmasked that they have been purchasing followers. In the report the New York Times cities, music artist Diddy saw sharp rises and falls in his account in June 2012, rap singer 50 cent saw similar swings this past January, and brands like Mercedes and Pepsi bounced up and down in atypical ways in October and November 2012.
David Berkowitz, VP of Emerging Media at 360i, believes that purchasing followers is “a waste of a brand’s time and money. They wind up with a lot of dead weight, and there’s also a real risk in backlash stories when someone notices, for instance, that a brand’s followers spiked 20% in a day. This is an age where authenticity is especially valued” and Berkowitz believes that there is only more harm than can come to brand that uses such strategies. In his view, Twitter offers a better product, called Promoted Accounts, which allows brands and individuals to be featured in the”Who to Follow” section for Twitter users.
While the company has not, to date, appeared very concerned with the fake Twitter followers problem, expect it to start paying more attention in the coming year as it pushes its Promoted Tweet offerings because the advertising model for the company could be threatened by this alternate market.
While Twitter has not, to date, appeared very concerned with the fake followers problem, expect the company to start paying more attention in the coming year as it pushes its Promoted Tweet offerings because the advertising model for the company could be threatened by this alternate market.