Twitter dashboard

Buying Twitter followers – is it ever a good idea…?

A few weeks ago I decided to click on the followers of someone who follows me on Twitter. This is someone whom I admire. This person seemingly has a good job and a great blog, which I regularly click on to read. And, importantly, often tweets really interesting items. Consequently I wasn’t surprised that this person has a huge following on Twitter and the idea was I would see if I would like to follow any of this person’s friends. Twitter dashboard

The person I admire had clearly bought thousands of fake followers

All was well for about five minutes – as I said, this person has many followers on Twitter. I enjoyed looking through their profiles and recent tweets, choosing to follow a number myself. But then suddenly I stumbled on a load of fake followers. And we’re not just talking about a few. I have no idea how many there were – but possibly thousands. Let’s put it this way, I had to click off as my computer was taking time to load so many of them and there was simply no end in sight …

You might say how did I know they were fake? Well apart from having a lot of foreign sounding names, they all had similar sorts of photos and very similar profiles. “I like to make friends and have hobbies” all of them had tweeted once (such as ‘Hello world.’) The first and only time they ‘tweeted’ for all of them appeared to have been two months ago, presumably when they were added to this person’s Twitter account in bulk.

Duped

To be honest I was shocked and I have to confess I felt somewhat duped. After all, this person I admired was actually, in a way, conning me. Here I was thinking this person was amazing to have to many thousand followers – when really they just don’t. But once I got over the shock, I then felt sad for this person having to resort to these sorts of lengths to feel worthy and popular. It told me something about this person – someone I believed was confident – was more desperate than I imagined. If they were buying Twitter followers to make them look more interesting, could I really trust what they even blogged about any more?

This surely isn’t how any of us want to be perceived by our friends, business colleagues or acquaintances. So why did this person do it, how prevalent has buying Twitter followers become and does it really matter?

Why buy Twitter followers?

Everyone setting up a Twitter account can identify with the initial lack of followers. If you’re a business for example, it looks much better to have 1000 followers rather than just one or two (your spouse and your mum.) And many of us are prone to think, ‘wow that person has 10,000 followers,’ or whatever, so they must be worth me following. And the fact is no-one wants to look like a saddo with no followers – we all want to look popular to outsiders!

The problem is that for business Twitter has become increasingly important. And yet getting followers – and keeping them – is hard work. To make the most of your Twitter account, you need to dedicate time to it. You need to be reading tweets made by people you follow – and ideally responding to them so they will hopefully follow you back. You need to be tweeting interesting links and either coming up with items that people want to read (preferably the sort of information they can’t get elsewhere) or be be some sort of celebrity (although even they buy followers – more about that later…) Twitter is such as business that many big companies will actually pay a company to professionally manage their Twitter account for them. Yet, a quick glance on the internet reveals you can buy thousands of Twitter ‘followers’ for just a few pounds. They are then apparently drip fed to your Twitter account so rather than take months to build up a following, you can look impressively followed within days.

Even celebrities might buy Twitter followers to make them look more popular

There have been a number of stories recently that even a large number of followers on celebrity accounts could be fake. Stories in The Sunday Times and The Daily Mail have recently claimed that up to 70 per cent of Lady Gaga’s 30 million followers might be ‘fraudulent accounts’. It was also reported that former Tory MP Louise Mensch had as many as 40,000 fake followers.

You might wonder why any celebrity, who will undoubtedly have more followers than the average person anyway, would want to inflate their Twitter account. But advertisers particularly will pay celebrities with a large amount of Twitter followers to endorse products.

At the moment, however, short of checking every Twitter follower on someone’s account, it can be hard to identify which ones are actually fake. For example, software can weed out those that haven’t tweeted ever or for a long time. But just because they don’t tweet doesn’t mean an account is fake as many people simply set up a Twitter account so they can follow people themselves. And that person who doesn’t tweet might still read your links and tweets and buy your record/video/use or commission your service. So in that respect they are still a valuable follower. And even Klout, which measures someone’s influence, doesn’t give this sort of information out. For example, on Klout if someone is tweeting to 100 close friends who all respond all the time, that person might well have a higher Klout score than someone tweeting to 1000 followers, who also follows those 1000 people back and is simply not able to respond to so many.

Tweeting to Mr Nobody

The problem with fake accounts is you are tweeting to nobodies. These fake accounts are not going to respond to your tweet and neither are they going to retweet your tweets to their followers. They are not going to read your tweets or links either or buy your service as there is no real person behind them. So apart from making you look more popular (if you’re not found out…) they are otherwise useless.

To answer the question – does it matter? Some might say it does because those who buy fake followers are doing so to promote themselves in a fraudulent way. Certainly for any individual or business, it can be detrimental to your credibility if a potential customer stumbles on your account and on closer inspection discovers you bought your Twitter followers.

Software to identify accounts where someone has bought followers

And it might matter more in future. It is about to get easier to identify those accounts that are really followed by thousands of nobodies. Because increasingly software is being developed to identify fake followers and identify those Twitter accounts that are actively and artificially trying to increase their profiles by buying them. The Guardian recently reported on the analysis tool, Kred, which analyses influence but also outreach – how generous a user is in their community to others. But development of such software to reliably identify that someone’s account is actually made up of lots of fake followers would certainly be welcome to advertisers who could ensure if someone is tweeting their product to thousands, those thousands are humans who really do exist…

It might be even Twitter themselves introduce this technology so such details about someone’s account are available at a glance, before you make the decision to follow them back (you might not do so if out of 20,000 followers, 15,000 are found to be fake…) At the moment I’m not aware how to get someone to unfollow you? But if you do buy Twitter followers you might want to consider what you will do if such software is introduced…

Do you think it matters if people buy Twitter followers? How many accounts are affected? We would love to hear some insight from others on this below…

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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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