Popularity on social media sites isn’t always earned. Sometimes it’s bought, faked, and collected in a manner that isn’t organic.
On Twitter, the practice of buying followers is all too common.
The New York Times’ Austin Considine writes, “It may be the worst-kept secret in the Twittersphere,” he writes. “That friend who brags about having 1,000, even 100,000 Twitter followers may not have earned them through hard work and social networking; he may have simply bought them on the black market.”
Considine highlights the two ways that Twitter followers are purchased.
“’Targeted’ followers, as they are known in the industry, are harvested using software that seeks out Twitter users with similar interests and follows them, betting that many will return the favor,” he says.
“‘Generated’ followers are from Twitter accounts that are either inactive or created by spamming computers — often referred to as ‘bots.'”
It’s important to note that along with the public distrust that comes with buying followers, it doesn’t always help the business. In fact, it can be downright useless.
“Real followers and fans are absolutely more valuable to a business,” says Blogger Kristi Hines. “You can buy as many fake followers and fans as you want, but you can almost be guaranteed that those fake accounts won’t interact with your updates or click through to your website to purchase your products or services.”
Instead of quantity, brands should focus on quality of the followers, says Doug Schumacher of Zuum Social, a Facebook strategy tool.
“I don’t think it’s very wise. Adding a bunch of people who aren’t genuinely interested in your brand messages will simply dilute any engagement metrics you’ll get from your account, and make your audience more difficult to understand.”
A driving factor for companies to purchase fake interactions is to increase their clout and make it look as if they are more well known than they actually are.
Hines says that there is “something to be said about the perception of your brand that comes with simply having a higher number of followers and fans. Take someone who is looking to work with two companies in the online marketing industry. The one with the higher number of followers would probably get preference as one could assume they know what they are doing. Plus there are certain things you just can’t do on Facebook without a particular number of fans like get a username (25 fans required) or use Promoted Posts (400 fans required).”
This point is reiterated by Considine. Comedian Nainan said he purchased followers (more than 220,000 of them, to be exact) because he wanted to be viewed as a sought after person. He said, “When people see that you have that many followers, they’re like: ‘Oh, my goodness, this guy is popular. I might want to book him.’ ”
Instead of buying followers and cheating the system on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, marketers can go the more valuable route and find followers the old fashioned way.
Schumacher says the best way to build a following is “by publishing quality content that’s on target with your current audience’s interests, no matter how large or small that audience is. If you don’t know what type of content your audience is interested in, that should be your primary goal until you have a good grasp of it. ”
Hines suggests finding people who might be potential customers or clients, searching for interest keywords on Twitter, and figuring out what pages fans like.
“On Facebook, your fan page can like other fan pages and post on their walls,” she says. “So find fan pages where your potential customers are, like them, and start participating in their community.”
It’s much better use of time and effort to build a business than purchase fake follows, likes, views, and followers.
“For true social media ROI, a higher quality of likes and follows would be better than a higher quantity,” Hines said. “If you have 100 followers and 50% of them real, engaged followers, then you’re likely to see 50 conversions from your Twitter engagement. If you have 1,000 followers and only 1% of them are real, engaged followers, then you’re only going to see 10 conversions from your Twitter engagement. Hence it’s best to focus your energy into gaining quality likes and follows vs. inflating your quantity.”