The bid came on Twitter from a self-proclaimed expert in social media. His account had just 15 followers, so the expert bit seemed implausible.
“I will give you another 5,000 twitter followers,” his tweet stated. It was going to cost a mere $5.
“It’s my lucky day”, I thought, as I clicked on the link to his website, which offered packages with four orders in the queue. His website was crammed with praise and good reviews from previous so-called follower buyers. A quick internet search brought up many more saying: “Buy Twitter followers—1,000 quality followers for only $14—save now. One hundred percent money back guarantee!”
Always being one for a good deal, I happened to spot 22,000 Twitter followers for only $20. A few clicks later, I’d have my own Twitter empire and fame, beyond my wildest dreams.
It’s the new big deal in social media—the purchasing of Facebook friends, likes and Twitter followers. It creates illusions of influence and grandeur overnight yet with little substance.
The other week I received an e-mail from a young businessman claiming 25,000 followers on Twitter. I fed the account details through a website called StatusPeople.com, an application that analyses accounts for their follower validity. There we had it! The tool identified the Twitter feed as having an almost 80% fake follower rating—these are ghost Twitter accounts set up by someone with merely a name and at best a photo. These accounts are inactive in terms of tweeting and are designed to be fillers. They are registered in bulk to sell to someone looking for large numbers of followers overnight.
I ran a few prominent Twitter accounts through the Status People application to get an indication of how many fake accounts exist in the Twittersphere. Surprisingly, a lot. First up was Pastor Chris Oyakhilome from Nigeria, better known as ‘Pastor Chris’ or ‘Christ Embassy’ to his followers both in real-life and on Twitter. With more than one million followers, the Status People application indicates that 47% of his followers are inactive and 18% are fake, which means that the remaining 35% are legitimate and active Twitter followers. Would this be a case of ‘many are tweeted, yet few are active?’
In South Africa, I analyzed some of the bigger twitter accounts. South African cricketer Graeme Smith has a 230,000 Twitter following, of which 53% are inactive and 27% are fake, which doesn’t leave many to influence or tweet after the match.
Then there is @GarethCliff, the South African Idols judge and breakfast radio host, with a 340,000 Twitter following. He has a 44% inactive following and a further 17% are listed as fake, according to the application. By no means do I believe that any of the above mentioned accounts bought followers, especially Cliff—who has an army of fans the length and breadth of the land, however public personalities have been known to leverage their Twitter accounts for promotional purposes as an added-value service, imaginably, leaving their clients expecting.
South Africa’s Woolworths retailer was not spared when @JustinHarrison—sporting more than 680,00 followers, of which 78% are considered fake by the Status People application—unleashed a public relations nightmare on the retail giant after claiming so-called racially discriminatory employment practices, which were ceremonially dismissed by the retail giant. Nevertheless, this led to a mainstream media and Twitter onslaught which lasted for weeks and resulted in Woolworths disabling their Facebook wall due to the public outcry on their social media platforms.
Remarkably, even with the high amount of ghost Twitter followers involved, this matter managed to gain remarkable media exposure and in monetary terms what can cost one man, may mean earnings for another.
Ad Dynamo, a contextual advertising company which focuses on mobile and online platforms, introduced a new marketing service called ‘sponsored tweets’. According to the company, Twitter users who have signed up to Ad Dynamo’s sponsored tweets service become paid publishers by responding to briefs prepared by advertisers.
“The advertiser can review the tweeter in advance of authorizing and paying for their tweet—looking at the user’s recent tweets, profile, and so on. Each tweet purchased by the advertiser is overlaid against the advertiser’s Twitter account, enabling them to review the increase in followers, retweets and mentions against each individual tweet purchased. This enables them to measure the effectiveness of each tweet purchased and of each Twitter user that submits a draft to the advertiser,” says Ad Dynamo spokesperson, Richard Bell.
For the unseasoned marketer, this could prove to be dangerous ground initially, as those with massive followings on Twitter could charge a premium, for brands to get exposure to thousands of followers, only to find that these are ghost accounts. Ad Dynamo assures me that they have integrated post-campaign analysis to monitor the success of individually paid tweets, however, this is very much after the fact as opposed to a pre-screening.
So what value do advertisers receive if the perceived amount of targeted followers is actually an inaccurate number? Very little one would imagine.
As exciting as these thousands of newly-bought followers might be for anyone’s ego, it’s a bit like hosting a dinner party for blow up dolls, and for advertisers it would be much the same experience. Tweets are being read by fewer people than expected and will receive virtually little engagement or response. So, what is the point of all of this?
This will be one of the bigger stepping stones in the development of social media, much like when the first cellphone and modem came along—we didn’t really know what to do with it or how to use it effectively. The accurate measurement, use and credibility of social media will be the next big breakthrough, apart from figuring out how to develop a sustainable business model around these platforms, and maybe make some legitimate friends.