One of the most asked questions in social media is: "How can I grow my following?"
Don't listen to those who say that it does not matter. While the quality of your followers is most important, if you have no followers, you are talking to yourself.
So what about buying followers?
A common assumption is that a large following reflects the relevance of a Twitter account (and by proxy its owner). True, Obama and the Pope are relevant and have lots of followers. But also 'false', if your followers are mainly robots and people outside your target audience.
I once worked with a client who had tens of thousand of followers and when I analyzed the account with TwitterAudit.com, it turned out that 97% were "likely to be fake".
She looked popular on Twitter but in reality, few were listening.
Let's Take a Step Back
I recently got this question in an email from a client:
"Can you explain what a fake follower is and why they are allowed?"
In the November 2013 WSJ article Inside a Twitter Robot Factory, Jeff Elder describes how he bought 1,000 new followers for $58 from a "vendor" who had been in the business for six years and manages 10,000 robots for about 50 clients to make them look more popular. The article infers that these false accounts -run by robots (or bots) - even affect trends on Twitter. \
From the horses mouth:
In their 2013 securities filings, Twitter says that fake accounts represent fewer than 5% of its 230 million active users. Independent researchers believe the number to be higher: According to a New York Times report from 2013, 4% or 20 million Twitter accounts were fake accounts.
This number is corroborated by an Italian research firm that claims to have found 20 million fake accounts, as well as "software for sale that allows spammers to create unlimited fake accounts."
So Why Does Twitter Allow Fake Followers? They Don't.
It's like saying why are hackers allowed to infiltrate government networks? Or why are people allowed to rob banks. The challenge is how to stop them. 'Fake Followers' are against Twitter policy and the company has actively tried to stem the flood. But unlike Facebook, Twitter allows users to set up as many accounts as they like.
(As a side note: here a report from 2012 by NPR that sheds light on Facebook's dilemma and approach: For $75, This Guy Will Sell You 1,000 Facebook 'Likes.)
How Can You Weed Out Fake Followers?
For my clients, I try to review all new Twitter followers to block or report those that are fake or spam accounts. I would say that at least every 20th account that tries to follow is openly a spam account.
How can I tell?
- On Twitter, many fake/spam accounts have pictures of pretty girls (often showing a lot of skin) and handle names like @XYZMPX.
- Some fake accounts tweet mostly URLs or completely random and useless content (I know, some real people do that too).
- Then there are fake accounts that look legit but once you've followed them will send you a direct tweet that offers you to buy followers.
LUCKILY, there are a few tools that can help you figure out how many fake followers you have (for free) and some even offer to help you clean them up (for a fee).
I have never automated my "fake follower" removal, as I have never seen any "unfollow" tool that did not suggest to me to unfollow people I cared to keep in my feed. A close friend or client might rarely tweet but when they do, it matters to me.
Here two tools as an example (Google for more):
Why Don't We Hear Much About Fake Followers?
There's not been a lot of press coverage on the 'fake follower' topic lately, probably because the onus has moved on to related topics like security (account impersonation, account take over, phishing, scams etc.) as well as harassment and abuse.
- Twitter CEO: 'We suck at dealing with abuse'
- Top 9 Social Media Threats of 2015 by ZeroFox
But that's a topic for a whole other blog (or two).
Please share any experience you have with identifying and getting rid of fake followers! Feel free to disagree with anything mentioned in my blog.