So what is the deal with buying fake followers?
Remember the 1987 movie “Can’t buy me love” with Patrick Dempsey?
An unpopular kid pays a popular girl $1000 to go out with him. He gambled that once people saw that she liked him and accepted him, they would too.
And he was right. Until he was caught, then he was worse off then when he started.
The same thing is now happening in the social media world. Now, YOU TOO can be fool people into thinking you are popular by buying friends.
If you Google “Buying Twitter Followers” you will find countless companies offering to pimp you friends and followers for a low cost. The sites offering these services claim they are real, targeted followers that will help get your message out to a larger audience. They boast saving you time and letting them “do all the work.” For only $500, you can buy 250,000 followers in a click of a button.
For someone just getting started, this is a quick way to appear to have an established presence on Twitter. For someone who doesn’t really know better, they may actually think that these followers will engage with them or buy their services.
Is this service for real and will it help your business and the perception others have on you? And if so, is it ethical?
I decided to conduct an experiment. I bought 1000 followers for $18. They offered a “no password required” option so I was able to do this without providing any personal information, just in case.
It took all of 5 minutes and as promised within 48 hours, BOOM, I had 1000 more followers! Suddenly, my 2000 well earned legitimate followers earned over time, seemed de-valued…
Who are these people and would it make a difference in my social impact?
My new fake friends
I look at the account profiles of my new friends. It didn’t take long to recognize them on site.
Lots of teenagers with vague descriptions, lots of “I love BIEBER” references perhaps a way to make the accounts blend in. They were all following between 200-2000 people but had less than 30 followers and little to no activity.
Within a week, I was surprised to have a few of the accounts RT which was more than likely automated, and a few that made comments about my tweets, which yet again can be automated since they were vague comments like “LOL” or “That is awesome.”.
The claims are that the real scam of buying followers is that it is a waste of money because they eventually disappear as their spam accounts are discovered and removed. After only 1 week, I lost 25 followers after their accounts were deleted and I have to assume that this will continue over time.
At the same time I was doing this, I had another account where I was using several different social media platforms to gain targeted followers in a short time using all auto functions. I set keywords and phrases to find and auto follow and auto reply to those tweets containing those things, I scheduled tweets and used hashtags and other tagging to target the people socializing in the network I was targeting. I had it also unfollowing inactive accounts or people who weren’t following back so I could control the ration. It took some time to get it all set up and going but once I had it figured out, I was able to set it and let it run on its own.
After a month I had 2000 engaged targeted followers.
However, shortly after something went wrong with one of the auto function and it started auto following and un-following people randomly, to the point I lost all the people I was following and started to lose my followers.
Who are “Faking it”?
Up until recently, I was not sure how many accounts following me were spam accounts before and after the purchase.
As I predicted when people first started offering to sell followers, a site called FAKERS came out that allows you to check if someone has fake followers. The result is that a lot of people have been busted for having fake followers including politicians and celebrities as seen in @mashables graphic below.
Mitt Romney was part of this scandal when in July, his Twitter automatically garnered 116,000 followers. You could see 10,000 follower jumps every couple of days, a clear indication someone was buying followers. And everyone assumed he bought followers.
But did he really?
Because during my experiment I learned there is a way to do this with a no password required option meaning someone could buy followers for your account without your knowledge. Anyone wanting to get him into trouble, or who was even trying to help, could have purchased these followers with absolutely no authorization needed.
The truth is, many PR and Marketing companies ARE doing this. They know that when we look at if someone is FOLLOW worthy, or if we are trying to make a decision as a consumer or a voter, the first thing we look at is how many followers someone has. Just like “Can’t buy me love”, they know that people want to follow the popular people. So if someone’s numbers are dismal, does it no affect our perception of that person or business?
Lauren Hockinson of The Next Web says buying followers is probably the worst kept secret in all of social media”.
She goes on to say “Smaller companies, businesses and even individuals looking to become go-to “experts” in their field are also turning to the follower economy to inflate their numbers and lend an air of legitimacy to their presence.”
Did Mit Romney fall victim to the “Vanity Metric”? Did he purchase followers to gain favor from voters?
SO What did it do for me?
Prior to doing this I had 2000 followers that I had gained naturally in 3 years and a KLOUT score of 64.
After the purchase it went down 1 point. SO clearly having more followers did not affect my KLOUT score. This would be in line with TechCrunch’s review noting that “they measure your “social influence – not your influence but your potential for it.”
In other words, a bigger follower count does not lead to higher scores.
The company I used to buy my new friends, claim they are “real followers”. I ran my account on FAKERS and it showed 37% Fake accounts (which has since been increasing in number).
Being that I didn’t have this service when I first started this experience, I did not have a baseline for my experiment.
So I turned to KLOKAL for the top credible social media professionals in my area, that I am sure did not buy their followers: @dallasnagata, @taracoomans, @hawaii, @kellymitchell and @neenz
After running each of them through FAKERS, I saw that they all had 1-3% fake followers. I have to assume I had the same when I started before ruining my score. But why was it showing 1-3% and who are these fake followers?
According to StatusPeople:
“We take a sample of your follower data. Up to 1,000 records depending on how ‘popular’ you are and assess them against a number of simple spam criteria. On a very basic level spam accounts tend to have few or no followers and few or no tweets. But in contrast they tend to follow a lot of other accounts.”
In other words, its not 100% accurate because legitimate accounts can get caught up in this spam seeker and called fake simply because they have poorly managed Twitter accounts. And there must be a lot of these because after searching and searching, I could not find ONE person who had 0% fake followers.
It appears to be the norm that any legitimate account will have a small amount shown as FAKERS.
The drawback to Fakers, is that there is no way to see who these people are. According to the developer of FAKERS, they are working on this and should shortly be rolling out the option for you to clean out these accounts.
Thank GOD, because after manually unfollowing 200 accounts, I was getting ready to hang myself with my power chord.
Besides, I wanted to let these followers marinate to see if in fact, you lose these followers over time. I will post a follow up here after a few more months. So far to date, I have lost 75 to deleted accounts.
Is it ever OK to buy followers?
Overall, it us unethical and against Twitter policy to buy followers. It is misleading your customers and disrespectful to those who actually spend the time and money to create a legitimate social media presence.
Is there every situations where it is ok? I found one situation where I felt it was.
I did a website for a non profit client that helped people find runaway children. The site depended on people submitting tips and classified style listings that people were encouraged to share through their Twitter and Facebook accounts. They tried populating some data form existing cases, but the truth was, no one was using it , because it didn’t seem worth the time to include this tool in their efforts with only 38 followers, 48 likes , and only 12 listings on the site.
When they purchased 10,000 followers and likes, and got some volunteers to populate the site with over 200 cases, suddenly people started engaging.
If you are followed, people will follow. And in this case, it was benefit to the greater good.
Yes, you can buy twitter followers and it will increase your numbers.
No, it was not real followers, at least with the service I used and will NOT generate sales for your business or increase your social impact.
It may get people to think you are more credible if your numbers are higher, but it will become quite obvious by your activity that these numbers were not earned and you wont be able to hold onto any real followers and actually more thank likely will drive them away. Also, now thanks to FAKERS, you will be found out and look like an even bigger LOSER then if you had left your account alone.
Yes, there are legitimate tools and methods you can use to gain followers quickly, but they are not dependable and can do more harm then good.
In short, nothing good every comes easy.
So I guess the Beatles were right…you really can’t BUY LOVE.
UPDATE: After deleting 200 of the Fake accounts, my KLOUT score dropped to 47! Considering it never raised with the increased followers, I am not sure why it would fall after deleting only 200 Twitter followers. Then again, Klout has been pretty inconsistent with my activity, which is why I am excited to try KRED who promotes transparency with your score.