How we thwarted a Twitter faker

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 13.08.12Just recently our digital agency was asked to review an incredibly ‘creative’ attempt at a social media campaign by a London based firm. We laughed, we cried, we hung our heads. You know when something just isn’t your cup of tea? Well this was pretty much a shot of Raki to us, i.e. just not the way we roll (in the office anyway…)

Now a good agency never tells, so we’ll be keeping the name of the errant company securely under our hats, but we smelled a rat, so we delved into their following to see exactly why so many people were following a niche brand. It was after coming across numerous oddballs with ‘numerical names’ we started to think some of the followers were perhaps a little suspect.

Now before you go lynching your social media manager at the first whiff of a faceless follower, fake followers can cling to your account while you happily coast along. To an extent they leech into all of our followings, irritating as they may be, mine tend to shut up, have no friends and only bother me when I see their egg-shaped mugs amongst my digital nearest and dearest.

According to Social Bakers Fake Followers app, 4% of Fluid Creativity’s followers are fake. It even names the charlatans and aside from a couple of ‘real photos’ and plausible names, most of these fake followers are little more than an odd handle and a generic ‘Twitter egg’ profile picture. While the automated apps are handy, sometimes it’s pretty clear who the faceless, nameless fakers are at first glance.

Any of you have a school friend called Jama Fastic who is now a mute recluse? Thought not…

Fake Twitter profile

So, how did we know said agency were pelting their clients with questionable followers in a vain attempt to claim their low-quality content was working? Either we were eagle-eyed or the worst kept secret in digital marketing was well and truly laid out in all its ‘glory’ by the unscrupulous agency (we tend to think the latter). Because in the first ten followers, we were hit with what can only be described as Jama Fastic’s extended family, a colony of friendless, mute eggs with handles that could double as sort codes.

Of course, no friends, an odd name and the inability to tweet isn’t a crime so we used Twitter Counter to explore a little deeper. As you can imagine, our report into the dud social media campaign was pretty much concluded when we discovered that the account gained a steady 46 followers every single day. Coincidence? We think not…

This wasn’t just a few fakers tainting the following, this was organised. Amongst the beacons of fakery there were some seemingly ‘real’ followers with few followers themselves, large followings and a limited bio. So who were these ‘barely real’ people? Competition anglers, and in a nutshell, only one step up from the non-existent in the Twitter realm. Basically they exist (with separate personal and ‘freebie’ accounts) to competition hunt. They don’t need a picture, they don’t need followers, they need one golden handle to reel in those competitions.

So, as far as your brand is concerned, these people have little Klout or sharing potential. As the company was offering a competition prize that didn’t really tie into their products, the freebie seekers were drawn in en masse. Some even mentioned how much they ‘love competitions’ in their bios.

Aside from gut instinct and using the tools mentioned to unearth anything untoward, what other indications can we use to determine whether Twitter followers are being bought?

On a random day in 2011, Mercedes Benz suddenly gained 28,283 followers. Now either mass lottery wins were afoot or the sudden increase was a tell-tale spike. Rapper Diddy similarly gained a huge 185,000 followers on a single day and then lost 400,000, a dip many attribute to Twitter penalising bought followers. Sharp peaks and troughs are good indications that natural follower uptake isn’t the case and unless the brand is involved in anything especially viral, concentrated fluctuations are one to watch out for.

So how sophisticated are the fake/bought followers and how much is a following worth? Are they simply there to make up the numbers or can they be used as basic functioning puppets for interacting? It seems to be a combination of both, but depending on the source, most simply seem to populate the account.

As for the cold hard cash? Some reports claim £5 will glean you 1,000 followers, others mention that a fiver will reap you 10,000 new fans. As for one account on Marketing Week? For £400, 50,000 followers were duly delivered. If ever the shop around mantra was vital, it is clearly in the follower buying biz. Maybe browse for yourself, purveyors are actually quite blatant…

While I’ve combined some old fashioned nous with the tools we found useful, understandably scepticism over the usefulness of fake follower tools exists, because really, how can followers be quantified? Social Media Today highlights how genuine Twitter members can be classed as ‘fake’, with a flesh and blood Twitter member categorised by Social Bakers because she used to automatically publish content.

But while not set in stone, a combination of the tools with some human investigation can give a pretty accurate picture, as we found when reviewing the campaign clogged with fakers. Fluid Creativity’s ‘faker score’ from Status People yields  2% fake followers, 9% inactive and the remaining 89% ‘good’, so pretty consistent with our Social Bakers report.

So, finally, to buy or not to buy? Bulking up followers might potentially up income for ‘high influence’ tweeters and could give you lofty status, heck, it might even make you look like an authority, but one slip into the world of fakery and the impact on your real fans, your real ambassadors and your living, breathing consumers? Well, why encroach on you and your imaginary egg-faced friends?

Victoria Browne is a copywriter and social media manager at Fluid Creativity, a Manchester based digital agency specialising in web design, development and online marketing.

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