On Saturday, January 27, the NY Times released an article which explores and examines the phenomena of fake followers, their popularity, and their influence on social media.
In the article, it is estimated that one company, Devumi, has an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, providing its customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers.
Not only are these accounts fake, but they have often stolen identities from actual Twitter users.
According to calculations from the University of Southern California and Indiana University, up to 15% of all of Twitter’s users are bots and not actual humans.
On Facebook, the situation isn’t much better. More than 60 million automated accounts are estimated to be on the social network.
These accounts provide fake follower counts, fake engagement, fake views on YouTube videos, and more.
Anyone who has spent time on social media knows these bots exist, but the scale of them is just being uncovered. Countless social media companies that promise to increase your follower count will often use bots to artificially boost client accounts, which often results in an increase in actual followers and engagement.
Everyone, from celebrities to entrepreneurs, and politicians are buying these followers. They are convincing replicas of actual people, making their engagement look almost legitimate.
What implications does this have for social media and digital marketers?
Building Organic Followings Takes Much Longer
There are many different tactics for building followers organically, but with so many brands and influencers purchasing massive numbers of followers, building reach organically takes even longer.
This is a result of most social media feeds now showing what is currently “hot” or something that has received a ton of engagement.
That means getting followers the old-fashioned way (by simply posting good content) is less effective.
All that real engagement is being wrapped up in the posts of those who purchased followers, dubbed “amplification bots.” These bots are used to build follower counts and like, retweet, and even comment on the accounts of clients.
There’s A Significant ROI Advantage to Those Doing It
These accounts aren’t quite illegal and they aren’t being cracked down on by social media networks. This means there are almost no consequences for those using the services of companies like Devumi.
And on top of that, these bots and all their engagement reveal the true power of influencers on the internet. Buy enough fake followers, and those who use the service say they get more business than it cost to buy the followers.
That is, these services have a positive return on investment, which is why so many businesses and individuals keep buying.
It Influences Trending, Discover, and Other Popularity-Based Feeds
As mentioned before, these accounts are drowning out organically grown accounts. Their posts show up higher on the news feed, appear on Instagram’s “Discover” tab, and influence what shows up as trending on all platforms.
That means that, even if you put out great content, your account with 1,000 followers won’t stand a chance compared to a competitor who has 13,000 followers and a corresponding amount of engagement.
All that said, where do we go from here?
Social networks are aware of the number of fake accounts that exist on their platforms, but since the accounts are indirectly making them money, they have very little incentive to stop the practice.
But the pressure is building as social media and search platforms start to combat fake news. Will bots face the same pressure as fake news?
Only time will tell. Just keep an eye out on your social platforms so your brand stays aware of what’s happening.
What can you do in the meantime?
Buy Fake Followers
If you can’t beat ’em, may as well join ’em right?
Not quite. While it may give you an edge to have all this additional engagement, you may find that boosted numbers don’t lead to more leads from your social channels. Try these alternatives instead.
Follow Relevant Users and Unfollow Those Who Don’t Follow Back
This is a simple strategy that is tried and true for social media. Follow relevant users, and people that conform to your target audience. If they follow you back, keep them. If they don’t, unfollow them.
One of the more important metrics on social media accounts is that you follow fewer people than you have followers. It means that your account is relevant and isn’t just fishing for a follow-back.
There are a variety of tools to streamline this process. An example is ManageFlitter, which is widely used by Twitter influencers.
It has a free option, which allows you to take a look at people who don’t follow you back, those who are active on Twitter, whether they are spam accounts, or if they don’t speak the same language as you. On the free version, you only get a handful of unfollows per day, but you can either earn more unfollows (up to 50) by completing various actions or upgrade for $12 per month.
Talk to Your Relevant Audience
Nothing gets your audience more engaged than a brand that interacts with them. If someone retweets your content, thank them for sharing.
Maybe even give them a follow.
The more you engage with others, the better your own posts will do in their feeds. So start conversations and watch your social media metrics climb.
Bots are changing the way digital marketers must now approach social media. Remember that all these fake accounts will affect how popular your brand gets on social media, but buying fake followers doesn’t necessarily mean your brand will skyrocket in popularity.
Attempt to grow your audience organically and with paid content. That’s how you buy better engagement and more followers. And the followers gained these ways will be real, not just “users” coded to just retweet and like the posts of those who purchased them.
- Has your brand purchases fake followers?
- Do you know of those who have?
- Was it worth it for them?
- What do you think the implications of this will be?