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What Good are Twitter Followers if they’re Fake?

Oct 2, 2012

By: Laura Morales, Hispanic Media Relations & Business Writer

“A kitten dies every time you buy fake followers.” – Peter Shankman, Founder, Help a Reporter Out.

Well, maybe not. But the simple sentiment behind Shankman’s tongue-in-cheek statement – that it’s not OK for brands to pad Twitter feeds with fake followers – is one that will resonate with almost any PR professional.

Mashable recently posted an infographic – created by social media consulting firm Social Selling University – that shows how it used Status People, an online tool that ferrets out faux followers, to show that, of the millions of accounts following Twitter’s most famous celebrities and organizations, up to 37% are fake.

As of September 2, 2012, 34% of the 29,801,359 followers of Lady Gaga, who has Twitter’s most-followed account, are fake. 30% of CNN’s 8,585,934 followers are impostors. Even President Barack Obama’s following of 18,964,766 is 29% bogus.

Gaga is known to write her own tweets. But, clearly, a man as busy as Obama has PR handlers who manage his Twitter feed. So, when someone looks at these numbers, the inevitable question is: did those handlers knowingly buy fake followers to pad his feed?

And that’s not good for Obama’s brand, to say the least.

In the past few years, Twitter has emerged as a critical conduit for breaking news and, particularly during a highly-charged election cycle, even the perception of media manipulation can take a serious toll on a candidate’s credibility. The same goes for any other brand during any year. Consumers hate feeling hoodwinked. If they think brand representatives are being dishonest, they will waste no time in blasting their opinions across their social networks, where messages reach huge amounts of people in no time at all.

To quote Stacey Acevero of PRWeb, when it comes to buying Twitter followers – which are regularly bought and sold out in the open – just don’t do it.

The ThinkInk team definitely has a lot to say about this:

“The more followers someone has on Twitter, the more we want to follow them and see what the buzz is all about. But we should never have to pay (ahem, bribe) someone to follow our lead, rather we should be the influencers that gain an audience through our own brand, credibility and merit. Actions speak louder than words – and numbers – in the long-term.”  – Rachel Castro, Visibility Specialist

“Phantom tweets sound a lot like fake product endorsements on TV – “doctors” who swear by medical procedures only to be revealed as actors with the disclaimer: Not a real doctor. We know these people are flimflam artists, so why are such tactics still employed? As PR professionals we should know better.” – Daniel Teigman, Business Writer and Analyst

“I wasn’t surprised to read on Bulldog Reporter that there are so many ‘fake’ Twitter profiles out there. Why? Because I clean out all our Twitter accounts on a monthly basis. The major problem with this monthly purge is that the process of blocking every fake follower is seriously time consuming. But with so many inactive and spammy fake tweeters out there, we don’t have a choice.” – Kyrsten Cazas, Community and Visibility Specialist

“I can understand that highly visible celebrities, brands or, say, the President, are under extreme pressure to increase their followers, generate visibility and hype, and connect with the public in new ways. But quality is definitely better than quantity. There’s nothing worse than creating a false sense of hype only to have the bottom fall out.” – Danielle Mason, Client Visibility Director, Canada

“Fake ‘likes’ and accounts are posing a serious problem because they inflate the actual communication and engagement a page would otherwise have, and ultimately don’t serve as an accurate measuring tool for companies looking to gauge their growth and popularity.” – Rebeca Garcia, Visibility Specialist

“Fake followers are just another example of the lengths people go to bolster social media presence. But as the importance of social media continues to grow, so does the scrutiny, as the question has gone from ‘how many followers do you have’ to ‘who are they’?  Do your due diligence and clean out your fake Twitter and Facebook followers now, before you end up with egg on your face.”  – Amanda Williams, Client Visibility Director, Miami

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