I read an article today that sums up so much of what passes for social media marketing. In that article, Patricio Robles wondered if your Twitter followers are silent or fake. It’s a well-sourced article that links to several studies and articles and well worth the read. (Go read it now. I’ll wait right here for you.) As I read it, it started to make me wonder why we all want Twitter followers. Or Facebook friends. Or LinkedIn connections.
It started rather innocently. We got on Twitter so that we could broadcast things we knew to audiences that wanted to hear from us and to hear back from them. While you might not describe Facebook or LinkedIn the same way, the ideas are similar. So we wanted to have more followers (friends, connections) for the same reason we want a bigger network or a wider circle of colleagues.
But a few things started to happen. The first one was a bit bizarre. Search engines started to use social activity as a sign of content quality. Google paid attention to Twitter trends for realtime search (until Twitter pulled the plug). Bing made a deal with Facebook to plumb Like data and other Facebook information.
And I first started hearing about fake followers. I heard about “black hat” SEO experts who were manufacturing social media profiles that had everything in them except the connection to a real person. They had conversations with each other and some real people, too. They linked to content (guess whose content) and they generally spent inordinate amounts of time pimping sites for search rankings. In some ways the search engines have gotten wise to these tricks, but I know some people who still use them and swear that they work.
But there is a whole new reason to produce fake followers now. Follower envy.
Everyone wants a bigger Klout score–mine is 63 today, are you impressed? Everyone wants to say they have more and more followers. My network’s bigger than yours!
It’s high school all over again and everyone is dying to be in the popular crowd, no matter what it takes to get there. So rather than actually being popular, we just want to look popular. So there are companies that have thousands of fake profiles out there ready to become your followers at the drop of a hat (er, drop of a wallet).
But, does acquiring fake followers actually help your marketing? I mean, if they aren’t real, then you are just paying money to talk to, um, no one. The idea behind it is that if you look popular then more people will find out about you and maybe you will actually become popular. Does it work? I am sure that it must work sometimes, but it would seem that if your content is good enough for it to work, then you’d have succeeded (albeit more slowly) if you had just grown organically.
I realize that I sometimes sound like a scold when it comes to social media ethics, but I just wonder if any of this stuff even works and if it is worth it. Looking forward to hearing from anyone who swears by this method.