Faking It. It’s not just happening in the bedroom.
The talk of BlogHer 12, and every other blogging conference of late, has been how to make monetize what we do all day so we can pay the mortgage. Bloggers all moan and groan on a daily basis that brands want them to write about their wares and influence their readers and followers, but won’t pay. And bloggers that are making a go of it financially have the big numbers to back-up their status as a “top influencer.” But can these numbers be validated?
Rankers such as Klout, Compete and Alexa have been under the gun for a while from members of the blogosphere. With case studies showing how easily the analysis platforms can be “gamed,” many brands, PR agencies and marketing types just stick to the actual numbers: Comments, Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers. But now we are seeing that these numbers can be obtained by anyone – for the right price.
We’ve all heard the story. The blogger that is just starting out who has 15,000 Twitter followers and 1200 “likes.” We’ve all heard the stories of how it came to be also – “a post that went viral” or “I participate in a lot of Twitter parties” are usually top reasons. And until recently, most believed the stories and hoped that the Internet gods would send them a viral video also. But now, thanks to a slew of new tools, the truth of who your followers are and where they come from can be easily found.
Yes, Virginia. You CAN buy your Twitter followers. And Facebook fans. And even comments on your blog.
Yesterday, the Fast Company article Buying Twitter Followers? Beware StatusPeople, the Service That Exposes Social Media’s Black Market, created quite the stir in the blogging community. Bloggers (like me, I will admit) jumped onto the service in numbers typing in Twitter handles of everyone from friends, businesses and those we’ve secretly been suspicious of, to see what their “faker scores” were. And what was found either shocked us, or validated our suspicions.
According to the Fast Company article, most “real people” (i.e., genuine interactions on Twitter) have “faker numbers” under 20%. This percentage is comprised of three parts – your fake followers, inactive followers and good followers (real people who are active on Twitter). Now, everyone has a few “fake followers” – bots that found you one way or another. A few here and there doesn’t mean much other than you are an active Twitter user. Inactive followers can be people that joined and never came back, folks that thought they would try “this Twitter thing out” but quickly gave it up. Where it can get fishy is when you have a handle with numbers in the tens of thousands – and more than 80% of these followers are fake or inactive. This can indicate g that followers were purchased for the sole purpose of boosting the Twitter handle owner’s numbers.
Many of the ads on Google for bought Facebook fans promise “real people with real accounts,” but have you ever wondered why a regional coupon blogger from the mid-west has 30% of their facebook fans from Sri Lanka? See a post with 500 comments, half saying simply “Great post (insert name of blogger here)!”? All of these subtle things can bring you to the conclusions that these fans and interactions have been bought and paid for.
But Of Course Big Twitterers have a Big Spam Bot Problem
Let’s take a look at Blogging Royalty: Dooce. According to StatusPeople, 25% of her followers are fake, 43% are inactive leaving only 32% noted as “good.” I think we can all safely assume that Heather Armstrong has no reason or need to purchase Twitter followers. So why aren’t her numbers better?
According to the StatusPeople website, “For those of you with 10,000 followers or less we believe our tool will provide a very accurate insight into how many inactive and fake followers you have. If you’re very ‘popular’ the tool will still provide good insight but may better reflect your current follower activity rather than your whole follower base.” Which raises two questions: how does StatusPeople define “current follower activity”…and how accurate is their service?
According to the “How It Works” section on StatusPeople’s website: “We take a sample of your follower data. Up to 500 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.”
That means that out of Ms Armstrong’s 1,555,398 followers, only a random sample of 500 followers were even looked at.
So, let’s look at this from another angle. My good friend and BlogHer ’12 roommate Romy from RomyRaves is a beauty product blogging powerhouse. She pimps brands that she loves all the times and has close to 30,000 followers on Twitter. If you run her through the StatusPeople report, she comes up having just 1% fake and 12% inactive. That’s pretty impressive – and I’m not just saying that as her friend.
(*edited to add) Blogger Roo Ciambriello of Nice Girl Notes contacted StatusPeople last night and received some additional information on the service, asking some great questions that we’ve all been thinking.
But to me, the most interesting insight from the company was simply this quote:
If your Twitter account generates a score of over 20% fake followers then you have a problem. You need to think about why you might be generating such a poor score. Is it your content, who you follow, what you link to, etc, etc. And of course always remember follower quality is far more important than follower quantity. – Rob Waller, Status People
Thanks, Roo for the additional information!
So, Should Tweeps Buying Followers Be Scared?
YES. Plain and simple.
Is this new platform perfect? Probably not. But the algorithms and the platform are now available, and the technology will only get better. Best case scenario, with the updates promised in the future from StatusPeople, owners of handles can “clean their followers” of fake or inactive users while giving the world access to information about just who is following you. Worst case scenario, this runs into the same issue as Klout – people pretend that it’s not real and they don’t care, but everyone is secretly checking it all the time.
Change is coming to the blogosphere. Fakers will be called out for what they really are and we can only hope that brands, PR agencies and marketing types do their due diligence when it comes to who they are paying to represent their brands.