For a few years now, a ‘grey’ market of offshore service providers has thrived by providing brands thousands of ‘instant’ fans and followers to their social media accounts — but is it worth it? Those who buy it often are duped with the promise of having thousands of people they can seamlessly engage with and promote their brand. As someone who established a software company’s social media audience organically, you know of my distaste for it. It grossly devalues and cheapens the quality work that community and social media managers do to drive value for businesses.
Buying followers in bulk might seem like a valuable shortcut for all the work it takes to build a loyal community. It’s not worth it. At least that’s my premise.
Most people don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes when buying fans and followers. It’s dirty. The sellers of these services run massive networks of robot accounts on popular social networks. The accounts have either been created in bulk or via cheap human labor overseas (like the laborer gets paid one penny per account). Then when a buyer purchases their services, they add that account to a queue of accounts that the bots must follow. Then like clockwork, they all follow that account and the job is “done.” As social networks enforce their Terms of Service and remove fraudulent accounts, more are created into an endless cat and mouse game.
Cause and Effect
There are usually three main assumptions into why people buy social media followers. First is the false premise that paid followers are real people. Second, is the semi-true presumption that more followers means more credibility. Third, is that there are no negative outcomes from doing this. Combined with low barrier to entry, it fuels the blackhat social media marketing trend.
What are the effects of purchasing faux followers?
- On Facebook, the increased audience size lowers a Page’s engagement rating. If no one is actually operating these accounts, the net effect of their non-engagement impacts all the Pages the account has liked.
- On Twitter, the new followers greatly hold the account holder into suspicion as to their legitimacy and credibility. It greatly skews the “recommended followers” logic that legitimate prospective followers could benefit from.
- On Google+, the lack of engagement from faux accounts eliminates the benefit from having legitimate users interact, comment and share content that would be syndicated across their Search product.
- On all platforms, analytics will be wildly inaccurate, further depressing the legitimate interactions from ever being counted in favor of the page.
The only scant benefit — and I’m grasping at straws here — is that the account could appear more popular to the uninitiated. That is, viewing someone’s Twitter account or Facebook Page at first glance could yield the impression that this person is popular or at the very least, important, among their social circles. This can then exploit the FOMO reaction among those people: “If this account is popular, there must be a reason and I must find out.” Let’s call these people “neutral” followers because they are somewhat interested, but are regular people. The eye is in the beholder. As reporters and employers become hip to detecting fake followers, the benefits will decrease accordingly.
Let’s assume with this disastrous audience growth plan, they also have a lacking content and social media strategy. The neutral followers will grow tired of their self-promotional, unhelpful and wasteful published updates and will unfollow quickly. Why? They’re people and they won’t stick around to see garbage. This attrition is hardly felt because of the thousands of fake followers. If you’ve ever been on an unfriending rampage, you know how gratifying it is to remove irrelevant brands/people from your News Feed.
In total, marketers lost $11 billion according to a 2014 report from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). Though Facebook and Twitter aren’t the bulk of click fraud, it’s quite noticeable and somewhat-easily traced. All this because a Page owner wanted to add thousands of fans to their page. Those damn vanity metrics.
Don’t fake it. Make it.
It’s incredibly competitive out there to gain the attention and awareness of your desired audience. I get it. With more brands investing in social media, more of them have turned up the volume of their messages. More of those messages have dollars and cents attached, it makes for a very, very tough experience. For many of the newer businesses who come to Twitter, I worry for them. They hadn’t experienced truly organic social media. They are often prompted to quickly “buy” their way to engagement through social advertising. I’ve yet to hear of a zero-to-her0 case study from a brand that only succeeded through paid engagements. It takes work. It takes time. It takes talent.
Instead of spending $5 for thousands of fake fans and followers, here what I recommend you do: Create value for your customers. And make them feel indebted to you.
That’s it. If you can’t afford the time to serve and wow your existing clients, you don’t deserve the time of others. Every customer experience should be truly remarkable and awe-inspiring. Social media only amplifies the activities you already are doing. If you are offering stellar customer service and have friendly employees, people will let you know automatically. And with organic mentions, your audience will grow. Slow, steady growth in social media is optimal.
If you’re ready for investing to grow your social media audience, do amazing things. Do the unexpected. Think and act altruistically. Help for the sake of helping. Respond because you legitimately have something intelligent to say. Answer questions that truly answer their pains. The goal you want to achieve is the person on the other end say to themselves, “Holy crap, I never knew this company was that cool. They are lovely!” By humanizing your brand on social media, you will increase your credibility, augment the metrics in your favor and ultimately be seen and engaged with by more people.
I know what you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that you grew Infusionsoft’s social media audience just by listening and helping people?” Uh, yeah. There really was no choice. Our community was already out there. A good number of them had product feedback (that’s putting it lightly) along with a sense of mistrust for us as a company. By listening, responding and injecting my sense of care into every interaction, I began to grow our social media one person at a time. We did a few social media promotions, but largely, the bulk of our audience was developed over the course of a few years. With more and more people attuning their social media televisions towards us, the conversations began to grow more valuable. Even if someone had nothing nice to say, I still listened. They needed to be heard. If I could be the reason for someone’s gratification for the day, it was worth it.
Being on the front lines and behind the scenes of our social media program from ’08 to ’13, I can tell you that social media and community managers don’t get enough credit for their work. It’s more than getting followers. It’s more than getting clicks. It’s more than tending to complaints. It’s more than posting updates. It’s the whole package. It’s their judgment, character and genuine desire to lead and support their respective communities. It takes a great deal of time and energy to accomplish the outcomes the company desires.
My point in sharing my riff on building our own social media audience is that it wasn’t an overnight success. It took many days, late nights and weekends to get there. Putting in the time, dedication and rendering incredible value for people is the only way you will amass thousands of legitimate fans and followers. And we grew it even more by investing into the platforms, their advertising capabilities and rendering even better customer service for users. All while growing the business 50% Y/Y. That’s what I call a win.
For more insight on fake social media followers and fans, consider reading these articles:
- Want 113,000 Rabidly Active Twitter Followers? Check Out This Guru’s Surprising Path
- (Fake) friends with (Real) benefits
- Is social media and digital advertising drowning in a sea of fakery?
- Twitter Underground Economy: A Blooming Business
- Fake Twitter Followers Become Multimillion-Dollar Business
This post is a part of my 60 days of blogging. Read more about #60DOB.
Photo credit: Solo