The Great Twitter Followers Scam

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There’s lots of talk about influence in social media — and if you have a Twitter account, you know the importance of followers and how it relates to perceived influence and credibility.

When it comes to Twitter, I think it’s fair to say that the average person will judge you based on how many followers you have. And it makes sense. If you have something interesting to say, people will gravitate to you. The cooler/smarter/more influential you are, the more twitter followers you will have. Numbers don’t lie.

Except that’s not always true.

I know this because I started cleaning up my own account about a year ago. My tribe of followers included job seekers, HR pros, recruiting geeks,  spambots, p0rn stars, right wing birthers, and sketchy marketing firms. I used tools like ManageFlitter, Just Unfollow, and Twitter Karma — and a Firefox add-on called Check All — to clean things up, follow the right people, and block the aggressive spammers who follow me with the hope that I’ll follow ’em back.

It took forever (and it’s not perfect) but I am on my way to having better conversations. And if someone follows me who offends my sensibilities, I block that person. It impacts my follower count, but I don’t care.

So during the process of cleaning up my account, I learned something interesting. Many people — career/HR/social media superstars/celebrities — engage in a weird transaction to buy the appearance of importance & authenticity on Twitter. It’s very common. You probably know this. But if you don’t, here’s how it works.

  • A Twitter user (or a PR firm) purchases something called  ‘twitter follower lists’
  • and then he follows people in bulk (up to Twitter’s limit each day),
  • and the chump — who wants to inflate his own sense of influence — banks on the concept of reciprocity and hopes you will follow him back.

Before you know it, that person has 20,000 or 30,000 or 1.1 million twitter followers and you are impressed. You consider the individual to be awesome, influential, and important. And even though half of those followers might be junk accounts, it doesn’t matter. He claims those followers as members of his tribe.

Gag.

I can see how this process makes sense for companies, consultancies, and sole proprietors who want to develop leads, share information, and interact with customers who are already on Twitter. Very simply, I have a problem with men and women who understand how Twitter works and want to buy the status of influencer instead of earning it. And these are often the same people who will say, “I have 34,000 followers on Twitter. It’s not a big deal. I don’t pay attention to that. It doesn’t matter.”

Like hell it doesn’t.

Good old fashioned marketing techniques are okay, but I am bothered by sketchy and intellectually fraudulent behavior. It is scammy to act as if you have influence in the marketplace when a majority of your followers were purchased and 50% of your Twitter followers consist of other spammy assholes.

So I just wanted to remind everyone that we’re at the very beginning of this social media stuff. Technology will advance. Influence in 2011 will look much different than influence in 2021. It is always important to use critical thinking skills — and a critical eye — when dealing with someone who is a perceived influencer of anything. It’s okay to ask someone how many Twitter followers they have, but don’t forget to ask, “How many did you buy?”

And when that person says none, don’t believe him.

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