What You Need to Know About Fake Followers

Fake followers robot
Fake followers robot

One of the most asked questions in social media is: “How can I grow my following?”

But the truth is, depending on how you grow your following will determine how effective your following is. The notion of quality over quantity has never been more relevant on social media. If you don't have a relevant following, you have a disengaged audience and content that isn't reaching its true potential.

So, What About Buying Followers?

Instagram follower

A common assumption when it comes to influencers and brands is that a large following reflects the relevance of a Twitter or Instagram account (and by proxy its owner). True, Obama and the Pope are relevant and have lots of followers. But also ‘false’, if your followers are mainly robots and people outside of your target audience. Those who choose to buy followers will see the follower number go up, but authentic engagement rates go straight down. 

Use Case

I once worked with a client who had tens of thousands of followers. But, when I analyzed the account with TwitterAudit.com, it turned out that 97% were “likely to be fake”. She looked popular on Twitter but in reality, potentially only 3% were listening and engaging with her content.

Brands are now aiming to meet the new expectation of being a community and not just a purchase. But, by generating fake followers this will limit the true reach and engagement rates of content - leaving a gap in consumer insight. 

Let’s Take a Step Back

I recently got this question in an email from a client:

“Can you explain what a fake follower is and why they are allowed?”

The Facts

In the November 2013 WSJ article Inside a Twitter Robot Factory, Jeff Elder describes how he bought 1,000 new followers for $58 from a “vendor” who had been in the business for six years and manages 10,000 robots for about 50 clients to make them look more popular. The article infers that these fake user accounts - run by bots – even impact trending topics on Twitter.

Despite this, more recent study in 2017, by the University of Southern California and Indiana University, revealed that up to 15% of Twitter accounts (roughly 48 million user accounts) are in fact bots rather than people. Meaning that over 45 million fake accounts are following brands right now, adding no value to their understanding of their audience. 

So, Why Does Twitter Allow Fake Followers?

Twitter logo

To put it simply, they don’t.

It’s like saying why are hackers allowed to infiltrate government networks? Or why are people allowed to rob banks? They're not, so how do we stop it? 

‘Fake Followers’ are against Twitter's policy and the company has actively tried to stem the flood. But unlike Facebook, Twitter allows users to set up as many accounts as they like. Meaning the challenge is how to stop fake accounts from being created in the first place. 

How Can You Weed Out Fake Followers?

For my clients, I try to review all new Twitter followers and block or report those that are fake or spam accounts. I would say that at least every 20th user account that tries to follow is openly a spam account.

How can I tell?

There are three ways to identify what could potentially be a fake account. 

1. On Twitter, many fake or spam accounts have pictures of pretty girls (often showing a lot of skin) and handle names like @XYZMPX. 

2. Some fake accounts Tweet mostly URLs or completely random and useless content that is unrelated (I know, some real people do that too).

3. Some of the fake accounts will seem like a legit user. But, once you’ve followed them back will send you a direct Tweet or comment with an offer to buy additional followers - this is when it's clear this is an automated account. 

Luckily, there are a few tools that can help you figure out how many fake and bot accounts you have following you for free. Some even offer to help you clean them up from your follower list (for a fee).

I have never automated my “fake follower” removal, as I have never seen any “unfollow” tool that did not suggest to me to unfollow people I cared to keep in my feed. A close friend or client might rarely tweet but when they do, it matters to me.

Here two tools that can be used to identify fake user accounts on Twitter:

  1. Status People: Fake Follower Check.
  2. TwitterAudit: Quick & easy. How accurate? I can’t say.

Why Don’t We Hear Much About Fake Followers?

There’s not been a lot of press coverage on the ‘fake follower’ topic lately, probably because the onus has moved on to related topics like security (privacy, account impersonation, account take over, phishing, scams etc.) as well as harassment and abuse. For example:

But that’s a topic for a whole other blog (or two).

Please share any experience you have with identifying and getting rid of fake followers!

This article was written by Natascha Thomson from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.