The new Twitter tool that seeks to expose the plague of fake followers has caught my eye, not least for its stripping down of celebrities' online popularity (Lady Gaga’s 29 milllion ‘fans’ are actually 71% fake) but for its genuine appraisal of the evolution of Twitter.
The Fake Follower Check, from social media management company Status People, analyses a Twitter user’s last 100,000 followers and claims to ascertain who is fake and who is a genuine, active follower. A fake account is defined as one which normally has no followers itself, yet follows lots of others. An inactive account usually involves no actual tweeting or engagement. A good account is defined as one that follows and is followed, that regularly tweets and converses.
These fake accounts are created to boost profiles, forspam purposes or are part of bought fan bases. Status People's tool draw our attention to the clogging up of Twitter that gives genuine, engaging tweeters a bad name. What is most interesting is that we are all apparently victim to these ‘fake’ followers - (so that explains the 20 or so rather quiet Russian followers I seem to have acquired over night…).
The new tool further dispels the myth that the amount of Twitter followers you have is a measure of influence and value in the social media space. I welcome these new, better ways of measuring social media influence and effectiveness.
We have been working in this area for a while; in 2011 we created the inaugural Twitter 100 for the i newspaper – a list of the most powerful Britons on Twitter. It was the first time ever that the most influential, rather than most followed, people had been ranked. The top ten included commentators from the worlds of comedy, philanthropy, music, fashion and broadcasting with Sarah Brown topping the list. Surprise entries in the top ten were Umair Haque (5), a corporate strategist and blogger, and Zee M Kane (8=) who is editor-in-chief at The Next Web. i worked with the PeerIndex to compile the list using methodology that worked out who held the most influence and power, not just who had the most followers. The workings are based on the number of re-tweets each person generates and the language associated with them.
What the Fake Follower Check has flagged up is, as Simon Kelner (former Editor of the Independent and i) put at the time is Twitter’s very nascence - ‘“Five years ago, Twitter was regarded as a passing fad. Today it is a phenomenon, influencing world events and news stories in every sphere of life.” As digital natives it is important that we are aware of the power of the social media through which we increasingly run our social, intellectual and professional lives, and tools such as this help us to appreciate and benchmark that value and power of Twitter.
We worked with digital marketing specialists earlier in the year to create the quarterly iProspect Facebook Engagement Index. By looking at 250 superbrands, it exploded the myth of Facebook likes = engagement by calculating a brand’s actual influence on Facebook rather than their fan base. To draw on iProspect’s Director of Paid Social Angus Wood’s words – “there’s more to being successful on Facebook than having a big fan base […] up until now, quantity rather than quality had been more seductive to marketers.”
The popularity of Twitter has resulted in computer-generated programmes that create artificial accounts and boost audiences, yet this audience is in no way valuable, relevant or useful.Whilst you can set yourself to approve followers, this seems rather snobbish and plays against the democratic nature of Twitter.The speed with which Twitter and Facebook have been globally integrated into our everyday lives, alongside their commercialisation, has detracted from the fact they are (call me reductionist…) technological programmes.
Whilst it’s difficult to imagine life before it, social media, and social media measurement, is still very much in its evolution. So how do we tackle this issue? Whilst an inevitable teething problem, annoying spam detracts from the enjoyment and usefulness of Twitter and social media in general and for the ostensibly popularity competition.
Tools like this are useful way of measuring the efficacy of social media for both brands and personally, whilst highlighting the youthfulness of Twitter and our over-trusting of what has ostensibly become a popularity contest. Angus's analysis of Facebook engagement can easily translate to Twitter too: "It's easy to go out and buy 'fans' with short-term competitions and other fan-bait, but if those users never return, and neverinteract with the brand’s content, it's not an efficient investment."
What is clear is that to gain real credibility in the social media space, what really counts in the end for both brands and people are long term, genuine engagement and conversations, and it is this that PRs should focus on creating.
I wonder, how many PR executives have used these bought fan bases to boost theirs, or their clients’, profiles?
Warren Johnson is the founder and managing director of PR agency W Communications
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