April 24, 2014
Written by Ashlee Ibex
Weighing the positives and negatives of the fake follower trend
NEW SOCIAL MEDIA TREND: Buying Fake Followers
In the current marketing landscape and Web 2.0, social media has become a necessary tool to increase brand awareness, solicit promotions and interact with current and potential customers. Social media sites allow companies to increase their visibility and create networks in order to share thoughts and information with users that can potentially turn into investments (Akar, 2011). With Facebook’s over 1-billion users and Twitter’s 600-plus million users, these platforms provide an aggregated audience for company’s to interact with (Statistic Brain (a & b), 2014; Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011). Because of the value social media can create for a business, it is no surprise that there has been an emerging trend of companies using services to purchase Twitter followers and Facebook likes. With guarantees of boosting an audience from 100 to 10,000 in as little as 24 hours, the prospect looks incredibly tempting, especially when there is a plethora of companies that offer this for minimal pricing.
Companies want a large audience on their social media platforms, as this directly correlates to how many people could potentially view their posts, blogs, tweets or other communication messages and in return, become loyal brand followers and purchasing consumers. However, should a larger audience come at the expense of a lesser-quality audience? Specifically, should Marketing Managers purchase fake followers on Twitter? This paper will delve deeper into the growing movement of buying the fake follower and what can be gained or lost from participating.
THE GOOD: What Can Be Gained From Buying the Fake Follower?
There is no doubt that a successful social media campaign can yield positive results for a business. Take the example of Naked Pizza based in New Orleans. They ran a campaign encouraging Twitter followers in which they were able to increase their followers by 4,000 in one month, concurrently leading to more than 68% of sales in one day coming from those followers, with 85% of their new customers claimed to have been motivated by Twitter (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010). This example shows the power a successful Twitter campaign can produce, while stressing the importance of having an audience of followers to be able to appeal to.
Of course businesses would be interested in obtaining a large amount of followers so that a larger audience could see their messages. One of the biggest temptations to engage in the practice of purchasing fake followers is it can be relatively quick and inexpensive. A popular site to purchase the fake follower is buyfanstoday.com. Here, they encourage you to purchase social media followers to “gain popularity and authority” and a “heightened level of engagement” in which for $95 you can buy 1,000 Twitter followers. R.W. Goldberg, Founder of Buy Fans Today was quoted as saying, “we are in the business of offering social media enhancement, which has become the crack cocaine of the new media world…you have to be a social media player if you want to be a player" (Blum, 2011). Other sites have offers as low as $3 for 1,000 followers. On many of these sites, bought followers are usually guaranteed within 24-72 hours. With marketing budgets shrinking and the trend of analyzing your advertising impact by how many Facebook likes you have, it’s obvious the appeal these companies have (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011).
Not only does a large follower-base create the impression that a company’s message is being seen (and perhaps acted upon) by more people, it also creates an air of importance and credibility (Louis, 2013; Hockenson, 2012). By buying thousands of fake followers, a company is in essence, buying popularity. When consumers come across a company’s Twitter account that has a large audience-base, they will be more apt to becoming a part of the audience (Don’t Be So Fake, 2012). A large volume of followers can also serve as a factor to differentiate companies between competitors and provide an ego boost (Ritson, 2013). By having more followers, a company has now ‘proven’ a sense of social-relevance and can compete with those in their industry.
This larger audience can play an additional role in proving social relevance. When tweets are re-tweeted and shared, this increases the SEO for that post (Gibbons, 2011; Golriz, 2012). Another reason why some companies could be tempted into purchasing the fake follower is that the larger audience-base ideally, would optimize search rankings.
It’s easy to see the temptations of purchasing the fake follower, however, let’s now look at why this quick and easy ‘solution’ might not be the best one.
THE BAD: What Can Be Lost From Buying the Fake Follower?
While the ability to add thousands of fake followers seems like an ideal solution to gain a sense of social popularity, larger audience-base and improve SEO rankings, this practice comes with some warnings.
Sure, your audience grew from 100 to 10,000 followers in a couple days, but what is your company actually gaining from this in terms of brand equity, loyalty or true engagement? The answer: not a lot. What these fake followers are doing is giving your company a sense of popularity, but not a legitimate audience that will embrace your brand and give you any type of worthwhile engagement. As stated by Chris Farias, Co-founder and Creative Director of Kitestring, “you get the same results buying Twitter followers as you do stuffing your bra, a line of superficial egg heads” (Don’t Be So Fake, 2012). Depending on the amount spent on the fake followers bought, these followers could be anything from robots to fake twitter account handles. In the case of buyfanstoday.com, they promise you ‘real’ followers however, as quoted by the company’s founder, “We only can geo-target our follows. We are not able to optimize for age or topic or anything like that…we go out and find people who legitimately follow you. What you do with them is up to you” (Blum, 2011).
It’s one thing to be able to brag about the number of followers your Twitter account has, but it’s a completely different story than being able to brag about the relationships developed with true followers that are engaging in your brand and promoting your business through genuine interest. Fake followers will neither promote your business nor develop into loyal brand followers (Yaverbaum, 2012).
While having fake followers won’t ruin your brand’s reputation per se, it does show inauthenticity that true followers may not appreciate. A key development with the onslaught of social media and what’s now considered Web 2.0, is the ability to transmit authenticity (Laick & Dean, 2011). This new digital age allows companies to interact with consumers in real-time without any borders; it’s imperative companies engage in this network authentically to manage their online reputation and minimize the chance for damaging exposure (Laick & Dean, 2011). There have been some negative backlash towards companies who have been accused of purchasing fake followers, including Mercedes and Pepsi (Ritson, 2013; Louis, 2011). Along with the need for greater authenticity on social platforms, it’s equally important to be cognizant of transparency in Web 2.0 (Yan, 2011). There now exist many different apps that allow users to “fake check” a Twitter account, uncovering the amount of fake followers one might have–just another tool to hold companies accountable for projecting transparency and authenticity.
THE CONCLUSION: To Buy or Not to Buy the Fake Follower?
The pressure to gain followers on social media platforms can be easily seen in the market place. Otherwise, the myriad of companies that allow you to purchase fake followers wouldn’t exist. As a business, one must weigh the positives and negatives that could come from purchasing fake followers. While the ease and cost of obtaining fake followers is minimal, the truth is that it’s simply a number to display. An account with thousands of fake followers is a “misleading popularity measure” that may or may not help you compete against other businesses in your trade (Saito & Masuda, 2014). A more genuine measure of popularity would be the amount of re-tweets, mentions and shares your account receives (Saito & Masuda, 2014; Hoffman & Fodor, 2010).
In order to make the most of Web 2.0 and social media platforms, companies should focus on developing relationships in an organic way and not rely on a “quick fix”. Twitter provides a platform to connect directly with consumers in real-time, which can ultimately build and strengthen customer relationships (Jansen et al., 2009). Followers gained from creating interesting content, a fostering community and engaging in direct and personal dialogues will become more receptive to your brand (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012). Companies can reap the benefits of these followers by staying committed to fostering these relationships and being patient, as it takes time to build these connections over social networks (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012). Recent research (Turri, Smith, & Kemp, 2013) suggests that companies can create a higher degree of brand commitment through social media platforms by doing the following: being proactive in developing intimacy with consumers; managing consumers’ emotions in order to engender affecting commitment, and; encouraging consumers to contribute and share social content in communities.
The question of whether to purchase fake followers is not a legal one, as it’s absolutely permissible to do it. But more a question of what your expectations are from using Twitter. If it’s about appearing popular or to act as another facet to compete with other businesses, then purchasing fake followers sounds like a good investment. However, if your company wants to leverage the ability to develop relationships with true consumers, perhaps it’s an avenue best left unexplored. Instead of building a network of fake followers, develop a plan to increase the amount of followers that will be committed to your brand. Web 2.0 allows companies to take advantage of collaboration and a sense of community with their audience (Jansen et al., 2009). If your audience is made up of fake followers, who’s participating?
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