At the end of January, The New York Times published a story called “The Follower Factory,” which delved into the economy of fake social media followers. It’s a fascinating piece, and if you haven’t already read it, we encourage you to do so. The story has already had real-world consequences here in Chicago, as semi-famous film critic Richard Roeper has been suspended by the Sun-Times after having been revealed to have purchased fake followers for his Twitter account.
Roeper was one of several celebrities, ranging from pro athletes to politicians to YouTubers, named in the piece. All of them spent money to up their social media follower and engagement numbers, which in turn makes them appear more influential. That means that bots are big business, and it’s no surprise to see their numbers increasing. To quote the NYT report:
“By some calculations, as many as 48 million of Twitter’s reported active users — nearly 15 percent — are automated accounts designed to simulate real people, though the company claims that number is far lower.”
It’s a good reminder to view social media numbers with a skeptical eye. But what some people might not realize is that Twitter bots don’t only boost numbers for those who have paid for them — there’s a good chance they are boosting your account too.
Over the past few years, both social media and PR analytics have become important parts of our service offerings at 3Points. As we covered in a recent blog post, we often combine the two, and one project we’ve done for numerous clients is a Twitter Follower Audit. Using Followerwonk, we’ll export a full list of a client’s Twitter followers, and then analyze each individually.
This is done in an attempt to categorize the followers (how many are reporters, employees, technologists, etc.), but in doing these audits, we also find a number of completely irrelevant accounts — sometimes up to 40%. A number of those irrelevant accounts are clearly bots, and we’ve found them in every audit we’ve done so far, no matter what industry the client is in or how frequently they post.
Not all irrelevant accounts are bots, of course. For example, some people just follow other accounts indiscriminately as a way to try to get eyeballs on their own accounts. And, whether or not they be bots, it’s not like you’ve done anything wrong by (or will be penalized for) unintentionally picking up some irrelevant followers.
But it is helpful to know your true audience size, and who your audience is, on social media, because that will allow you to refine and tailor your social media strategy. Accurate measurement is increasingly important in social media marketing, so when you try to determine your reach by looking at follower numbers, it’s important to have some context about your followers. They may count the same in the number on your profile, but all followers are not created equal.
Interested in doing a follower audit of your own? We’d be happy to walk you through our audit process — send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.