Working across various social media positions, I’ve always wondered about the concept of purchasing Twitter followers. To me, it always seemed like a pointless exercise – surely if the value of social media is better engagement with your audience, having a fake following is just as effective as having none at all?
I did, however, have a vague belief in the social effect, that in having a bigger following, people would be more likely to show an interest in you. After all, seeing a profile with 20K followers certainly looks more influential than one with a meager 194. In the name of social experimentation, we decided to test this theory by purchasing 1000 Prevision followers, and mapping the results.
Buying Twitter followers is not a new, nor uncommon practice. Companies, politicians and even celebrities have been found guilty of buying a fake fan-base, lured in by the promise of instant credibility. It’s also extremely easy to do: a simple Google search pulled in about 323 million results, starting as low as $1 for a thousand fake profiles. Never one to buy without doing my market research, I spent a bit of time delving into the different services these companies offer. While most promised almost instantaneous delivery, commonly cited issues included instability, where purchased followers would drop off over time, inactive followers, where new followers would not engage with your content, and very obviously fake profiles with no pictures, bios or tweets.
After shopping around, I opted for a 1000 follower fan boost from TwitterBoost, for the price of $12. Almost overnight, I woke up to an extra 1200 (a surprise 20% over-delivery) in our account. While the extra numbers certainly looked pleasant, however, things were not so pristine under the surface.
Firstly, while all the profiles had pictures and bios, many of them did not have the new Twitter cover photo feature which, when bulked together in your follower feed, looks pretty suspicious. Going in to look at individual profiles, most people were following about 100 feeds, and had sent about 4 tweets. Maybe enough to qualify them as ‘active’, but certainly not enough to look like genuine Twitter users. Seeing them all there, clogging up our followers feed, I felt a pang of regret. It was almost as if they devalued the real followers we already had.
Not only this, but over the next month spent mapping our new followers, I failed to measure any substantial increase in our fan base. We continued to get new followers, but not at an increased base, nor did we measure any increased interaction. The benefits were, in our experience, purely aesthetic, a fake badge of honor on our Twitter homepage.
Oddly enough, while they did nothing apart from sit on my profile, the purchased followers did give me a certain sense of relief; that we now had what I perceived to be an appropriate following for small and relatively new digital marketing business. Perhaps then, buying Twitter followers is less about genuine engagement and more about social conformity: that your profile matches your perceived status in the digital world.
In a world where appearances are everything, perhaps it’s unsurprising that the value of Twitter followers lies less in your opportunities for genuine engagement, and more how they elevate your own social standing. And as much as I’d like to say that humanity is above all that, I think the ‘fake it till you make it’ mentality will be around for a long time yet.
So was it worth it? By all measures of genuine social reach, certainly not. But as a method of buying your way into the in crowd? Probably just as shallow – yet unsettling effective – as the real thing.