Fake followers and false social metrics are on the rise, and they have been for a long time. A few months ago, we posted a blog on the vitality of genuine human responses across social media - and the subsequent reasons why businesses should avoid the temptation to use automated social media bots to respond. This time, we’re looking at another angle of the ever-growing bot problem on social: fake followers.
So, first of all - what do we mean by fake followers? Social media bots. These are sold in excess to celebrities, influencers, and yes - brands and businesses, all hoping to grow their social profiles in a short space of time at minimal effort.
You’ve probably come across them yourself: a myriad of fake accounts that look like real people until you get a bit closer. They sit in your follower lists, occasionally send you spam DMs from random computer firms half-way across the world, and they never, ever engage with your actual content, or buy your products.
Hey, we understand the initial thinking behind it. In an age dominated by social media, what better way to amplify credibility for your brand or product by showcasing huge follower counts? The perception of online popularity offers something similar to high TripAdvisor rankings or positive testimonials - basically, it’s a form of social proof that influences the behaviour of potential consumers, enticing them to try out your product or visit your business.
And when social bots first appeared, this worked pretty well. Would-be influencers could navigate their way into sponsorships with big brands who looked only at follower counts, and the average consumer could easily be fooled into thinking that start-up brands had made it big.
These days though, people have cottoned on.
It’s incredibly easy to spot a social media bot - and it’s just as easy to spot businesses who are spending the money on them.
Some bots have jibberish usernames and no profile photo. Others look a bit more realistic, with recognisable display names, profile pictures and snappy little bios - these are slightly more sinister, as their profiles are direct lifts of other social media users; they’re literally impersonating real people, by stealing their social presence. Both however are easily recognised by the incredibly disproportionate following ratios (they’ll follow thousands of people, with no one following them back) with either a completely blank timeline, or a chaotic series of retweets for any particular hashtag in every imaginable language.
And the businesses, or personal profiles, buying them? They’ll have thousands upon thousands of followers, but a quick glance at the people behind the follower count will quickly give the game away. The real clue comes in the difference in follower vs engagement ratio - and we’ll get to that in a minute.
With the rise - and expectation - of corporate presence on social media, consumers are wising up, and no one likes a liar. Brands and businesses that buy fake followers are becoming easier and easier to spot, and their efforts are receiving the very opposite of appreciation. While padding out your profile with a good looking ratio may, for a moment, make you seem more trustworthy, you’re actually damaging the relationship you’ve built with existing and potential customers from the offset. Think about it: why should a customer trust the credibility of your brand, when your very social presence is fraudulent?
It’s not just consumers who are getting tired of the fakery. Social media platforms, particularly Twitter and Instagram, where fake followers and social bots seem to have the most prevalence, are constantly taking steps to stop the bots. Their tech is becoming more and more adequate at recognising bots, so buying followers for your profile is going to eventually get you into trouble. Accounts that do so are constantly being penalised, and could even risk eventual deletion for violating the terms of service on these platforms.
Reporting and measuring social metrics is becoming an imperative part of social media marketing, and with insights on these platforms constantly evolving, it’s getting easier and easier to assess the behaviour of your followers and consumers and plan your social strategy accordingly.
Here’s the catch: these insights are designed for real followers, who perform real behaviours on your social profiles. Impressions, engagements, reach - these factors are imperative to your digital strategy, and by analysing how your content is performing, you can maximise them to generate a hefty ROI. When fake followers are thrown into the mix, the data gathered from these insights are completely skewed. It becomes incredibly difficult to accurately assess your audience when 80% of it consists of accounts that don’t belong to actual humans. Similarly, how can you measure how well your audience is responding to your content, when you have no way of distinguishing which data belongs to your actual consumers, and which equates to the bots?
Which brings us back to what we referenced earlier: engagement. One of the most telltale ways to spot a brand - or an influencer or celebrity - that has bought fake followers, is to note the contrast between that follower count, and the amount of reception that their posts get. If a profile has thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of followers, yet their posts receive only a couple of likes or comments each time, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that something may have gone slightly awry.
And that raises, for us, one overwhelming reason why fake followers are a mistake for your social profile - there’s literally no point.
Think about it. What’s the point in having those numbers if all they are is a number and a false statistic? We post on social for brand awareness, sure - but a competent social strategy doesn’t only rely on follower growth. It’s about creating meaningful relationships between businesses and customers, which start with genuine online engagements, translate into conversions and, if you do it right, build brand love to create long-lasting fans, repeat customers and generate ROI over time.
Sure. There are companies who will sell fake followers and do promise engagement; they’ll retweet, like, or comment generic statements on your post, they’ll view your stories. But these aren’t meaningful interactions, they aren’t real people. Even if they engage with your content, it’s not genuine, it’s not real, and they will never, ever generate conversions or ROI. How is someone who doesn’t exist going to visit your restaurant or buy your latest product? There’s no point.
Meanwhile, you’re ruining the potential you have to build meaningful relationships with actual humans by demonstrating disingenuous behaviour. Social media platforms are cracking down on bots all the time - if they’re the only audience you have, what happens when they’re gone?
Engaging with your audience on social has become increasingly popular. By offering stellar Community Management, you have the capability to provide top-notch customer service for your customers, growing brand love, loyalty, and all those lovely things we mentioned earlier - plus, social algorithms are consistently rewarding businesses who take the time to respond to their followers.
Fake followers don’t give you the opportunity to do this - the only thing you’d ever end up with is the odd spammy comment. Building a genuine audience, and engaging with it meaningfully, is a great way to do the very opposite of what fake followers offer: prove credibility, raise your social stats, and create conversions.
With such an emphasis on social proof, online popularity, and follower counts, it becomes difficult to remind people that social isn’t just about numbers. But take it from someone who knows (and by that we mean 3sixfive) that should be far from your only concern.
It’s far, far better to be posting genuine content and creating meaningful relationships with a small audience, than it is to be screaming into the void to a sea of fake followers. Brand presence doesn’t grow overnight, the way Instagram’s nifty algorithm wasn’t built in a day. With quality Social Media Management, you can create on-brand, engaging content that’ll boost your social metrics - including, yeah, your follower count.
Instead of resorting to fraudulent followers and wasting your money on bots (this is social media, not a Sci-Fi franchise) invest your resources into a social strategy that actually works.