Social media is an amazing tool. I’m a huge fan of it, as you know. However, I’ve become increasingly saddened by recent developments about people buying followers on Twitter.This kind of practice means we start to undermine the very credibility we seek to gain online.
I watched one Twitterer from the UK suddenly jump from a couple of thousand followers to well over 10k followers – almost literally overnight. When asked about how this happened and specifically questioned about whether they had bought the new followers, the person denied it and claimed they’d just been involved in a significant event and that lots of people had started following them as a result. Gaining that many new followers from one event just wasn’t plausible, so people continued to ask questions.
Funnily enough, within a couple of days suddenly this person went back down to just a couple of thousand followers and seemed very quiet online. The person continued to deny that they had purchased those followers, then panicked as they’d been found out, then deleted them. But it seems pretty clear that’s what happened. It makes me sad because buying followers removes any real ability to gage true impact. It all becomes about money – as so much of our society already is. It exacerbates the ‘digital divide’ – the yawning chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.
I’ve heard some people argue in favour of buying followers. Companies selling them are so developed that you can specify exactly who you want , e.g. “Christians who are between 18 and 35 and have an active interest in new technology”. Some say this is a useful way to reach genuine people with your message. But I beg to differ. True influence means that people will find you if you have something good to say. Using money to buy people’s attention just blurs the boundaries of why they are following you and social media loses yet more of its authenticity.
Some have argued that organisations buying followers is more acceptable than individuals doing so. However, I still think it creates a money based approach where organisations without the cash will suffer. The ability for smaller organisations to garner lots of Twitter followers by having great content creates a wonderfully open playing field where for once it’s not about money. Only now, it is.
Many of us baulked when Twitter began giving paid advert slots to paying customers, popping up on our Trends list and as promoted accounts. I feel that buying followers proves that we want to pimp out Twitter as much as they do. Buying followers means that Twitter follower stats will now mean very little about how influential we really are. So we need other systems of measurement to turn to. But the ones available are pretty flawed and unreliable themselves.
For example, KLOUT has been widely criticised for it’s bizarre algorithms that don’t seem to reflect genuine activity. It claims to give a genuine read on influence, but having played games with it over the past year, I’ve seen it respond totally bizarrely and out of keeping with it’s own algorithms.
One account that I barely tweeted from shot up in KLOUT stats, yet the other account on which I was really active, went down. Having surfed the net on this topic, countless people have tried similar tricks and found the same baffling lack of coherent results.
Blog-rankings are also equally odd in their algorithms. My conclusion on assessing the influence of a blog is that it must all come down to the cold hard measurable stats of site visits and time spent on the site, via a reliable tool such as Google Analytics. Anything other than that gets very spurious. Other measurement systems for social media influence are springing up (such as KRED), probably due to the lack of confidence people are feeling in KLOUT. But whether KRED is any better will only be seen over time.
All this to say – we are entering a realm where online influence and authenticity are becoming increasingly cloudy. And this is concerning. So I really hope we can steer clear from purchasing Twitter followers.
I believe we all want to engage in social media as authentically as possible and I see buying people’s follower-ship simply to boost out stats and therefore our egos, as a real step backwards for us all. Social media will only be as authentic and genuine as we are within it, so the responsibility lies with us to make good decisions about our practice.