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Opinion: Why Twitter Needs To Clamp Down On Fake Followers, Now

Guess how many Twitter followers I have? Go on, take a guess! As of this week, I’m sitting at 2,102.

Whether that number seems pitifully small or astoundingly large to you, the fact is I earned each and every one of those followers.

Now, if I was on Twitter just to get more followers (which is a bad, bad strategy), I could have 21,020 followers. Or even 210,200 followers… within a matter of days. If I really wanted more followers, I could get them. Right now.

But those followers would be fake accounts, useful only as a shallow badge of “honor” that I could brag about and use to impress potential clients or competitors. And herein lies the danger of fake accounts: they’re shallow, useless, and ultimately they damage the brand credibility of every single one of us who actually works hard to build up a genuine – and real – following on Twitter.

Earlier this week PCWorld ran a story about one man who sells fake Twitter followers… and makes a healthy profit doing it.

James Clegg runs a ring of sites – 13 of them as of the article’s publication – that offer to sell you fake followers at a rate of 1,000 for about $11.

Think about that price for a second. For a little over $100, I could increase my followers by 10,000, or about 5x the number I built up organically. And you can bet that $100 will get you more followers using Clegg’s methods as opposed to using Twitter’s official advertising products. In fact, Hashtags.org reports that each new follower that advertisers see on Twitter typically costs around $2.50 to $4.

So businesses have the choice of spending $100 and getting a) 10,000 fake followers or b) 25-40 real followers.

To many small businesses, especially those new to Twitter or unsure of how the whole thing “works”, that 10,000 would be pretty hard to pass up.

Clegg’s fake Twitter follower sites aren’t the only ones out there. They’re part of a larger problem not just with Twitter, but with social media marketing in general – that of perception versus reality.

The smartest businesses on social media understand that perception does matter, but it’s not the most important element in a social media strategy. What’s more important is building solid relationships with your community, increasing brand visibility and loyalty, improving customer service efforts and obtaining more customer acquisitions through two-way communication. You’ll notice that “having more Twitter followers” isn’t anywhere to be found in this type of strategy – at least not without qualifiers.

“Having more followers” on its own will lead businesses down the dark path of purchasing fake followers. But “Having more followers… who are interested in our message and who engage with our brand” will send businesses down the legitimate path of either purchasing Twitter’s targeted ads or, even better, building a following organically.

Fake followers are damaging not only to the businesses that purchase them, but to all businesses on Twitter, and even Twitter itself.

The business who just spent $100 on 10,000 fake followers might enjoy a bit of an instant-gratification in the short-term, but in the long-term their whole social presence will suffer. The content they produce will not be read or engaged with. No one will click their links. They’ll get discouraged, and many will give up on Twitter, thinking that it’s a “useless” marketing tool.

And businesses who go the legitimate route may find themselves hurt by the fake follower industry, too. Their 2,000 followers will look paltry compared to the 10,000 (fake) followers that their competitor purchased. And even though they’re seeing great engagement and community-building with their 2,000 followers, they might suffer from the uninformed public perception that they’re not “doing Twitter” right compared to the competition.

Finally, Twitter itself suffers at the hands of these fake follower scammers. The company relies mainly on advertising revenue to survive, and if a significant portion of that is being siphoned into the hands of illegitimate businesses selling fake followers, the company’s profits decline. This may lead to the company increasing the cost of ads, or showing more ads, both moves that would alienate either the business community or general Twitter population.

It’s high time that Twitter does something about these fake followers. Disabling fake accounts would be a start, but they’ve got to go to the source: people like Clegg who are profiting off of selling followers, something that explicitly violates Twitter’s Rules. Gaming the system this way only really benefits the scammers themselves, and the rest of us end up suffering the consequences.

(Robot image via Shutterstock.)

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