Twitter Followers: Fake, Faux or Farcical?

Fake followers:  They're all over Twitter
Fake followers: They’re all over Twitter.

I’ve blogged before about the nagging suspicions many people have about the true level of engagement on Twitter. Some have referred to Twitter accounts as “digital Potemkin Villages” and other (unprintable) characterizations.

And now we have the latest indications that Twitter’s “blue smoke and mirrors” extends to the most important global brands.

Status People, a purveyor of social media management platforms, has develop an analytical tool it calls the “Fake Follower Checker” that evaluates the characteristics of brand followers to determine to what extent they are “real people” as opposed to fakers.

According to Status People, up to half of the followers of the 20 most important global brands are either complete fakes, or inactive.

Of course, it is possible that some brand followers do nothing but follow … and rarely if ever post tweets of their own. But it’s also easy to surmise that the value of an inactive follower isn’t nearly as high as one who engages on the Twitter platform.

Details on how Status People conducts its Twitter follower analysis can be found here. In a nutshell, Status People sampled up to 1,000 records and assessed activity against a number of spam criteria. Those criteria included the degree to which Twitter accounts have few or no followers and few or no tweets … but that follow many other Twitter accounts.

For the record, here are the proportion of major brand followers on Twitter that Status People deems are “good” versus “inactive” or “fake,” ranked from highest to lowest percentage score:

  • Gillette: 64% “good” followers
  • GE: 61%
  • Oracle: 60%
  • Toyota: 60%
  • Cisco: 54%
  • IBM: 53%
  • Mercedes: 53%
  • H-P: 52%
  • Disney: 51%
  • McDonalds: 51%
  • Coca-Cola: 50%
  • Honda: 50%
  • Louis Vuitton: 50%
  • Samsung: 46%
  • Intel: 44%
  • BMW: 43%
  • Microsoft: 42%
  • Nokia: 37%
  • Google: 27%

And what about one of the biggest U.S. brands out there right now:  Brand Obama?  Of the President’s nearly 19 million followers on Twitter, the reports are that nearly three-fourths of them are fake, too. 

Some have questioned why Status People has gone to all of this effort shine a light on Twitter fakery. “What harm is done?” these folks seem to be asking.

In response, Status People contends that fake Twitter accounts exist to build status and power beyond what is legitimate, and that those behind them are gaming the system in an effort to burnish brand credentials unfairly.

But I think it’s actually worse than that.  Twitter fakers run the risk of turning the entire Twitter enterprise into one big farce. I know too many people who have completely turned away from Twitter in the past year, becoming convinced that the entire platform is simply an elaborate façade masking a “whole lot of nothing.”

This can’t be what the folks at Twitter want people to think of their own brand!

“Fanning out” when it comes to brands and social media engagement.

Social media may well be taking the famous 90-9-1 principle of online engagement … and bringing it to new lows.

It’s hard not to come to this conclusion when reviewing the results of research conducted by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. This Australian-based University think-tank studied the actual engagement levels of people who have “liked” the top 200 brands on Facebook by considering the degree to which fans actually shared posts or commented on the brand.

Over a six-week period of study, Ehrenberg-Bass found that fewer than one half of one percent of the brand fans actually “engaged” in any way at all.

The conclusion? It turns out that social media fan bases and actual engagement are two very different things.

Categories that do somewhat better in “engagement” are ones like alcohol, cars and electronics. But interestingly enough, the study also found that the so-called “passion” brands – such as Harley-Davidson, Porsche or Nike – don’t perform much better than “regular” brands: 0.66% engagement versus 0.35%.

In its report conclusions, Ehrenburg-Bass questions whether the Herculean efforts being made by some brands to “bribe” their way to thousands of “fans” and “likes” is really worth the cost in terms of the added product discounts, coupons and other goodies that are being proffered to entice consumers to become brand fans.

When you boil it down, the Ehrenburg-Bass research confirms yet again a basic truism about branding: Much as we would love to think otherwise, the marketplace isn’t nearly as enamored with our brands and products as we think they should be.

To us, the branding so important. To them … it’s just one big shrug of the shoulders.