Followergate: gaming the system to boost follower count

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Here we go again. Another storm has been brewing on the South African social media scene. This time, big digital agencies are accused of buying Twitter followers.

The thing is, the issue of fake followers is actually been around since 2009 when the Telegraph wrote a piece exposing Maz Nadjm, then head of social media at Sky TV for artificially boosting his Twitter following. Nadjm claimed to be “responsible for social media at Sky TV” and was named by PR Week “the most influential communications professional on Twitter in the UK”. Nadjm said his follower count grew organically though “Mazigate” as it was termed suggested he was in someway gaming Twitter.

The discussions about Mazigate led some enterprising techies to build a tool that helps you identify how many percentage of your Twitter following are fake, inactive and good. The tool, Fake Follower Check from the company Status People has sent South Africa’s twittersphere into an uproar. We all know that some portion of our follower count on Twitter is fake thanks to those creepy bots that just love cropping up out of the proverbial woodwork. But I digress.

The issue

The discovery of Fake Follower Check led people to ilovemyfollowers.com, a site that allows you to purchase Twitter followers in bulk. Wait you can buy Twitter followers? As in pay money and get followers in return? That’s what services such as I Love My Followers claim. The existence of such sites has led some to wonder if two prominent South Africans had bought their high proportion of fake followers.

The service describes itself as the “leading online retailers of Twitter followers”. The site claims to take the hassle and hard work away of obtaining “a steady stream of Twitter followers” from people by “ensuring that your business appears professional on Twitter and other social media websites”.

The alleged players

Kirsty Bisset (@kirstybisset), who promotes tequila brand Patron in her Twitter bio, boasts some 7 600 followers. According to Fake Follower Check, 70% of those followers are fake, 16% ‘inactive’ and 14% ‘good.’ Bisset in an email correspondence with 2Oceansvibe categorically denied purchasing her followers saying, “I have never and never would buy followers. I wouldn’t even know where to look to do so. The concept is foreign to me.”

She also stated that earlier this year she picked up 3 000 followers in one day but didn’t know where they came from.

The other account which has been in the eye of this storm belongs to digital creative agency, Gorilla Creative Media, whose tagline is “We Build Brand”. The company’s Twitter account has a faker score of 66% with only 18% ‘good’ followers.

Gorilla Creative Media’s owner, Jordan Wallace released a statement to 20V admitting that the company had used the similar service such as ilovemyfollowers:

As we have admitted to on Twitter, @GorillaCM has made the use of a service that promised authentic Twitter followers, sourced via location and interest. This was done as an exercise in understanding how these services work to deliver real fans, and whether in fact these services were worth considering for our clients. It was not as an exercise in buying influence. @GorillaCM has never been used as an influencer, or to promote a brand or product as @GorillaCM. It is a voice for our agency to share content we find interesting or relevant. It was poor judgement running the experiment on our own account and not a testing profile, and that mistake has been addressed with the responsible party.

The most unfortunate part of this is the shadow it casts on the work we produce for our clients, and we are today making contact with each of them to share the story with them. We have never purchased followers for any of our client twitter accounts (a check through fakers.statuspeople.com will confirm that for you. Every client except 1 sits at 10% or below in terms of fake followers, a stat the site professes to be within the norm. We are trying to get to the bottom of the anomaly, and a clean up is being done to remove fake accounts.

This is a lesson we have to take on the chin, and learn from. And we have.

The consequences

The consequence of this for Gorilla Media as an agency is that it casts doubt in the minds of its client base. Part of the agency’s appeal, after all, is a successful follow rate on Twitter. The agency has stated that it only used this service for its account and has not advised clients to use it. Purchasing followers isn’t exactly illegal, but using it for financial gain is dishonest if reach is what you are selling. Which happens to be what people on Twitter care about.

Earlier this year Azeem Azhar, chief executive of online reputation start-up PeerIndex, was also outed as it were for “gaming” the follower system. The kind of business you’re in matters when it comes selling social media clout.

In the report about Azhar’s instant Twitter followers a social media expert tells Kernel Mag that, “short of appearing in the Super Bowl halftime show, I’m not sure there’s any legitimate way someone might have gained that many people that quickly.”

On the flip side I am curious to see how Status People goes about checking which followers are fake and which are not. It seems it is something Twitter should be looking into, with Status People’s algorithm, Twitter can easily identify accounts which are spam and block them.

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  • http://twitter.com/DavidGrahamSA David Graham

    I wonder how many individuals were feverishly running Twitter accounts through the “fake follower checker” today and were either delighted or disappointed with the results that were presented. The sad reality is that Twitter accounts that reflected a high “fake follower” count will be accused of “buying” followers. Instead of focussing on the fake followers why not rather measure the level of positive engagement with their “real” followers.

  • http://twitter.com/leachgular Brent Coetzee

    I totally agree with you Graham, the fact that there are these services is sad, but not life altering. I know of a few individuals who have used this for brands, disclosing this to the brand before hand, which gives the account the appearance of being popular, gaining more followers by impression. Not a sound strategy at all, but like you say, base measurement on engagement with real followers (A fake follower will never answer a question or retweet you anyway).

  • Pingback: Seven deadly digital sins for brands to avoid in 2013 | memeburn

  • http://ivinviljoen.net/ Ivin Viljoen

    @Graham. There’s a way to see the value of your account, it’s called Klout, and is apparently the measure for influence on Twitter AND Facebook.

  • Pingback: Authenticity on Twitter - Ivin Viljoen

  • Pingback: New study finds big brands, celebs buying Twitter followers | memeburn

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