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Unbiased Opinion On Buying Fake Likes And Twitter Followers

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So this week held an interesting debate on Twitter between Martin Macdonald, CCarter and I. The premise of this debate was a follow-up of a blog post by Martin that basically explains both the power of social proof and how social media embodies it on the internet but also how easy it is to uncover fake fans and followers. Here is some of the conversation that happened on twitter following my retweet of the article:

 

 

Both parts raised extremely valid points and I almost felt fortunate to be in the middle of this debate. This raises a real question. Getting started in the social media game is hard and it is very tempting to start with some fake social proof, especially when you can do it for $5 on Fiverr. Actually, I have friends who have used it with great success and have now collected hundreds of organic followers, thanks to their few hundred first fake followers.

So, if buying fake followers and fans is so easy and can actually help your business, why don’t we all do it? Why are all IM experts advising against it? And what should YOU do? That’s what we’re going to talk about in the rest of this post.

The case for buying fake followers and fans

As stated earlier, buying fake followers and fans is extremely easy and as CCarter mentions, it is probable that it dupes 95% or more of people who have absolutely no idea these things even exist. As internet marketers, we often assume that the general public is aware of all the links, PR and social manipulation that are our daily bread.

As a matter of fact, when I go and hang out with my family, they have very little idea of how Google, Facebook or Twitter really work. It just works for them (more or less) and they don’t ask any question as to why things are there, they curse on the general quality of the results but never break it down.

Moreover, they’re quite educated about what a Facebook like or a tweet is and unless the numbers are way off (thousands of likes on a deep product page etc), they will rarely question them.

keep-calm-and-fake-it-till-you-make-it

If you’re serious about engaging people and driving traffic from social media, buying followers is actually a great way to kick-start things because of the social proof effect described by Cialdini in his book: Influence. Friends of mine who I will not name have seen a dramatic increase in the number of organic follows from real people after they bought their first 1000 followers.

They now have tens of thousands and a bunch of these fake follower accounts are dead and the remaining ones are now a tiny fraction of their fan base. Even if social platforms were to start “penalizing accounts”, their fake follower ratio is around the same as most big accounts there.

The case against buying fake followers and fans

Now buying followers and likes is easy and to some extent, it can help your business. However, if you look at history, SEO used to be the same way, you could just buy links on horrible link farms, use blog networks of crappy duplicate content and still make your way to the top of search results. Then, as search matured, Google started punishing people who did that kind of stuff… retroactively.

This means that if you had spammed your way to the top 3 years ago and then switched to legit practices, often times you’d get punished as well, losing most of your organic traffic and often times, having to start on a new domain when the situation was unrecoverable.

Something similar could very likely happen for social, Facebook could hinder your page’s ability to show in news feeds, rendering it close to useless. Twitter could simply ban accounts or even ban you from people’s main feed as well and become an empty shell for your business. These are risk factors that a business investing large amounts in social media can not ignore.

Moreover, even if all of this doesn’t happen, if your company gets big and popular, you clearly take the risk of a minor pr stunt by buying followers.

What would Eric Ries say?

But wait, this site is called Leanbound right? So what would Eric Ries and the Lean community say? Well, I’d expect them to be split up about the topic as well. On one hand, buying followers and fans can help you gain more traction and attract the early adopters you need to get any kind of success at all which seems like a good idea.

On the other hand, you’re clearly messing with some of the metrics you should be looking at (see what Rand fishkin says about social signals and vanity metrics) and messing around with that might give you a false idea of success when you’ve in fact cheated your early adopters.

Conclusion

As with everything, nothing is completely white or black when it comes to IM, but some things are grayer than others. The real conclusion for me is that if you still intend to use the brand / page / profile in the next 3 years, I would advocate against buying followers and fans and focus on more traditional and value adding ways to gain social traction.

However, if your startup has a 3-6 month life span in front of it and you’re acting under conditions of extreme uncertainty I can’t say I would be against it. Mostly because your goal is to survive and find market fit and anything that can give you some traction for cheap is good to take at this stage.

Considering this conclusion, it’s no surprise that Martin Macdonald who is the director of online marketing at Expedia strongly advocates against buying followers while people like CCarter who are successful affiliates but operate much smaller structures with less emphasis on very long-term assets are more keen to get this early traction you can gain from buying these followers.

What is your take on the debate? Should people buy followers or not? Let us know in the comments.

Written by Gael Breton

Gael Breton

Gael is the co-founder of Higher Click. A complete Inbound marketing nerd, he splits his time between research, advising Higher Click’s consultants, running the company, and reading a ton of books!

17 replies
  1. CCarter
    CCarter says:

    Some little inaccuracies about me, but I think that was done for concealment :) – Overall Good article and good topic. I’m just the kind of person that likes seeing evidence when talking about a subject, cause otherwise it comes out a fluff pieces to me. There is lot of evidence of social media influencing events, but very few if none of fake followers causing a brand/product irrevocable damage – just this week’s gossip that is forgotten in 2 days.

    There is also an overall mentality in business to fake it till you make it. When your down in the ditches clawing at every possible string for bare survival as a company, you go into hustle mode, and have to do things crosses lines. I doubt anyone will care about a few thousand fake followers/fans/likes being the foundation of a successful marketing campaign.

    “Some thrive in light, others in the shadows. The times make us what we are.” Me, I’ve got a light switch for on & off. Know how to use the tools you are given and know the risk in those tools. Brand equity, I don’t see a whole lot of risk, yet – unless that’s the only thing that’s going to be talked about for your brand ;)

    Reply
    • Gael Breton
      Gael Breton says:

      Hey Carter, yep, I didn’t necessarily want to give too many details about what you do, rather give a general idea of who you are to people who don’t know you.

      I tend to agree with most of what you’re saying. The only nuance is when you’re a big company with big money or you intend to be and your very existence is not threatened, it seems to be a better idea to go and use the traditional ways.

      Moreover, if you’re not struggling for cash, you can always use Facebook ads for targeted, possibly engaged likes and I think Twitter offers ways to earn more followers as well with sponsored recommendations. That seems to be a much safer way to speed up social and organic growth for corporations.

      -G

      Reply
  2. Jared Oldham (@OldhamJared)
    Jared Oldham (@OldhamJared) says:

    Gael interesting article! I would love to see some case studies on growing social influence through buying followers and trying to then organically build reputation vs just organically. The evidence would not change my opinion but it would be interesting to see. To me it is less about trying to ensure you will not be penalized later than it is about being authentic. Growth is often slow but is always worth it when the people liking and following your brand are loyal customers or advocates.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Gael Breton
      Gael Breton says:

      Hey Jared,

      Thanks for dropping by! I actually have observed the effects of this first hand (but can’t share it or give names) and I can say, going from less than 100 to 1000 followers more than doubled the organic follow rate.

      I agree with your on the fact that building evangelists and loyalty is always the way to go. But the point of the post is that, in some circumstances, buying followers gives you more of a chance to do just that by convincing people to give a shot at following you in the first place because 1000 others do.

      Obviously there are retro active risks for following such practices and you should be very aware of what you are doing if you follow this path but you can’t deny it could help in SOME situations.

      -G

      Reply
    • Gael Breton
      Gael Breton says:

      Hey Stephen,

      Thanks for the comment and fantastic link! That does indeed change things up quite a bit for sure but we have to accept that fake fans and followers are part of the marketing landscape these days whether we like them or not.

      This also re enforces some of the learnings of this post: if you’re a big fish, do NOT buy likes, you’re actually not just exposing yourself to penalties, you’re also exposing yourself to law suits (even if I’m not sure the people suing will win).

      However, if we go this way then things such as unclaimed advertorials or unclaimed sponsored tweets are also on the line, and for some reason I just don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon.

      I’m not saying that this is a reason to break the law, I’m just saying that due to lack of enforcement these things will most likely be part of the market for a long time.

      One thing that’s sure as well is that considering how big the problem is for social sites, we will probably see punitive actions against profiles and pages buying these in the future.

      Wait and see.

      -G

      Reply
      • Stephen Bradley
        Stephen Bradley says:

        I don’t believe it has anything to do with “big fish” or “little fish”. It’s one thing to do this for one of your own sites, it’s another thing altogether to do it for a customer, who would ultimately pay the price were a dissatisfied customer to sue or the FTC decided to investigate. It’s unprofessional and it’s bad business.

        Reply
    • CCarter
      CCarter says:

      What do you mean “illegal”? Please quote the law stating that it’s illegal to buy likes. I’d like an actual citation, otherwise you are amongst the audience that feels just because something is “gray/immoral” automatically makes it “illegal”, which it doesn’t. It’s like people just like linking to more fluff without reading…

      Look in the comments section:

      “I fail to see the illegality. If advertisers pay according to the number of likes on a page, that’s exactly what they’ve got.”

      “This is not illegal, and Dispatches trying to paint people as criminals for this are being extremely disingenuous.”

      People that are actually complaining this is “illegal” are the type of people that fall for this type of advertising anyways. If you can cite the law stating this it’s illegal to buy “likes” – I’ll concede my perspective might be erroneous, by victory, enlighten me…

      Reply
      • Stephen Bradley
        Stephen Bradley says:

        Sorry, re-read your comments so it’s clear you read the article. Let me just ask this: Do you not see the potential here for a legal gray area? Yes you CAN do it (for now), but I believe the question is SHOULD you do it? I wouldn’t expect someone who runs a blog named “Money Over Ethics” to argue any other position, but I do hope people who find this debate in search of a professional answer in the future take this into consideration.

        Reply
        • CCarter
          CCarter says:

          Trap Card Activated. ;)

          Personal attacks aside, if you noticed throughout the conversation I’ve argued there is a benefit from both sides.

          “Some thrive in light, others in the shadows. The times make us what we are.”

          If your run a churn and burn spam website using 301 redirect hurricanes to rank and bank for a month before a penalty ensues, then having fake social proofing helps. If you are running a campaign for a major corporation and fake social proof might harm your brand, you might want to stay away from that.

          But then there is the legitimate plumber that’s competing with plumbers across the street, and hardly anyone is going to “like” his fanpage – but it’s an increasing factor in public opinion and MAYBE search engine rankings, what is that guy going to do? Would you have his family starve cause it’s immoral to buy fake likes?

          Think of it like a party. NO ONE wants to be the first person to the party, but they’d rather come on when the crowd is gathering and coming in. So, as Liz Claiborne said “fake it till you make it” ;)

          And to answer your question, legal gray area? Lettuce be cereal for a moment, the whole legal system is built on gray area.

          This is shades of gray from a little gray to black. If you get a plumber 400 fake likes so he can get online business since people are no longer turning to the yellow pages are you seriously going to go after him with a lawsuit?

          How about 4,000 likes? What about 40,000 likes for him? Is that when we throw the book at him, probably not – but even I know that’ll look suspicious of a plumber.

          What about a music artist, that creates a million likes, and it turns out those fake likes helped result in actual people buying his music – but they really liked his music? Are you going to go after that person?

          What about the spammer, that’s selling a shitty product that doesn’t work, but has social proof over over 40,000 likes to their facebook page? But their SERPs are clean cause of great reputation management even though their company has hundreds of complaints… Is that the guy you are going to go after?

          You see, your instincts tell you who to go after, that’s the “moral” code you have imprinted onto you. That’s the ethics you wish the world lives by, it doesn’t. Just like you judged my response immediately by saying I didn’t read it, and jumped again with bias over the name of my blog, you’re crossing wires with legal and gray area – that’s for a judge to decide.

          What if my blog title meant Money over Bad Ethics? Instead of what you concluded to it meaning “Money over Good Ethics” – A play on words, just like the law. ;)

          Reply
          • Stephen Bradley
            Stephen Bradley says:

            Argue all you want. Buying fake followers is sleazy. If that’s what you choose to sell to your customers then more power to you.

  3. Spook SEO
    Spook SEO says:

    I’d say buying followers is a strategy that’s way too risky. Considering how everything and anything on the web is getting smarter, it’ll just be a matter of time before the social media starts penalizing as well.

    If we’re looking to build a social media profile for the long haul, then buying followers isn’t the way to go.

    Reply
    • CCarter
      CCarter says:

      But following that same logic, wouldn’t spammers also get smarter?

      For example, blog spamming got out of control, they introduced captcha, then spammers created captcha breakers. It’s not like the people that play in the gray are going to all of a sudden “give up” and call it a day.

      They’re going to adapt with the technologies of the day. A lot of the times they are the ones that introduce these new techniques. :)

      Reply
  4. PricePlow (@PricePlow)
    PricePlow (@PricePlow) says:

    Find me a REAL and SUCCESSFUL business that needs to do this. I understand the “fake it til you make it”, but if you’re not getting organic followers, people simply aren’t caring or trusting you enough, and you should focus on the cause, not the effect.

    That’s where we currently stand – our product is still not upgraded, and until it’s fixed, I don’t expect too many likes. We don’t deserve them.

    In our industry, a great way to get Likes is via contest. Like/Share/Comment for a chance to win something. Seems to work extremely well, and you get REAL followers out of it.

    We started doing it, but simply weren’t ready to handle the marketing since our product still isn’t ready. Looking forward to getting after it again.

    Anyway, 99% of real businessmen aren’t doing this crap. They’re off building real businesses/services/products. At some point, we need to really ask if we’re adding value to the world or just forcing slop onto their plates.

    Reply
    • CCarter
      CCarter says:

      Wouldn’t asking/forcing someone to “Like/Share/Comment for a chance to win something.” be gray area as well? They really don’t “LIKE” your page, until you bribe then into like it for a chance to win something. We both know most people aren’t going to bother un-liking a page unless they start getting flooded with solicitation. A contest would be a prime example of “non-organic” social growth, correct?

      Reply
  5. MercenaryCarter
    MercenaryCarter says:

    @Stephen Bradley In regards to “Argue all you want. Buying fake followers is sleazy. If that’s what you choose to sell to your customers then more power to you.”

    I don’t ever remember saying I sold fake followers/likes to my customers/clients. That’s you AGAIN jumping to conclusions. You continue making assumptions based on the “cover of the book”, rather then entertain ideas that don’t fit perfectly in your world. But I see you have conceded the argument.

    Reply

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