Why buying fake followers is the worst idea ever

There was a time when your social standing in the world wasn’t determined by how many people you know, but who you knew. This was both true for ‘regular folk’ and brands; if Coke had Madonna advertising their product, then Pepsi would go out and get Michael Jackson or Billy-Ray Cyrus (hey, he was kind of a big deal once).

In online marketing, however, this concept is flipped on its head. While it’s still a massive coup to get Arnold Schwarzenegger tweeting about your product (or, as Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ showed, literally anyone from Coronation St.), success in social media is often (wrongly) determined by how many people follow you rather than the actual ‘quality’ of the people following you.

Making friends is hard work

Unfortunately, building large amounts of followers is an extremely difficult task. Unlike television, where people expect and have come to accept that they will be advertised to, social media users have been more than vocal in their attempts to resist marketing and advertising (see: every time Facebook tries to introduce more adverts to news feeds). A brand marketing too aggressively on social media is akin to a salesman jumping into the middle of a conversation between friends and shouting over everyone about their unrelated product.

This means that brands have to do their best to get into the hearts and mind of social media users by becoming a ‘regular’ user themselves. Occasionally, this strategy works wonders and brands become an essential follow; one of my personal favourite strategies involves brands casting their corporate shackles aside and going completely off-piste with their tweeting efforts.

A lot of the time, however, it falls into the kind of inane nonsense that the Condescending Corporate Brand Page mock so ruthlessly. ‘Like this picture if you eat cake, comment if you rub it all over your face’, and that kind of thing.

‘RT if you love puppies, favourite if you like puppies, log out of Twitter and go outside if this trivial kind of Tweet is making you lose faith in the human race’

In short, building up that sacred follower count is hard work and can take months, even years, to get anywhere near the sort of level a lot of brands expect. The solution to this, apparently, is buying fake followers.

Why buy fake followers?

The idea behind buying fake followers and likes is that it builds up your follower count and thus makes your brand appear authoritative in their industry as well as producing the kind of ‘content’ people are willing to effectively ‘subscribe’ to.

This, in turn, acts as validation for any potential new followers, with the logic being that if thousands of other people are following your brand, then surely they must be missing out on something. Never mind that the human race largely evolved out of the herd mentality hundreds of years ago (although not completely…) and a quick scan through your timeline might reveal your brand is actually quite boring.

Buying fake followers and likes is actually pretty easy, not to mention cheap – $5 will buy you one thousand followers on a site like Fivver. More expensive options, however, will offer you followers that are indistinguishable from real people. This is because these fake profiles are exact duplicates of actual users with a slightly different handle. Slightly scary, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The real cherry on the cake, however, is that all of this is entirely legal. So legal, in fact, that the President of the United States himself has apparently gotten in on the act, allegedly buying a mass of followers despite being popular enough to be voted ‘the most powerful man in the world’.

Other celebrities who’ve allegedly taken the fake follower route include Diddy Puff P. Dirty Money Dave Benson-Phillips Daddy (or whatever his name is this week) and 50 ‘Fiddy’ Cent, who, to be fair, probably needs to buy fans as he hasn’t released anything of note since 2003.

Brand-wise, the likes of Mercedes and Pepsi have been accused of investing in fake followers. Quite why they’d need them is beyond me, but there you go. But if the biggest brands in the world are paying for followers, why shouldn’t you? Am I just being a goody-goody self-righteous fool?

Why buying fake followers is a stupid idea

Fake followers are a bad idea for one crucial reason; they add little to no value to your social media marketing efforts.

Let’s look at the main reason people cite for buying fake followers, the presumed validation for following your brand. On Twitter, the assumption that someone would follow a brand because they have a lot of followers is ridiculous. Most Twitter users will follow a profile for one of two reasons; they’re a fan of what they do, or they find what they’re saying interesting. A quick browse through a seemingly popular brand’s feed and the posts/tweets on it will usually form the basis for a user following a brand.

On Facebook, I’d argue follower numbers matter even less. In my experience, Facebook is much more of a closed community (one of the reasons I’d argue hashtags haven’t taken off yet) and people’s reasons for using the platform differ vastly from Twitter. Facebook (believe it or not) is less of an obvious popularity contest, with most using the platform to keep in touch with close friends and family.

Winning a like on Facebook comes down to who is sharing your content (which is the ‘validation’ part of Facebook marketing) and well-targeted advertising. The like metric combined with the latter is arguably the only area where an impressive ‘like’ count might come into play.

No engagement, no point

But fake followers are cheaper than investing in content and actual effort, aren’t they? Surely paying a fiver for 1000 followers is better than investing £1000 for 100?

Well, no, actually. Fake followers contribute to what is essentially a meaningless number, a number that theoretically could maybe encourage someone to like your page. It’s a hypothetical metric that means little.

Organic followers gained through content, however, engage with your brand, engage with your content (and share it, which is a much stronger validation than having a big number by your brand) and ultimately, provide you with a much better return on your investment. 100 people engaging with your brand is a much better investment than 10,000 people doing absolutely nothing.

To illustrate this point, I’m going to compare two of our social media accounts; one grown entirely through organic methods by ourselves and another we took over recently which was bolstered by fake likes (from a previous agency, I hasten to add). The first account has 555 followers, while the second has 2,198. Here are their engagement metrics over the previous 90 days. Try and guess which is which:

Yep, the first set of engagement stats are from the account with fewer followers. For fairness’ sake, I should mention that the first brand’s industry is more suited to social media marketing.

Since taking on the second account, we’ve been undertaking a systematic clean-up of following and gearing our content towards tangible audiences. It’s been difficult, but engagement is going up and the actual ROI produced from social media has nearly doubled since we took over the account.

Fake followers essentially provide no value, barring an entirely hypothetical one. I would take the first account’s engagement over the second’s follower count any day. With an increase in revenue, I’d like to think the client with the second account is finding the organic route more fruitful too.

Reputation damage

There’s another downfall to having fake followers too; the potential hit on your brand’s reputation. Buying fake followers is lazy and misleading. Being caught buying fake followers affects your brand’s reputation massively, even among those you might have followed you organically.

It’s not even hard to find out if you have fake followers either. A quick scan through a ‘followers’ list of a brand’s profile will soon root out the obvious fake followers, while Status People’s fake follower finder can also establish what percentage of followers are fake. It is important to note, however, that most people will have some level of fake followers.

Even I, who has spent 1,400 words explaining why you shouldn’t buy fake followers and who can barely afford a computer let alone buying followers, have a mighty 2% of fake followers. Anything over 10%, I’d say, is reason for concern.

To sum up, buying fake followers is much like paying actors to act as your ‘friends’; it might make you appear popular but ultimately, you’re still lonely and friendless. If people find out you’ve hired actors, they’re going to like you even less.

Earning likes and follows on Twitter and Facebook is a tough task, but producing the kind of writing, photography and videos that people will actually like and share will lead to you building a much more engaged and valuable follower base than any buying service could ever provide. And that is why you shouldn’t buy fake followers!

  • Written by on 6th August 2013 at 13:40
  • “Fluid Creativity is an award-winning, multi-service digital agency based in Manchester.”
  • Google+