I recently saw a church – a house of worship, people – imploring parishoners to “like” them on Facebook.
People get all worked up about this sort of thing. Let’s get this clear:
The number of followers and likes you have is total bullshit. It’s worth (almost) nothing.
Let me prove it to you.
I used Twitter, since it’s my “home” social network. It also was the social network mentioned prominently in this article about follow-bots. I’m sure that you can find similar services for Facebook and G+ – whether sleazy through outright purchases, or more legit ones like raffles and contests that require “likes” and “follows”.
I read twitter – especially the main feed – when I’m bored, or just want to see what the Internet’s zeitgeist is up to. Normally, though, I look at my lists on Twitter. I’ve got one for my pals, one for literati/media folks, one for news organizations, and so on. It makes following large numbers of people on Twitter rather manageable; here’s how to make your own.
I’ve always kept my follows:followers ratio somewhere below 1; that is, I have more followers than people I follow. Usually, that ratio is a pretty good sign of whether or not someone’s a bot. And having some followers and likes (you can substitute “likes” and “friends” for followers throughout) tends to imply that you’re worth paying some attention to (that’s why I said “almost” nothing above).
Yesterday, I was following 750 people, and had 950-odd followers. Today, I have 1,960-something followers. In a little over twenty-four hours.
It cost me only $17.
Admittedly, about a thousand of those followers have a surprising amount of Beiber-mania and seem to speak either Spanish or Portuguese.1 Despite BuyRealMarketing’s claims (both in the article and on their website, these followers “feel” fishy. (And in case you’re wondering, no, they offer even more sleazy-but-legal following/views services beyond Twitter.)
In the midst of those bought followers, there’s some real folks – like author Michael Montoure, who happened to follow me right in the middle of this experiment. And I pick up real followers at a respectable rate – as evidenced by this graph from TweetGrader (despite the spike there at the right, which are the bought followers).
But when you’re dealing with this many followers, it’s kind of difficult to evaluate each one. What about my (legitimate) 900-odd followers? I have no idea how many of them might be bots. When I look at someone else’s account, I simply don’t have the time to evaluate their followers.
In social media, we are used to judging based on number of followers, likes, and friends. We use that to determine trustworthiness of the source. And that number is both easy and frighteningly cheap to game.
I think you see the problem.
First, it means that number of followers (likes, etc) has nothing to do with trustworthiness.2
Second, this kind of legal-but-sleazy operation opens up a new (ugly) possibility to manipulate people’s trust for scams and spam. Facebook has already had issues with scams where the scammers are able to pose as friends because existing users blindly accept friend requests because they are friends of friends.
Twitter is set up for double trouble – because quite a few people have “auto-follow-back” tools (here’s some set up with ifttt.com). So all it takes is a scammer to first buy a bunch of followers to appear legit, then target some “follow-back” people… and then try to scam mutual followers.
So why “long live social media”? Because social media – real word-of-mouth from real people – is still powerful as hell. That contest I mentioned at the top? At the end, I got the e-mail addresses of everyone who entered. I sent two – and only two – e-mails to those people.
The first e-mail said (effectively) “Thanks for entering, here’s a free eBook just for entering, and I’ll invite you to be on my mailing list for my publishing company.”
The second e-mail was an opt-in invitation.
And then I deleted the spreadsheet. Because the people who actually bother to join that mailing list (you can join here) want to be connected to what I’m doing at Alliteration Ink. They will actually read what I send them, and actually be engaged.3
Just like the real followers I have on Twitter, Facebook, and G+. Just like every one of you who is reading this blog, or subscribed through the RSS feed. And you know other real people, who respect the real things that you’re doing. And that spreads.
It’s not the quantity. It’s the quality.
It’s the relationships.
And that’s all that matters.
Now I’m off to give TwitSweeper a try. I’ll use it along with TwitBlock to start getting rid of those spammy followers. It’s a great service, and if you’re on Twitter, one you should check out (and donate to). [EDIT: I was only able to automatically identify 300 or so of them. Dammit. Other suggestions to help me get rid of them (without too many false positives) would be appreciated.]
Speaking of, if you appreciate this (or other) informative blog entries that I’ve put together, click a coffee cup up there on the right, buy one of the books up there, or click the Flattr button.
And, of course, be sure to share this post on the social media network of your choice.
1 I actually do have acquaintances and followers who fall into both those categories that I personally know – but they’re not the “norm” for me, y’know?
2 It’s worth noting that both my TwitterGrader and Klout scores have not altered at all as a result of this experiment. Which is slightly reassuring.
3 I’m actually vaguely surprised that a company that sells followers, etc, actually has any traction among professionals. It only takes one ad campaign with an abysmal clickthrough/conversion rate to realize that impressions ain’t the only thing that counts.