Should I be buying Twitter followers?

As a stats freak, I am constantly examining sites that claim to tell me more about my social media efforts. For example, I follow a few sites devoted to analyzing my Twitter network and giving me more info on my network, who is following me, how many followers I am gaining, etc.

Most of these sites have an area where people can buy an 'ad' promoting them so people can follow them, similar to the one on the right. Twice now on different sites I have seen people that I know and am following, that have bought ads for themselves so that others will follow them.

Now personally, I would never do this, and what irks me about this is that in both cases, these are people that are acknowledged as being 'social media experts'. And these people regularly trumpet the value of social media as a way to authentically engage with people. And yes, they are often propped up for their large number of Twitter followers.

Which it appears, at least in part, they have bought.

And I don't want to mention who these people are, because I don't want the discussion to revolve around them, but rather what they are doing. As I said, I could never do this, and it feels inconsistent to me with their message that building networks authentically is what works.

But maybe I am off my rocker. Do I need to just accept that 'biggest number wins', and realize that I need to do whatever is necessary to inflate my number of followers/readers/friends in order to appear more 'credible'?

What do you think? How would you feel if someone that you viewed as a 'social media expert' had 'bought' half of their 50,000 Twitter followers? Would you be outraged, or would you think they were making smart use of the existing business environment? Is this just another sign that Twitter is all just a 'numbers game'?



posted by Mack Collier @ 11:58 AM,

46 Comments:

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Keith Stoeckeler said...

It's because it's still fresh and new and still in the "quantity over quality" phase.

Think about Myspace. It was a battle to get the most friends, that's where the software bots came in to get you more friends. Then the really good bots came to get you more friends based on targeting so you knew you were communicating to people who you had like interests with. To monetize your investment in the bot.

Twitter is still in that phase where people still think it's a race to how many people you can build, not the quality of the people you have.

It's a normal tendency that just takes time to restructure or dismiss. Fact is, the first two the most is always noticed: Ashton Kutcher.

 
At 12:20 PM, Anonymous ABC Dragoo said...

Can I tell you what Mack?

Even in businesses outside of social media, similar shenanigans are taking place.

In the wedding industry, it's the high school "I want to be the most popular girl" effect. They desire to be seen as influential. What happens, you ask?

They build a steady stream of followers by following everyone back and then one night, when no one is looking they go through and un-follow everyone but their very best buddies. It makes them seem as though they are influential, but meanwhile they really are not.

In my opinion, it is not good behavior to lie to your new followers that way. They'll arrive thinking you're influential when in all actuality you tweet about moronic things like the fact that you're eating Doritos for breakfast.

I always side with the idea that one should be interesting, and respond to those who interact with me. In the long run, you build a much more authentic audience than if you purchase your followers or do something as deceptive as these wedding planner ladies are doing.

ABCD

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger Andy Huston said...

Don't buy your friends. I agree. There must some marketing logic, but that is not the point of being a real person phone. It smacks of cheating like steroids in baseball. Yes, you are still a pro player but your image is tarnished.

@hust0058

 
At 12:21 PM, Blogger Sue Anne said...

A couple of things to think about:
a) They might be testing things exactly in the same way you were thinking about testing things.
b) I know at least one of these sites who has "faked" ads from prominent twitter users to get more people to think "well they are doing it, why shouldn't I" and buy the ad space.

 
At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Jason Arican said...

Hey Mack-

I guess I'm looking at this differently.

Getting more followers in this manner seems like it's just a good way to get more reach for business purposes: getting site traffic, spreading a your message to get more consulting gigs, etc.

If we stop with the fact that someone is "buying followers" to beef up a follower count, sure it seems a little nefarious.

But to me, it just represents buying a means to an end (more business).

So then it just becomes paid advertising, right?

Jason

 
At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Tammy Young said...

Buying followers is a bad idea. People who understand Twitter don't look at follower count; they look at the quality of content you provide and how you're interacting with however many followers you do have. If you're pushing 50k, you aren't even interacting with 1%. You're 'talking at' them, not to them or with them. At that point, you're most likely just another talking head (with a few notable exceptions).

Plus, all honestly and ethics aside, anyone can look at your follower count over time using the available tools and a huge jump is going to stick out like a sore thumb. If you haven't got your reputation, what do you have?

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Guys thanks for the comments. BTW I really miss nested comments that I have on my other Wordpress blog at MackCollier.com.

I think ultimately there are two issues to consider:

1 - Your reputation
2 - Who you are trying to reach

First for reputation, if you're attempting to market yourself in a way that contradicts your teachings, that can harm your reputation. But, with who? The people 'in this space', or potential clients? I think it's more of the former.

And that leads to the second point, on who you are trying to reach. And Jason hit on this, but if the ultimate goal is to reach more people, shouldn't a bigger number help you reach this goal? Granted, if you are simply 'padding' numbers then you might not be connecting with people that can help you anyway, but still.

I have always wrestled with the issue of managing my Twitter network. I know that of the 20K people that follow me, I am lucky if only 1% are actually 'fans' and people that WANT to engage with me. But at the same time, I know of event organizers, for example, that pick speakers based on how many Twitter or Facebook followers or blog readers they have.

So in some ways, inflating the numbers has real benefits.

Maybe it's a short-term gain versus long-term loss type deal?

 
At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Mike Sansone said...

Like you, I'd not do this or suggest it. There are much better ways to "authentically" build the "numbers" - such as giving back, serving, and sharing (you do all of these in exemplary fashion, BTW).

It must be tempting to some though...and I do see how higher numbers can build up a sense of credibility on a "thin slice" - yet in the long run, it's the bank of quality conversation that will build a community.

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger Karen Swim, Words For Hire said...

Mack, I see this particular tactic a little differently. Buying an ad to promote your Twitter presence is no different in my mind than buying an ad in a newspaper, magazine, etc to promote your business. You are letting other Twitter users know that you are on Twitter and "open for business." Yes, I'm all for real conversation and engagement but see nothing wrong with using marketing to broaden your reach. We promote our social media presence through email signatures, and other marketing materials, why not advertising? You still have to follow up on the brand promise by delivering good content and engaging with your base.

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Like every other use of social media for marketing purposes, it all depends on what your strategy and objectives are.

It's a matter of reach and depth.

Personally, 'reputation' in Twitter is something highly over-rated and is usually something mentioned by small businesses or solo consulting operations.

Yes, it's better to have strong relationships with everyone among your Twitter followers, so that type of behavior should be encouraged.

But lets say you have 500 followers and that's roughly the maximum number of people you can have actual relationships with.

And let's say that for business purposes, you need your followers to do something for you, and you are SO popular that 50% of your followers will take an action on your behalf.

That's 250 people.

Now lets say you bought 50,000 followers and you need them to do something. Now you only need 1/2 of 1% conversion rate to get the same number of people responding.

Any business requires regular customers and NEW customers in order to succeed.

If you do the math, buying followers makes sense...and it's important to note...

...it's not an either/or proposition. It's a "yes/AND".

You can still maintain a close relationship with your 500 followers AND broadcast to 50,000.

Do you really think that a bunch of people that you've developed a relationship will leave you if they see your follower count go up to 50,000 and your reputation will be lost?

If so, then those weren't very good relationships to start with.

Ultimately, we look at the quality of the relationship and our own needs when following people on Twitter.

If your content is good and you provide a service that people want, they will follow and engage, regardless of how many followers you have.

The number of followers a person has on Twitter has absolutely ZERO to do with reputation.

Reputation is all about the content and engagement.

 
At 2:47 PM, Blogger Charity Hisle said...

I'm torn Mack. On the one hand, it feels inauthentic to buy followers. But you and I come from the days when Twitter was about having conversations and meeting new people with like minds.

On the other, well, it's a marketing tactic and advertising oneself to increase impressions and exposure may be a smart move. Especially considering that Twitter says they are a site to publish content, not a social network.

I'd be interested to see how this plays out over time.

 
At 4:34 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Karen and Charity, I wanted to tell you what I just did cause it seems to dovetail with your comments.

I was on Slideshare and saw an area called 'Promoted Members' or something like that. And my initial thought was 'Whoa, that's a good idea!', then I immediately realized that it was the same thing as the Twitter users being featured.

But for me, I view Slideshare as being a place where speakers share their decks because they want more exposure and speaking business. I don't see it as a personal communications channel/platform, like I do with Twitter. I think that's why to me, the featured users on one site seems like a great idea, while on the other it kinda makes me wrinkle my nose.

Which I guess is my personal hangup ;) If it's ok for one site, it should be ok for all. I'm still not completely in love with the idea of Twitter users trying to buy followers, but I'm not as against it as I once was.

Thanks guys for helping me with this, y'all are the best ;)

 
At 4:50 PM, Anonymous KaryD said...

Great discussion happening, here.

As you know, Mack, I tend to err on being a Twitter purist when it comes to paying for followers, auto following, sponsored tweets, etc.

That said...is an advertisement the same as paying for followers? An ad still gives the potential new follower a choice to follow or not (although, perhaps influenced by a purchased ad.) This, however, doesn't seem as bad to me as someone who pays a service to automatically follow thousands of accounts in an attempt to get reciprocal follows.

HAVING SAID THAT, though, I do agree with you in that if someone is billing themselves as a "social media professional" and includes authenticity as one of their brand attributes, the paid ad makes me a little uneasy.

For a corporate account, music professional, conference, etc., though, I'd be more accepting of a paid advertisement promoting the existence of that account.

Double standard or good business practice? Not sure.

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger themaria said...

First of all, if you are a social media professional, you should not be buying followers. Second of all, if you are a social media professional, you shouldn't be calling yourself an expert. You can't buy your way into being good at what you do. You can't buy your way to a "viral video". That being said, you can buy some friggin' awesome creative (video, photo, etc). Your job as a social media person is to be able to start and contribute to conversations and build relationships. Nothing more, nothing less. Twitter is just a channel; underlying modes of communication and relationship building are the real art.

 
At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Kasey Skala said...

Why does it have to be about reaching more people? I'm not concerned about reaching more people (part of that is a lie) but instead, I'm more interested in expanding my current relationship with the customers I already have.

Yes, I understand that I need to increase my reach and I need new people coming into my business, but it goes back to the age-old concept of having few customers who are more loyal, more frequent and when they're in my shop, they spend more money.

 
At 7:11 PM, Blogger wadvisor said...

Great post. I was always wondering about the purchase idea. Thanks for pointing it out.

 
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At 5:57 AM, Anonymous nisha said...

It is indeed a great resource to obtain information on this subject. Keep posting. Thanks.
mba

 
At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Mandy Vavrinak said...

I think there are two issues here:

Is it OK to advertise yourself?

If a follower finds you via an ad, does it automatically make them a "bought" follower, and does that make the network inauthentic?

And... We all advertise ourselves all the time. Advertising is not bad. Advertising yourself to potential Twitter followers isn't inherently bad unless the person has (as Mack indicates) explicitly said he or she is against the practice.

Maybe we don't need to judge all advertising of a Twitter account as bad.... Personal choice to not advertise the Twitter account through paid ads, I respect. I don't either.

Next... What kind of conversion rate are you thinking these ads get? Pretty sure half of someone's following of 50,000 didn't come from a pay-per-click ad. :) and if I follow an
ad, and the Tweets stink? I can unfollow. I am not locked into being a mindless follower forever because of one impulsive click.

Maybe judge a person's following over time, instead? My two cents' worth :)

 
At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Patrick Allmond said...

I have no problem with this practice, and yes I have tried it once. I bought an ad on socialoomph once. Didn't help much & won't do it again. I know of someone right here in OKC who is considered influential that not only advertises, they also run the tweetadder software to autofollow people. They have gained a huge follow and are definitely making money from it. I don't really have a problem with that either. Thought about it. Haven't done it. I might do it tomorrow or next week.

One thing I do have a problem with (this is NOT directed at Mack I promise) is those of us that are online a lot having the purist attitude. THIS is what social media is for, THIS is what you are supposed to do on Twitter, THIS is what you are supposed to do on FB. If you do THAT you are not being authentic and engaging.

Social Media (and the tools surrounding there of) have no rules. There is no master committee dictating what is right and what is wrong. Social Media is not special black magic. It is not new, and it is not a "fundamental shift in business" the way some videos would have you believe. It is a two word phrase that means something different to everybody. It is a label that is wrapped around some new tools, and tools that have been around for a long time. Everything on the internet now is being described as social media. Social banking, social CRM, social blogging, social chatting, social networking, etc. The who irony being is that we are all sitting behind our computers being very anti-social. It is the wild wild west and I hope everybody takes advantage of it to accomplish whatever goals they have in mind. S/he with the most connections has the loudest voice. The loudest voice can influence more people to do what they want. If they (like Mack) didn't have a loud voice I would not be sitting here writing this, and you would not be reading it.

Mack - I think you should buy some twitter advertising on different sites are report the results. A great case study example, and a great service to your followers.

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Mack,

You're not off your rocker. I was reminded just yesterday that while many will use numbers as a proxy for quality - real buys (clients) still want credibility.

I was lunching with a prospect who mentioned they were also talking to another SocMe "expert" who I actually know. This other expert has lots of followers (almost 2x's as many as I do), speaks at big conferences and has published a book via a major book publisher. Yet they were sitting with me.

Why? Because I had something the other expert doesn't - case studies. Proof that I can do what I say and that the efforts will create the results I predict. Guess who's getting hired?

Stay true to your gut man -- it's in the right place, as it always has been.
@TomMartin

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger JOHN O'LEARY said...

Great blog, Mack. Been blogging for awhile yet never taken the time to REALLY get the lay of the land with social media. This may inspire me to learn something.

 
At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Eddie said...

I don't like the idea of buying followers at all. This is such a disingenuous philosophy, and makes you lose credibility.

 
At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Pablo Edwards said...

There are a lot of people who have many followers and do nothing with them and get them to buy nothing. It would seem to me that if you were going to buy followers (which I think is silly) you would have to make sure you can get people to buy.

 
At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Nick Stamoulis said...

My take on it? Quality over quantity. Buying followers, how do you know they are quality followers who will actually stay with you and follow you and spread your messages? I personally like the idea of people following me because they find me valuable.

 
At 7:18 PM, Anonymous Tracy said...

Great post. I was always wondering about the purchase idea. Thanks for pointing it out.

 
At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Erika Barbosa said...

Personally, I believe in naturally growing your Twitter following. By naturally I mean, as a result of establishing and nurturing true, ongoing relationships. However, it doesn’t surprise me that this is a growing trend…

 
At 12:21 PM, Blogger Douglas Adams said...

Personally i feel funds could be better spent

 
At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Andrew @ Blogging Guide said...

This is really a great topic. One that would really get you thinking. I've read through the comments and I actually agree with Mark, it all depends with what your purpose behind is. And he has explained it all pretty clearly.

 
At 6:49 PM, Anonymous frabk said...

you can buy my account.

 
At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Pablo Edwards said...

Mack...

Anything new? It's become so sparse around here! (sad face)!

 
At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Amy @ As Seen on TV said...

I saw it going in this direction in the begining when I realized that people could build up massive following. Doesn't seem like a good idea at all.

 
At 1:15 AM, Anonymous Say Green said...

Tammy Young,

Very informative article,

I will agree with Tammy Young,

Buying followers is a bad idea,

People who understand Twitter don't look at follower count; they look at the quality of content you provide and how you're interacting with however many followers you do have.

 
At 11:29 PM, Anonymous ariz@chemistry said...

I think buying a twitter follower is ridiculous and money wasting. I think you don't really need to buy twitter followers. You just have to listen and interact with your followers and stay relevant and post something really good and relevant and updated.

 
At 5:06 PM, Anonymous honestkr said...

I think it's ok to buy twitter followers.

Cause you hire someone to get twitter followers. so you will got real twitter followers. Just be aware ur twitter not banned.

Like me I have that service :)

I have famous gigs to increase 1000 real twitter follower for $5.
check here :
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You can get FREE 1000 followers.
Read on my ebook here :

http://bit.ly/est4sL

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Honestkr said...

Followers can buy.
I mean you can hire someone to increase ur followers.
Like me :)
I have service to increase 1000 real twitter followers just for $5.
Found me at famous gigs on fiverr.

http://www.fiverr.com/users/honestkr/gigs/give-you-1000-real-twitter-followers

You can get FREE 1000 followers.
Read on my ebook here :

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At 12:05 AM, Anonymous MicroSourcing said...

Whether you should buy Twitter followers or not depends on why you tweet in the first place. If you have followers for the sake of selling a product, chances are your paid for followers won't be interested in buying because they never followed your brand voluntarily in the first place.

 
At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Arthur | 6x9 Postcard said...

Doesn't work. Worse than spamming. Hehe. You'll take real hit to your rep if you do it.

 
At 3:41 AM, Anonymous Google Sniper 2.0 said...

I do not agree with buying the bulk Twitter followers off the shelf! I am for the organic followers. Build it up and that will give you a quality list!

 
At 1:10 AM, Anonymous DeltaROI said...

I don't think getting followers through advertising is the same as buying followers. Advertising can get you immediate exposure that otherwise would take a long time to gain. But if there is no value in your feed this exposure won't get you anywhere and you'll end up wasting a lot of money. At the end of the day it's all a question of ROI. If you can justify the expense on ads than its a legitimate way to increase your following.

 
At 2:56 AM, Anonymous Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 said...

The term "Buying followers" is being misused here.

Buying an ad, which exposes you to your audience is not the same as paying Twitter to automatically hand followers to you, which is what the term "Buying followers" implies people are doing.

I've never bought any of these ads but if I tested them and saw that the leads coming from there ended up turning into highly valuable customer relationships that I treasure, I'd line up all day with money in hand to keep the friends coming.

In the world of generate revenue or die, I care nothing for having big "Followers" numbers. Who cares if I have a jillion people following me and I'm invisible to them because I don't build relationships or provide awesome content that makes these people eager to want to swap money for my value? It's pointless.

That's the thing I believe people are missing. The ads can bring you to the dance but they can't give you the rhythm that makes people want to grove and get close you.

You're on your own there and the markets gonna eat you up real quick if you don't cut it.

There's tons of people I've been introduced to through either guest posts or lists of blogs somebody likes. Just because it wasn't paid for, does that mean it's not marketing. Nope.

It's endorsed marketing. And it was free which is awesome but it's marketing nonetheless.

I imagine there's some amazing people out there that I might not ever get around to finding if they didn't take the opportunity to market their awesomeness. After finding them, I would be grateful to them for having using this medium to get in front of me.

In the end, I believe the popularity contest people will suffer and the real deal value providers will spread their awesomeness further with this tactic.

 
At 1:55 AM, Anonymous WOG @ IT Outsourcing Philippines said...

Buying Twitter followers is not really effective at all. You only get numbers of followers, but the question is, do you get quality followings? Some of the twitter users are just robots. And if you've been followed by robots, therefore you're not reaching your target audience, which only means you're just wasting your time and money promoting your products/ services when in fact real human beings can't aren't aware of it.

 
At 1:55 AM, Anonymous Nathan @ Surrey Snow Removal said...

Hey Mack, I was honestly search for some lawn care info and I guess Google thought your blog was relevant. I was about to click away when I saw this post and figured, what the heck, I'll add my two cents.

I feel that if your gut tells you no then don't do it. Sooner or later Twitter may crack down on buying followers. Honestly they seem to be heading towards the same fate as MySpace though. Unless they clean up the Spammy content they might be sold for pennies on the dollar to a bigger fish who can figure out how to make money with it for those who own it.

So if you are wearing your black hat and want to buy clients then just do some due diligence first to make sure you are scammed out of some money. Look for reputable reviews that the seller does deliver.

Cheers.

 
At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Brad said...

Great topic. I do not agree with buying your way to the top. I believe in getting there under your own efforts. Much more rewarding

 
At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Simon said...

It might be deceptive, but the bottom line is that numbers say a lot to people.

Its like if you are in a party and everyone is watching you talk and laugh with 3 sexy girls around you (you being a male). People (and girls specially) will automatically believe that you are a cool, socially savvi male and your value will grow in the room. It ends up that the 3 girls are your sisters but no one knows that at the moment and maybe will never know.

The perception is created and you have conveyed yourself in a powerful way. The same will happen with number of followers. 50.000 followers will attract thousands of other followers who believe you are a guru... after all you have 50k. No one knows that your 200 followers will die for you. they will just think your not that popular as the 50k guy.

Ilusion is part of the art of marketing. Its not about honesty. Its about perception. Perception is reality... so what perception are you giving?

 

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