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The false economy of fake Twitter followers

Posted on 19 Nov 2012 at 10:02

Davey Winder on why you should avoid the temptation of attracting fake Twitter followers

I've been on Twitter as @happygeek since 12 February 2007. During that time I’ve tweeted 5,404 times, or just over two and half times per day. Talking to friends and business colleagues suggests that this makes me a pretty average Twitter user.

My averageness – admittedly measured by my own unscientific poll of fewer than 100 people – starts and ends there though, because the number of people I follow, 562, is distinctly below the 2,412 who follow me. My follower count is above average but not amazingly so, and perhaps if I were to follow more people my own follower count would rise accordingly, but my "reality reach" would not.

Spammers and scammers use such fake accounts to follow you in the hope that you’ll get caught in their trap and click their links

I employ this phrase for a good reason: I think that plain "reach" is a much overused metric for measuring the effectiveness of Twitter. What good is an audience of 10,000 accounts if 9,000 of them follow you only in the hope that you’ll follow them back, hence inflating their own perceived social worth? And more especially, when the chances are that of the remaining thousand, many don’t actually exist at all.

Inactive Twitter accounts belong to one of three distinct types: those that have simply been dropped by the user, who has either left Twitter for good or else created a new account from which to tweet; those who have been kicked off Twitter for breaking the terms of use; and those that never really existed in the first place.

It's this last group that I’m most interested in – and although some of them may also fall into the "banned by TPTB" category, the sad truth is that far too many of them just hang around undetected as what they are, namely Fake Followers.

There’s an interesting tool that’s worth a look: Fake Follower Check. It’s part of the StatusPeople resource, but can be used independently. If you’re worried about such apps being able to post on your wall and see your posts, simply remove it from your apps section immediately after using it.

I used it and it determined that of my 2,412 followers on Twitter, only 84% are actually "good" followers. That’s 2,026 decent folk who have chosen to follow me and who comprise the basis of my "reality reach" number (this is only a starting point of course, since these followers will retweet some of my postings to their followers, and so on).

Inactives and fakes

However, the numbers in which I was more interested were the 13% of followers who are inactive and the 3% who were flagged as fakes. That inactive number is quite high, but it’s always likely to be higher the longer you’ve had your Twitter account, and given that mine has been running for more than five and a half years, it’s inevitable that there will be some attrition among the accounts following me over that time.

That figure of 72 fake followers doesn’t surprise me much either, because I imagine this is a fairly average number for anyone actively posting and using hashtags to promote their tweets. Spammers and scammers use such fake accounts to follow you in the hope that you’ll get caught in their trap and click their links. If the number were much higher, I’d be worried.

It would worry me because I’m quite proud of my follower conversion rate, which stands at around one new account every day. Now I appreciate that this means that I’m never going to get into the big league of social network celebs, but this isn’t my intention. By allowing my follower base to grow entirely organically, I’m happy that only people who are interested in what I post – which is mostly links to stories that I’ve written in various places online; links to other stories that have caught my attention; and my personal observations on life and work – are going to continue to do so. This provides me with a valuable network of followers to reach out to, and hopefully provides them with a valuable source of information in return.

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Davey Winder

Davey Winder

Davey is a contributing editor to PC Pro, having covered the internet as a topic since the magazine started in 1994. Since that time he's won numerous awards for his journalism, but remains a small-business consultant specialising in privacy, security and usability issues.

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