Fake Twitter Followers and Real Fallout: When Quantity Destroys Quality
By Brad Cummins
Companies are in the midst of a social media arms race that is a combination of bluster, brinksmanship and, to extend the military metaphor to its limit, a digital version of the Cuban missile crisis. The competition is the result of vanity, a parade of numbers, measured by how many Facebook “likes” or Twitter “followers” a business has, that may, in fact, be false. The support (and the subsequent comments, shares and replies) may be manufactured, unbeknownst to consumers and critics alike, until these accounts collapse unto themselves, ruining a brand’s online reputation.
I understand why companies may choose to purchase Twitter followers, the rationale that it is better to have something rather than nothing, that it makes sense to look credible, seems reasonable, but the public is more cynical today because of how common this practice is.
For example, when an otherwise unknown business launches a website and debuts a series of pages on various social media sites, that company’s CEO or CMO needs to be as dispassionate as possible, so he or she can ask the following question: “Is it plausible for us to spontaneously attract over 1,000 likes and followers within our first day of operation without a message of legitimate news or substance?”
Since the question answers itself, it gives rise to another query: “If the previous scenario is hard to conceive, why should a company risk the integrity of its brand, and alienate consumers, when the downside is far more destructive than its upside potential?”
Impatience and greed explain the behavior behind that strategy.
The refusal to wait, or the futile attempt to rush the passage of time, is one of the more frequent mistakes companies make concerning their use of social media. Put another way: it takes considerable labor to build a brand; it takes a Zen-like degree of resolve, which is far different than the nuclear battle described at the outset of this piece, to prune, water, shape, feed and cultivate a genuine relationship with possible supporters via social media. But it only takes a few seconds to poison a brand, as a consequence of arrogance, pride, stubbornness and an executive’s suspension of disbelief.
And, because these followers are not active, a company’s engagement score on Twitter will drop…and competitors will recognize that fact. Fake accounts also have nothing to share, which harms a brand’s SEO strategy because the sharing of links is crucial to elevating an organization’s visibility online. When there are no inbound links, and when every account looks the same (because it is the same), there is software to flag this latest version of spam, and there is Google’s almighty algorithm, which will punish offenders with extreme prejudice.
This issue matters a lot to me on a personal level because I work in an industry where trust is essential and credibility is indispensable.
I am an independent life insurance agent; and my job demands, and I am happy that this requirement exists, the establishment of trust with each customer. I must earn that trust because I have to educate, guide and enable every client to buy the right life insurance policy, at the right price, for the right reasons.
Why would I invest the time and effort to achieve that goal only to see my influence dissolve into nothingness, to see my career evaporate into the ether of the Internet, because my presence on social media is a huge lie?
Awareness of this conflict is the best way to avoid this catastrophe.
Or, to modify a famous phrase from the world of film: “If you build it, [they] will come.”
That is, if you build an identity for your brand, if you communicate with power and conviction, you will have no need to bribe possible supporters or followers. Nor will you allow others to weaken your message with generic content and excessive self promotion.
You will have a dialogue with your community, a conversation that is insightful, authentic and distinctive.
It will reflect your interests and values, as well as your teachings and lessons.
It will be real.
Brad Cummins is the Founder of Local Life Agents, an independent life insurance agency offering life insurance products in all 50 states. From starting his own agency from scratch, for Farmers Insurance Group in 2005, which he later sold in 2014, to his nationwide launch of Local Life Agents, Brad customizes solutions for his clients.