Many bloggers spend months – maybe even years – building their audience. Conversations started on blogs can be continued on Twitter and Facebook.
To bloggers this is just fun, but to brands it’s a huge opportunity – by securing coverage on a blog, they gain access to that blogger’s “network” – in other words, all the people your posts can potentially reach.
The problem is that, as blogging becomes more commercial, there’s a huge temptation for bloggers (and brands) to try and make their network appear bigger. After all, if your network reaches 1m people, brands will pay much more to appear on your site.
And artificially inflating your network is alarmingly easy to do.
Did you know that for $100 you can buy 5,000 Twitter followers? Or that $500 will buy you 4,000 Facebook likes, or 10,000 ‘plus ones’ on your Google+ page? Scary, isn’t it?
Of course, buying followers and fans is also completely stupid. Here’s why:
Problem 1: Being Called Out is No Fun
The chances of being found out are high, when people notice your social media digits doubling or more overnight. Being called out as a digital faker won’t do your reputation any good.
Problem 2: It’s a dishonest way to do business
If you are using fake accounts to boost your network and then using that influence as a way to secure payment or products from brands and PR agencies, you can be sure they’re going to take a dim view of your dishonesty if they find out. There’s a great post on this issue by Zach Bussey.
Problem 3: Fake Followers Don’t Talk Back
Third (and perhaps most importantly) fake followers don’t talk back. They don’t read your blog, or share your content, or buy your products. To put it bluntly, they don’t count. They’re boring. For more on this, you must read this really interesting post from Rabbit Agency, who found that even if they offered $10 to fake followers in exchange for a Tweet, nobody talked back.
So what can PR execs do?
If you’re a brand or PR working with bloggers in any field, perhaps the most important thing to remember is not to take network figures at face value – especially when you’re spending your client’s money. Sure, it can be difficult to definitively prove someone’s a faker, but there are ways to assess the validity of someone’s network.
- Look at interaction versus network growth – a follower count that grows out of all proportion with the number of social mentions is probably fake.
- Use websites such as Status People, which can quickly analyse someone’s Twitter followers and come up with a likely number of fake followers, and inactive followers. Anything over 20% should be ringing alarm bells.
- If you’re looking at G+, use Circlecount to analyse someone’s followers, and track growth over time. Sudden spikes that don’t correlate to any content, or an increase in interaction, should raise BIG red flags.
- You can also check demographics of the people following an account on both G+ and Twitter – sites like Social Statistics let you quickly see the country followers come from, as well as breakdown by likely gender.
What should bloggers know?
Great stats are useful when working with brands – but be confident that your audience, and your interaction is GOOD ENOUGH as it is. And if it’s not quite good enough yet for a particular brand or project, then perhaps it will be over time. Or perhaps it will be a better fit for someone else, down the line. Your stats can always grow – but recovering your integrity and reputation after faking your figures might be a little harder to do.