These days it's easy to buy some followers. Just look on Twitter at the number of accounts you get following you promising 5000 fans in 5 minutes or similar. But what is the real value of those followers?
First Question: why do you feel you need lots of followers?
There are a few answers to this question. The first and most obvious is that people behave like sheep quite often and will follow the herd - your followers. So if you have a lot, they will be more likely to follow. This is not a bad thing, so maybe you should buy twitter followers?
The second reason is that a lot of articles you read will sprout the benefits for your social media performance in algorithms with sites like Facebook and Twitter.
And lastly, more followers = more re-shares, likes, engagement, etc. Surely that means more Klout for your profile?
So what do you get by buying followers?
The simple answer is hopefully a lot of new followers very quickly! That's all we really want, isn't it? That and some more content likes.
What you should be asking and looking into is how those followers were generated. There are a few ways, but the cheap way is literally through "Click Farms". Silicon Valley parodied this very well near the end of season 3 in the episode "Daily Active Users".
Another way is bots. This has come to light quite famously a few times of late - just search for "President followed by bots" (that is still being debated). What does this mean? Well, Bots are automated AI machines, quite often controlled by cloud systems, that will try and be human. They will like content and follow you.
There are two problems again with that: They aren't real people - obviously - and in some cases, these services may be using compromised computers to control the bots (this is where they've taken over people's computers). The second is less common, but you need to be careful.
So what's wrong with those followers?
Your likes are up, your engagement is up. Brilliant! Actually, yes it is. But what might not be up is that actual value of those followers and clicks.
First up, the demographics and locations. You know your market and you know your target demographics. With bought followers, you tend to get a random selection. This is by design in an attempt to make sure that the traffic looks random to the algorithms that rank your profiles. If they were all in one location or demographic, alarm bells would ring.
Second, they don't stick around. Ok, the follows might stick around as they won't bother to unfollow you, but as soon as you stop paying them, they will stop clicking on your content. Suddenly you'll have a lower engagement rate as those clicks are gone.
Third up, you can't guarantee they're real people! In fact, a lot of the time they are bots as I said earlier. But also, they are often fake profiles put together using other people's information, profile pics, etc without permission. There are quite often some big telltale signs of this such as profiles being recently set up, not much activity, etc. This is because Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al have been very active in trying to identify and shut down these profiles (and the rise of AI has made this even more effective).
With the last point, if the networks do flag them as spam/fake, that can make you guilty by association. What does that mean? It means your page's ranking will drop down, making organic reach in-particular, much harder to attain.
And one final thing, and this is up to you and how you define the value of followers. What do I mean by that? Well is value to you just having followers or is it to get people that become paying customers? Followers definitely benefit you, but ones that pay money are worth 10x more. They're the ones you really want to find. We will cover finding those customers in our Metigy IQ learning program in the future.
Surely it's not all bad
Actually, no. Like all things, if you do your research, there are reputable companies selling followers out there as well as various articles that review a number of bought follower companies. The best way to find the right one for you is to find people who have used the services. There are lots that guarantee they are real people who have followed you by choice. How they do that, they do not disclose so that's something else to be mindful of.
As for bots, they aren't real and research others have done have found that the best you will get a good vanity metric out of it and not the brand loyalists you want who will be loving everything you do and talking about what you've done and are doing.
What you do is up to you, but whatever it is, make sure it's part of an overall follower strategy. And don't be afraid of the slower, but more reliable way as well as focusing on your content strategy to drive organic traffic as you can guarantee the type of person that way.
Greg has a passion for what AI and Deep Learning can bring to the MarTech stack and how small and medium businesses can benefit from these new technologies.
He has over 20 years experience as an engineer and product developer, having worked for significant global marketing agencies, Razorfish and We Are Social. Read more posts by Gregory Brine