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Why do you want Twitter followers?

I read an article today that sums up so much of what passes for social media marketing. In that article, Patricio Robles wondered if your Twitter followers are silent or fake. It’s a well-sourced article that links to several studies and articles and well worth the read. (Go read it now. I’ll wait right here for you.) As I read it, it started to make me wonder why we all want Twitter followers. Or Facebook friends. Or LinkedIn connections.

It started rather innocently. We got on Twitter so that we could broadcast things we knew to audiences that wanted to hear from us and to hear back from them. While you might not describe Facebook or LinkedIn the same way, the ideas are similar. So we wanted to have more followers (friends, connections) for the same reason we want a bigger network or a wider circle of colleagues.

But a few things started to happen. The first one was a bit bizarre. Search engines started to use social activity as a sign of content quality. Google paid attention to Twitter trends for realtime search (until Twitter pulled the plug). Bing made a deal with Facebook to plumb Like data and other Facebook information.

And I first started hearing about fake followers. I heard about “black hat” SEO experts who were manufacturing social media profiles that had everything in them except the connection to a real person. They had conversations with each other and some real people, too. They linked to content (guess whose content) and they generally spent inordinate amounts of time pimping sites for search rankings. In some ways the search engines have gotten wise to these tricks, but I know some people who still use them and swear that they work.

But there is a whole new reason to produce fake followers now. Follower envy.

Everyone wants a bigger Klout score–mine is 63 today, are you impressed? Everyone wants to say they have more and more followers. My network’s bigger than yours!

It’s high school all over again and everyone is dying to be in the popular crowd, no matter what it takes to get there. So rather than actually being popular, we just want to look popular. So there are companies that have thousands of fake profiles out there ready to become your followers at the drop of a hat (er, drop of a wallet).

But, does acquiring fake followers actually help your marketing? I mean, if they aren’t real, then you are just paying money to talk to, um, no one. The idea behind it is that if you look popular then more people will find out about you and maybe you will actually become popular. Does it work? I am sure that it must work sometimes, but it would seem that if your content is good enough for it to work, then you’d have succeeded (albeit more slowly) if you had just grown organically.

I realize that I sometimes sound like a scold when it comes to social media ethics, but I just wonder if any of this stuff even works and if it is worth it. Looking forward to hearing from anyone who swears by this method.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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