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Can Fake Twitter Followers Actually Hurt Your Profile?

Posted by on June 25th, 2016

Fake followers on Facebook can be a huge problem, because of the way Facebook’s algorithm works. What about Twitter, though? Twitter doesn’t run on EdgeRank the way Facebook does. Sure, they have their own filtering algorithm, but it’s heavily based on time rather than interaction. You don’t have the same reach problems because the system is difference, even if the two networks are both used for the same purpose.

Twitter has two modes of displaying a feed to a user; filtered and unfiltered. You know how when you log in you see a box at the top that says “while you were away” and shows you the best content from the people you follow during that time? That’s the filtered feed in short. People who have the filtered feed enabled see their whole feed like that. People with it disabled see it when they log in but are otherwise given the fully chronological feed.

Twitter’s filtering algorithm is so heavily based in time that both filtered and unfiltered are virtually the same. We don’t really need to discuss them as if they are separate entities for this issue at hand.

So, here’s the thing. When you post a message, the people who see it are the people who are around to see it when you post, or who scroll far enough back in their feeds to see it. Twitter doesn’t filter who gets to see the message. With Facebook, you only reach a certain percent of your audience. Every fake user that sees your messages is a real user who didn’t. This isn’t the case on Twitter. Fake users aren’t sapping visibility from your posts.

That said, fake users on Twitter can be detrimental to you, just not in terms of post reach. There are other ways they can hurt you. For example:

Fake Followers Drain Your Budget

This is probably the easiest problem to recognize when it comes to fake followers. Fakes tend to cost around $1 for 100 followers, but you can never buy them in such small blocks. You usually have to go for something larger, like 1,000 or 10,000 followers at a time. Celebrities, politicians, and big businesses can buy them in the hundreds of thousands.

So, say you want to buy 1,000 followers. That’s only $10 at the going rate we established in this hypothetical easy math world. $10 isn’t much, and it’s not a big loss for you if those followers turn out to be fake.

Cheap Bot Followers

The problem is, you’re not just losing that $10. You’re losing that $10, plus any potential benefits you might have had if you had spent that $10 in a different way. For example, a promoted tweet can get you engagement at 50 cents per click. If you spend that $10 on fake followers, you’re losing out on 20 clicks to your website, which may have included a conversion or two depending on your conversion rates.

Of course, if you’re paying for legitimate followers, the cost is a bit higher and you might only get 5-10 followers for the same cost as 1,000 fakes, but that is a compounding problem. Every time you spend money on fakes, you lose the benefits from the real followers you could have had.

It’s difficult to estimate the true value of something that doesn’t exist, though. That’s why people don’t think about the value of what they lose beyond the money they put into their failing plan.

Fake Followers Don’t Engage

Pretty much every fake account out there exists for one reason and one reason only; to make money for the owner of the bot. They come in a few categories, but that is their endgame. Sure, there are some bots that look for content using certain hashtags and keywords and will engage to get your attention, but they’re a minority. We’re talking about the bots you buy, not the bots that find you.

In either case, once the bot has followed you, that’s it. That’s the end of their engagement. They don’t read your tweets. They don’t like your tweets. They don’t retweet your tweets, manually or using the retweet system. They don’t click your links. They certainly don’t have a chance of buying anything on your website. They aren’t real people, after all.

Twitter Egg Followers

Engagement is the core focus of all social networks. If someone visits your profile and sees that you have a million followers, but every time you tweet you get under 10 retweets or likes, what are they going to think? They certainly aren’t going to think they’re all new tweets that haven’t had time for engagement to kick in. No, more likely they’ll realize that most of your audience is fake and that you’re not worth following.

Engagement on Twitter is already low enough, as low as .07% by some estimates. You’re already looking at 7 out of 1,000 followers engaging, why dilute that even further? You’re just making it harder and harder on yourself.

Fake Followers Don’t Benefit You

No matter what platform you’re using, fake followers always lack one key ingredient to your success: activity. Think about it. When you make a tweet, what is it you want? You want people to see it, people to share it, people to follow you because of it, and people to click the link you post in the tweet, assuming of course you posted a link.

How will a fake follower help you do any of those? They won’t help people see it because they won’t be retweeting it. They won’t help people share it and they won’t share it themselves. They won’t help people follow you because they aren’t spreading awareness of you. In fact, fake followers can make you look worse, if people run you through a simple check to see if you have fake accounts. Seriously, it’s incredibly easy to identify fake followers.

Fake Followers Don’t Last

Twitter – and the other social networks, really – is quite active about monitoring and removing fake accounts. It’s not a bi-annual single large removal like the great Instagram purge, but it’s guaranteed to happen sooner or later. Every bot account that has followed my test accounts has been removed, generally within a couple of months. They don’t last, they disappear, and they give you no benefit while they’re around.

If we’re talking about fake followers that show up advertising their services via finding your content, then it’s fine. It’s a low amount of up and down movement in your follower count. Peoples counts go up and down naturally, and once you have enough followers you’re rounded to the nearest thousand anyways.

When you’re buying fakes in bulk by the thousands, however, you’re going to take larger hits when Twitter removes fake accounts. People might not notice your meteoric rise of 5,000 followers when all you had before was 500, but they’ll certainly be able to see when that 5,500 turns back into 500.

Huge Drop in Followers

It’s pretty easy to identify when a brand loses a lot of followers, and it syncs up with time when Twitter purges fake accounts. You can spend all the money you want on fake followers, but you can be pretty guaranteed that they won’t last.

Fake Followers are Easy to Spot

I already showed you one way to identify fake followers using an audit tool, but they’re generally easy to spot just looking at them. Any profile that:

  • Has an egg profile image like the default on Twitter
  • Has a basic or boring first name
  • Has a random-looking username, particularly jumbles of letters and numbers
  • Has a high number of followers but no tweets
  • Has no followers and follows a high number of people
  • Has a handful of tweets all promoting a service
  • Has no profile information

Is likely to be a fake account. It’s not even hidden; anyone can click on your “followers” count at the top of your profile and see all of them, no matter how many you have. They can see how many of your followers look real versus how many don’t. Even if they’re semi-convincing fakes, no all of them will be, and it’s going to be obvious to anyone who actually uses Twitter legitimately.

There are other signs as well. For example, if a lot of your followers seem to have similar or identical profile pictures, that’s an indication that they’re bots set up by the same person.

Another indication is when their username is one name and their display name is another. I’m not talking about people who rotate their display names for various joke purposes, but more the accounts that use a real name that doesn’t match the real name on their username. JohnSmith1992 displaying as Steven Richardson is more likely to be fake, since there’s no reason a real name would be used as a joke name. Of course, this is more likely going to happen with fake accounts using Indian-sounding names, since a lot of bots are set up in clickfarms.

Fake Followers can Get Your Account Suspended

It’s very rare that Twitter will suspend someone for having too many fake followers. However, if your account is almost entirely followed by fakes – such as buying 10,000 fakes when you only have 100 normal followers – you’re not adding much to the platform.

Suspended Twitter Profile

Suspended Twitter Profile

Twitter can tell that you’re supporting an industry they don’t want, that being the fake followers industry. They’ll be more inclined to give you less leeway when you break a rule and you’re more likely to eat a suspension or a ban.

Steps to Take

So what can you do in this sort of situation? It’s not all that difficult, thankfully.

The first thing you want to do is decide not to purchase bot followers. If you haven’t made any such purchases before, just scratch them off your list. If you’re really looking for a way to convert money into followers, you have two options. You can run Twitter ads, or you can buy followers through a legitimate service. A legitimate service like this one will run ads on a private ad network you can’t normally access on your own. You get exposure on non-Twitter sites, and can get real followers out of the deal.

If that’s the extend of your exposure, great! You’re done. However, if you’ve purchased fake followers before, you have other steps you can take. In this case, the first thing you want to do is check to see if you have any ongoing purchase agreements. If you signed up for X followers per month and are still paying for it, cancel your account. If at all possible, look to the site in where you buy them and see if they have a refund policy. Many of these sites will advertise a refund policy but won’t actually fulfill it; you send in a request and they will either ignore it or will point to some obscure part of their terms and conditions to say you lost your right for a refund. They want to keep their money.

Next, you’re going to want to start identifying your fake followers. This won’t be too hard, but it can be easy to get overzealous and start removing the wrong kinds of followers. I recommend starting with the easy low-hanging fruit, the fakes that have egg profiles and have never had any activity on them. You lose nothing by blocking these accounts, and you help Twitter out by reporting them.

You can, if you wish, also use a third party app to audit your followers. Be aware, however, that a lot of these apps cost some money to use or will only analyze a selection of your followers. They might also identify idle and inactive followers as fake, but that’s a rare problem.

It’s up to you if you want to do more than just remove the obvious fakes. Every account on Twitter that has any reasonable number of followers is sure to have a few fakes; it just happens. A small handful of them don’t hurt you. It’s only when you’re investing money into buying large numbers of them that it comes back to bite you.

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