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Make it or fake it

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no wi-fi, Twitter needs no introduction. The micro-blogging website launched by Jack Dorsey in March 2006 has slowly morphed into a revolution, touching everything — from the way celebrities interact with their fans to political revolutions to brands looking at incorporating social media into their marketing mix. According to the official Twitter blog, there are 140 million tweets vomited out into the web every day. Just like Facebook, Twitter is where your consumers are, so if you’re a company serious about knowing just who is using your product, and having a conversation with them about it, you better create a Twitter account pronto and hire an agency to run it.



Just like Facebook’s number of fans or ‘likes’, Twitter has a number of ‘followers’ — a number that brands seem to hold sacred. Unfortunately, an app named ‘Fakers’ by a British startup named Status People exposes just how many of those followers are genuine and how many are fake. It grabs 1,00,000 followers across your base and assesses 1,000 to give you a percentage figure detailing how many of them are “fake”, “inactive” and “good”.  According to Fakers MTV India’s Twitter account (@mtvindia) has 51% fake, 40% inactive and 9% good followers. Their total follower count is 5,83,538. Shahrukh Khan’s Twitter account (@iamsrk) has 51% fake, 37% inactive and 12% good followers. His total follower count is 2,757,244. Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor), whose Twitter adventures are well-documented, has a total of 1,470,079 followers, out of which 56% are fake, 37% are inactive and 7% are good.

With a pinch of fake salt
These numbers aren’t very encouraging, but let’s not start pulling money out of Twitter marketing just yet. Most agency heads agree, and rightfully so, that Fakers isn’t the final word in dissecting the type of followers. Saurabh Kanwar, president, Flarepath, a social media agency, has tried Fakers and doubts its accuracy, “We tested it with a range of accounts and we found results either easily predictable, or inconsistent with facts. An account that had used a follower-adding app showed the least number of fake accounts.” He admits that this is just anecdotal, but argues that it is still of interest, if evaluating the service.

Aditya Gupta, co-founder of Social Samosa, an online portal that tracks Indian social media news, agrees with Kanwar. “An account like Barack Obama’s is bound to have a few fake followers,” he says. “My dad will create an account and follow a number of people, including Obama, but never tweets. That doesn’t mean the account is fake.”  For those not in the know, President Obama’s account was one of the first to be analysed by Fakers, and its results were not that great — almost 65 per cent of his followers were fake or inactive, and that was the stuff of news stories, catapulting Fakers into the limelight.

Checking clout
Not everyone, however, thinks that Fakers’s findings need to be debunked in a hurry. Zafar Rais, Founder and CEO at MindShift Interactive, believes that it could be an interesting tool. “There are many agencies that buy followers or add pseudo accounts,” Rais says. “I think it’s a great tool for keeping them in check and allowing clients to ensure they aren’t being duped into believing their brand is a success while it actually has no real clout.” Hareesh Tibrewala, business owner and joint CEO at Social Wavelength, urges agencies and brands to act with honesty, because that is the mainstay of social media. “One has to understand that social media, by its very nature, demands and ensures more transparency,” Tibrewala says. “If any one tries to create fake profiles or indulge in such (spurious) activities, it is not very difficult to track back (and find out who is responsible).”  Gupta, however, wonders what the point of the tool is. “Even if we know that we have an X percentage of fake followers, what are we going to do about it?” he asks.

Quality over quantity
It can be argued that a tool like Fakers sees success because a brand tends to focus on entirely the wrong aspects of social media while including it in its marketing mix. Samit Malkani, Creative Head at Jack in the Box Worldwide, suggests that brands shouldn’t focus on the number of followers, as much as the quality of interactions. “This whole thing about having more followers is just a status thing — brands should look past it,” he says. “Digital media should be used to get the right audience rather than too many people who aren’t bothered.”

Rais agrees with Malkani. “Social media is meant for interacting and having fun with your consumers,” he says. “It’s not a mine’s-bigger-than-yours space.”
Kanwar suggests that while a high follower count is useful for an account that uses Twitter mainly for publishing and content distribution purposes, Twitter provides an open-to-all timeline and addressability, which is the first step to listening, monitoring and participating. “Celebrities, for whom a high follower count is a by-product of their status, should also use interactions as their key metric, and the follower count will increase on its own,” he feels.
Are you listening, brand managers?

Follower fables
What is a ‘fake’ follower?

> An account created by a spamming computer, or a “bot”
> An inactive account created by a person for purposes of adding followers
> Any Twitter account not backed by a real person, company etc

How you can ‘buy’ followers
Companies like USocial.net, InterTwitter.com and Fanmenow.com allow you to add followers for as little at USD 14 per 1,000 followers However, even though they promise “real, targeted” followers, there’s no guarantee that they are. More often than not, they’re fake 

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