Not so bright idea: Fake Twitter followers

Mitt Romney's Twitter account had a recent spike in new followers, leading to speculation that his campaign had bought fake followers. Is this really a business?

CORRECTION: The original version of this story gave an incorrect title for a book by Jan Zimmerman. It is “Social Media Marketing All-in-One for Dummies.” The text has been corrected.

Kai Ryssdal: We read a report this morning -- you could call it an estimate, or a guess if you like -- that 15 percent of Mitt Romney's followers on Twitter are fakes. Paid-for fakes. As in you pay some company, they get you imaginary followers. Newt Gingrich had the same thing happen back in the primaries.

And honestly, the very idea just seemed so ridiculous to us, that people would spent actual money on Twitter followers -- that we had to have Adriene Hill check it out.

Adriene Hill: As of this morning, I had 1,001 Twitter followers. Nothing to crow about.

So, when my editor said:

George Judson: Why don’t you buy some Twitter followers? We’ll give you $50.

I was pretty stoked.

That is, until I started reporting this story.

Dan Zarrella: Don’t do it with your account.

Jan Zimmerman: What’s the point?

That’s social media researcher Dan Zarrella and Jan Zimmerman, author of "Social Media Marketing All-in-One for Dummies."

And here’s social media expert Dave Kerpen.

Dave Kerpen: It is nice on the ego, that’s the reality. But ultimately, if they aren’t going actually interacting with you and doing something when you tweet, you know, what does that really mean?

Also, it turns out Twitter’s rules forbid buying followers from a third party, under penalty of permanent suspension. So, no bought fame for me.

But those worries haven’t stopped other people. Here’s Kerpen again.

Kerpen: I think that it’s more common than people think.

If you Google “buy twitter followers” you’ll find a dozens of companies and ebay sellers offering the service -- most offering fully faked accounts. Research from Barracuda Labs finds the average cost is about $18 for 1,000.

But do they really help a brand? Probably not much. Jan Zimmerman says there can be an “endorsement effect.”

Zimmerman: If this many people think they are wonderful, then I should think they are wonderful too, and I should agree to follow them.

But she says real followers, who actually care what you have to say, are much more important for actual success.

I'm @adrienehill for @MarketplaceAPM.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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I am so happy to know that you found out the fake twitter followers. It is very good to know that you can protect the legitimacy of the real followers and avid readers. looking foward for more good news and updates to hear from you in the future.
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Adriene - The reason may people buy followers is that someone with little knowledge of social media but "authority" in one way or another over the person buying the followers is questioning their legitimacy because they have a small number of followers. In the days of broadcast, numbers (i.e circulation or ratings) were what drove success. In the era of word of mouth marketing, which we are living in now, it is less about the number of people and more about the ability of those people who are enthusiastic about you to get their friends to buy your stuff, listen to your radio program, vote for you, help you achieve whatever goal you want to achieve. Unfortunately, there are people who don't understand the reality we are living in, as so deftly explained in your report by my good friend Dave Kerpen, so others can feel forced into doing something dumb like buying twitter followers just to keep from having to answer the implied question of, "If you are so good at X, why does Y company have more followers than you?". Enjoy your show. Thanks for the interesting work.

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