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 the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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