Social influence

Case Study: The facts about buying Twitter "followers"

About six to eight months ago, I got this idea in my head to actually buy some Twitter followers. Not because of any desire to increase my numbers, but I was genuinely curious about the process. I wanted to be able to back up my gut feelings about this practice with cold, hard facts. I’ve been hemming and hawing about it for this long because I don’t think it’s a good way to grow a following. At all. 

In a moment of late night impulsiveness, I finally bought followers. (Just saying that makes me feel like I’m confessing to some horrible transgression.) Did this change my views on the value?

Why would someone want to buy followers?

As is pointed out in this article, there is a certain perception in having a large following on Twitter. Follower count is used to determine your score on Klout, Tweet Grader, Tweet Level, and Kred uses follower count to a certain degree, but it doesn’t seem to have the same affect on scores. PeerIndex doesn’t use follower count as a variable, but maybe that’s because the CEO has allegedly bought followers.

Even if you don’t care about any of these automated influence measurement tools, when you know that people who follow you are checking out your account, a low follower count can make you feel pretty inferior. So, do you stay the course and grow organically or do you gamble on the cheap, easy tactic of buying followers to create a different perception.

The Pitfalls

I opted for a service that I could buy targeted followers from. I wanted some degree of authenticity (if possible) rather than an influx of fake followers. I wanted to buy 1,000 - a substantial number, but nothing crazy like the 27,000 the guy bought in the link above. Part of the reason is I wanted to see if anyone noticed and said anything, so the number needed to be truly noticeable. So far, nothing unless people are chatting about it behind my back. ;)

When all was said and done, well over 2,000 followers were added to my account and they were as fake as the day is long and in no way targeted by subject matter or geographic location. But yay! I have a 1-year guarantee that they won’t unfollow. (Do you feel me rolling my eyes?)

Status People made this nifty little Faker tool that tells you what your mix of followers looks like. I checked before I bought the followers. I had 93% good, 5% inactive and 2% fake. In the last year, I have been blocking obviously fake accounts, so the 2% must have followed prior to that time.

Now that I’ve got this influx of new “followers”, here’s my score:

I think it’s safe to say that my assumptions about this process were correct, despite those who still see it as a legitimate marketing practice

Other ramifications to consider

1) Impact on influence

Let’s return to the topic of influence measurement tools from above. Do you care about those numbers? Buying fake followers can actually have a negative impact on the ones that look at follower count. Because many of those accounts mass following you on Twitter are fake, you’ll undoubtedly lose followers as the fake accounts are deleted or blocked. Mass unfollowing will hurt your influene scores in the short term. 

Assuming you don’t care about influence tools, if you care about your audience, you don’t want to get caught trying to fool them. Although buying followers as a prank did amuse me, but for all the reasons I’ve stated I wouldn’t do that to someone else.

2) Financial vulnerability

There is something inherently unethical about buying Twitter followers. It’s cheating the system. Even if you buy from a service that truly targets the following to genuine accounts, it still gives an false impression to those who later choose to follow you. Even worse, if you happen to choose a disreputable service (and let’s face it, these services aren’t known for ethical practices), you could be handing your credit card information over to someone and regret that decision later.

3) Biggest red flag of all - it’s not allowed

Most articles I’ve read about this topic would lead you to believe that there’s nothing in Twitter’s terms of service that would prevent you from legitimately buying followers. Unfortunately, they’re incorrect. The terms of service state:

Spam: You may not use the Twitter service for the purpose of spamming anyone. What constitutes “spamming” will evolve as we respond to new tricks and tactics by spammers. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be spamming are:

  • If you have followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time;
  • If you have attempted to “sell” followers, particularly through tactics considered aggressive following or follower churn;
  • Creating or purchasing accounts in order to gain followers;
  • Using or promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers (such as follower trains, sites promising “more followers fast,” or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account);

Like others who’ve performed this experiment, I don’t have any intention of hanging on to my new “followers”. Thank goodness there are many tools I can use to force them to unfollow!

What do you think of people/businesses buying followers on Twitter? Should it be allowed?

Klout. Does it matter?

Lara and I recently had this question posed to us regarding Klout - a topic that can be quite controversial and for new social media users, confusing.

Klout. Does it matter? Who does it matter to? Why did my score recently change dramatically? It seems to me if “scores” can change that widely, that they can’t be very accurate.

Klout is a tool that claims to measure online influence. There is only one problem with this: influence is inherently unmeasurable. A person may be perceived as influential, but many factors can have an impact on why. 

Klout is not:

  • A social network
  • A broadcast tool
  • A big deal 

Does Klout matter?

Absolutely - to some people. This is especially true for those who may be:

  • Working with brands
  • Building thought leadership/expertise on a topic
  • Job searching
  • Student grades

For others, Klout is just something that is there. Casual users with no professional tie to their social media use likely don’t have an interest in knowing how influential they are. For this group, there’s no benefit in knowing.

Recently, Klout rolled out its second algorithm change in the last year. The first occurred last October and scores fell dramatically (mine dropped from 68 to 58). The latest adjustment to the algorithm caused startling changes in scores, though supposedly they were mostly increases. Very few dropped compared to the adjustment last October so the fallout has been minimal.

Is it dependable?

It’s a fair point that if the algorithm keeps changing that it can’t be very accurate. However, prior to last October, it was ridiculously easy to ‘game’ the system and artificially inflate your score. As long as there’s an automated measurement, people will test and figure out how to “game” it.

Accuracy of influence measurement is hard to judge anyway. This is where we have to go back to the question of how to measure something (true influence) that is inherently unmeasurable.

The updates are actually meant to reflect  the influence that users have more accurately and prevent (as much as possible) score manipulation.

Should Klout matter to you?

Not necessarily. I check my Klout about once a month out of curiosity and outside of that I just continue to do what I would normally do on social networks.

What should I do about Klout?

Klout (and others like PeerIndex and Kred) can give you a snapshot of whether or not your efforts are getting a good reaction from your audience. A stagnant or dropping score can be a signal to make some tweaks. A score that is steadily increasing can be an indication that you’re doing the right things. 

The way you improve your Klout is the same way you create an engaged community:

  • Focus your content.
  • Be engaging with followers and those you follow.
  • Add value - help with a problem, provide information, etc.

Klout can be a major distraction if you consciously try to increase your score.

Always remember that if you’re curious about how effective your efforts are, Klout is just one indicator among dozens. It’s good to know, but definitely not something to worry about.

What ways have you used Klout to help tweak your social media use?

Do you check your Klout? Have you noticed the number changing?

The standard for influence: just what does that mean?

Today, there are a lot of Klout users looking at their scores with mixed feelings.

  • Some are angry. It's unacceptable to pull the rug out from under them with little explanation.

  • Some are seeing the backlash and wondering if they should care.

  • Some don't care. It's a number that doesn't affect them.

  • Some are concerned. That number does affect them - customers sometimes base their hiring decision on it.

  • Some are happy that they dodged a bullet. They either benefited from a score that didn't change or it actually went higher.

I would say I'm in a couple of these groups. Though it doesn't affect me, the changes still concern me.

Full disclosure: I check my Klout score almost daily. I'm not at all dependent on my Klout score to entice clients, so my reason for checking it is purely out of curiosity. I know, generally, what my activity is on various networks day-to-day and I check Klout to see how it is reading my activity. For a few days a month ago, I was up to 72! And that baffled me. I knew exactly why my score was so high and it was (absolutely unintentional) Klout manipulation if I ever saw it. Long story short, a tweet of mine went viral - at least four other people tweeted the same thing and all of us had that viral experience. Beyond inciting others to share that tweet, we influenced absolutely nothing.

That one day of hundreds of people retweeting a joke sent my Klout score up by 6 points. That experience colours my view of Klout more than anything else. Especially since I maintained a fairly steadily low-70s score for a full 30 days when my score then dropped 4 points to the 68 it was yesterday before Klout flipped the switch that saw me sliding down to 58 for the first time in - I don't know - six months or so. I've tried for over two years to get a feel for Klout without much success. I've been a skeptic of its usefulness since I first heard of it and connected my accounts.

I want to start with defining influence. According to, influence (noun, verb) is:

  1. the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others:

  2. the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others

Klout's importance is debated pretty much ad infinitum. Arguments about its relative usefulness and merits have been taking place since before I ever heard about it. Presumably, based on the definitions, an influencer has the power to get people to take action. But measuring that is a challenge. Without context, it's impossible to know just what someone is influencing or which direction. I've had people tell me that something I said influenced a decision for them - sometimes one that they didn't know they needed to make - but that isn't reflected in our interactions on any social network. To measure influence, Klout would have to somehow climb into the inner workings of the minds of all of my followers to see what they're thinking about the things I share. The variables are complex and numerous which makes influence, in my opinion, inherently unmeasurable.

Reach, however, is actually measurable. Klout does measure reach, but it brands itself as "the standard for influence", which far too many marketers take seriously. Actually, I'm not bothered by Klout's branding as much as I am the literal interpretation of it by companies looking to work with influential people. I can see the meeting about a blogger outreach campaign with a wishlist of bloggers with at least XX Klout score and XXXX Twitter followers with no thought given to the context of those numbers.

I routinely see people follow me who have thousands upon thousands of followers, very few tweets and a Klout score of at least 50 or 60 (depending on which algorithm is in use on a given day) and often no engagement with followers. To me, that's a perfect example of someone who has gamed the system with various tools that are out there. It's a tactic that is getting wider use as people have learned how Klout and other influence metrics apps work. It's misleading and actually hurts people who have that genuine, unmeasurable influence.

In a very short, succinct and incredibly effective post, cleverly entitled "Kloutpocalypse 2011" (that's totally the title I would've used if they hadn't used it already...darn) expressed my own hope about the outcome in just a few words:
"Can we now all agree that using Klout scores for things like hiring decisions, or how to triage customer service complaints, is goofy? This should be a simple data point. One of many, and a starting off point, not an end in and of itself."

Well said. Ultimately, it doesn't make sense to rely on numbers without context. The context in social media is a little more time-consuming to obtain, but the end result is worth it if you want to find the right people. As much as Klout would like to be the standard for influence, CustomScoop is right that it should only be one data point of many. Additionally, if the algorithm is going to change on a regular basis with new networks and changes in the calculations, marketers need to be aware of those changes and adjust expectations accordingly.

Did your Klout score go up, down or stay the same? Based on that, what are your thoughts about the changes to Klout's algorithm? 

Buzz and Brilliance - Week of September 12

A lot of the content of The Media Mesh is going to be thoughts (mostly mine) on any topic related to social media. But there's a lot going on out there and I want to take the opportunity about once a week to highlight some of the news that comes out of the week, with a side of brilliant thoughts/strategy that I find in my daily reading. And occasionally, I'm sure I'll run across some fun tidbits to share too.


This week has been all about Facebook. Subscriptions, Pages,, Smart Lists (coming to most accounts in the next couple of weeks), Privacy. Okay, privacy was actually pretty old news, but have you gone through the new settings yet? If not, try to schedule it in. I try to go through their settings thoroughly every time Facebook makes a change since they have this pesky little habit of opting me into things - whether I want them or not. This week's most confusing news related to Facebook was the new subscription settings. If you're curious about how this new feature might benefit you, check out this Mashable post.

Facebook brilliance: A bit of page strategy can be found in this post about using tools other than Facebook to post to pages. This wasn't the only post I read this week about the affect that third-party posting options have on your Edge Rank. While I think it's really valuable to know this and keep it in your mind, don't throw out all your automated RSS feeds just yet. If it's

Not one to let Facebook get all the attention, Twitter had some exciting news this week, too: Web analytics (for the 3,000,000 Web sites using the tweet button). Okay, so that may not sound all that exciting, but for anyone who likes mining data this will be a veritable goldmine - for advertisers. For twitter, it's one step closer to the holy grail of monetizing their service. For the rest of us? I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I want twitter to make money so I can keep merrily tweeting about my life, but I don't want them to ruin the experience. Since the announcement was made at TechCrunch's their story too.

Twitter brilliance: I always find it interesting to read about the thought process that goes into someone's tweeting behaviors - even if I don't agree with their tactics, there were a few here I don't agree with, but this post is still full of insights.

I logged into Klout yesterday to check out a perk and got a notification that I was selected to preview the new topics pages. So, after I previewed them (which was an underwhelming experience) I jumped over to Google Reader to find out what was going on. These topic pages, as noted in this post, are the first use we're seeing of the +K feature that was introduced back in June. So far, I'm dubious about the usefulness of these pages. It seems like it might be just another thing that the truly ambitious types can game to get attention and I'm not going to be interested if it turns into a popularity contest. But, as you'll see from the Klout brilliance below, even this dubious Klout user is trying to maintain some optimism about the tool's usefulness.

Klout brilliance: I have a Klout post brewing of my own and these guys are helping spur it on. I happen to be a sometime critic of Klout, even knowing that there is great potential for Klout to matter - for some, it already does.

Social Media Brilliance

I read a lot of blogs and I see great advice on strategy and social media management in the hundreds of posts that I download to my reader daily. There's no doubt that social media is a time suck - particularly if it's your job, and most especially if it's a hobby. The important thing to remember if you're overwhelmed is that you can control it.

Do you think you'd like to work in social media? Are you looking to hire one? This list of qualities of an effective social media manager would be a good place to start to figure out if it's the right fit for you. And don't let the "nonprofit" in the banner fool you - this list applies to any industry.

Just for Fun

Blast from the Past - Twitter, Facebook and Google

Tip of the Week (NSFW) - This one's all about search on Google via Images. I didn't try to replicate it because I don't care, but it would be easy to accidentally do this at work...and, uh, oops.

Guest post: Social Media Numbers

So your Klout is 57.  You have 1200 Twitter followers.  130 people like your Facebook page.  87 people subscribe to your blog. You have 98 connections on Linkedin and 400 people in Circles on Google+.  Now what?

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers when it comes to Social Media.  There are systems that are dedicated to measuring influence in the online world, but sometimes those numbers don’t tell the full story.  

Feeling stressed about the numbers? You aren’t alone.  People are wondering how their vacation will affect their Klout scores, or how to increase their Twitter followers.  Social Media Strategies are put in place and ultimately everyone want to know how to get those numbers up.

The numbers can be useful.  Analysis and measurement can tell real stories and help guide future decisions.  Your numbers can be used to obtain new clients or advertisers.   Larger numbers can mean more impressions for your business or writing.  I would be remiss to completely dismiss these numbers.
But numbers aren’t everything and shouldn’t dictate what you do online.  If you target your social media profiles to be only avenues to increase your numbers, you are completely missing the point of social media.   

How do you recognize the numbers and avoid the stress?

  1. Remember that they will fluctuate.  Sometimes life gets in the way of being online and that’s ok.  These numbers will go up and down but as long as you keep a fairly consistent presence (and message), it shouldn’t be a concern.

  2. Be proud of your numbers, no matter how big or small.  Some of the best blogs I read don’t have a lot of twitter followers, but that doesn’t make them any less influential in certain social media circles.   

  3. When setting out your social media goals, instead of looking at increasing your numbers by a specific amount, try focusing on how you will be increasing them.  Then, you can measure success not only by what the numbers are telling you but by what worked to get there.

  4. Find ways to track your numbers without going crazy.  Do you want to see them weekly and compare? Monthly? If you check them every day it will become an obsession and not a productive one.

  5. No matter what, the quality of your content, posts, discussions and level of engagement will ultimately be what impacts your numbers.  So have fun with it and try to enjoy social media for what it is - a way to learn, share and engage.

Rebecca blogs about family and motherhood, is a self-professed foodie, and dabbles in online engagement and community giving.  She has a strange love for maple syrup that can possibly only be matched by her love for chocolate and coffee.

My BlackBerry Wears a SuperHero Cape

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