A recent article (February 1st) on BuzzFeed said that the Newsweek Media Group has been buying followers and manipulating traffic on some of their websites, and that they are being accused of ad fraud. The ad fraud part of this story is not my area, but I do have something to say about the other part—buying followers—as it relates to marketing and branding using social media platforms.
There was a time when having 200,000 Twitter followers looked impressive to the naked eye, but those days are long gone. Now it isn’t very difficult to look through someone’s following on various platforms to find out that many of those 200,000 are spam bots and other kinds of cheap “friends”. In fact, the people who have more modest numbers of active followers, who engage with them, and build more solid relationships over time, could have the upper hand in social media marketing.
Here are some reasons why buying followers is a bad idea:
- The internet is not an alien universe. The people using the internet and social media are just that—people. And the rules of engagement apply just as they would at a cocktail party or a business conference. If you want to grow as an influencer on social media, your audience needs to feel like you are a real person —not a virtual identity with no substance, which brings me to the next point.
- Trust is more important than ever. The internet, the very tool you want to use to market your products and ideas, has eroded trust in its own population. This is partly due to the “bad apples” in the bunch who have figured out how to buy and sell cotton candy entities and canned content. If someone takes more than a cursory look at who is following you and they find porn (true story) in the form of bots, it will not make a good impression (unless that is what you are selling).
- Relationships rule! When there is trust, the chance for a relationship to grow increases. In a relationship with good communication, the other person believes what you have to say, appreciates your advice and counsel, and may even talk about you with others in a positive way.
- Protect the brand. Would you wear dirty clothes to a job interview? Why sully your brand with ineffective and questionable marketing practices, like buying a fake community?
Perhaps we think that, because we are typing on a keyboard or a phone in our own private spaces, that our anonymity allows us to behave in any manner we want. Well, it doesn’t. Companies who engage in buying followers or traffic in order to beef up their potential advertising power may not be doing something illegal, but it is certainly unethical. If an individual wants to be an influencer, it needs to be clear that community and engagement are a priority. If bots are all we see, we assume that you aren’t real either.
Check out our other social media blog posts here.