Last week I had far more conversations than normal about buying Twitter followers. I don’t know what it was, maybe the stars were out of alignment, but everyone wanted to talk about whether or not you should buy Twitter followers, how you can buy them, and what it means if you do buy them.
Examples: One friend has a client who worked with some hacker to get thousands of new followers. I read a blog post about a PR pro who bought followers, and then had them taken away by Twitter when he admitted it publicly. And then, while I was researching a potential client, I realized that one of their executives had bought most, if not all, of their 37,000 followers.
As these and other examples popped up throughout the week, I thought, “Whoa. This seems to be getting out of hand. Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned way of building up your Twitter followers?”
But as I ruminated on it more, I realized that’s a silly question. I mean, when was there ever a “good old-fashioned way?” Yeah, you can reach out and mention people and put good content out there … but it’s a slow process to build quality followers on Twitter.
There’s a huge paradox here. Social media is about credibility and trust, and you have only a couple of seconds to prove to someone that your Twitter account is worthy of following. So what do you need to do to prove credibility? Show that you already have followers (who presumably follow you because you’re follow-worthy). But how do you get those followers in the first place?
What some people do is: they buy followers. Often just enough to get their account jump-started – a couple hundred, a thousand maybe.
And I’m wondering why that’s such a big deal.
You’d have to be really naive to have missed the fact that Facebook has just made an IPO out of selling Likes. Well, not always Likes, sometimes ads for other things, but primarily they are selling engagement with brands on Facebook, including signing people up to brand Pages as Fans/Likes. This is so important to the credibility of brand-new Facebook pages that I budget $1,000-$1,500 into every client’s plan to get them Likes when they first setup their Facebook account. And no one seems to have a problem with that.
Facebook makes the Like-buying process easy through their Ads interface, and their targeting makes you feel like you’re almost not buying them – you’re just telling the right people that your page exists, and what’s the harm in that?
So why is buying Twitter followers any different from buying Facebook Likes?
Over the last year one of my clients has been buying Twitter ads (through Twitter’s account-managed system – they were an early adopter when Twitter opened it up) and has seen a dramatic rise in their Twitter following – some 700% lift. They have spent a fair amount of money doing it, and I’ll admit that at times we were not targeted enough and had some unwanted follows, mainly from non-US countries (we initially targeted all countries where they had a business presence). Over time we’ve honed in on how to use Twitter’s system to generate quality followers in their very niche B2B marketplace. For this client, buying followers has been successful and valuable: they’ve seen traffic to their website and blog increase, they’re far more active and visible on Twitter than their competitors, and their board likes seeing the increased activity when we deliver buzz monitoring reports monthly.
Twitter is soon opening up their platform for self-serve ads, in much the same way Facebook does. (I’m already testing this through their small business program with American Express – screenshot below.) There’s no question that this will change the debate about whether buying Twitter followers is appropriate or not. Once Twitter allows more people/brands to Promote Accounts and Promote Tweets, they will be doing the exact same thing that Facebook encourages with Promote My Page or Promote My Post.
Now I’m not saying that using one of the thousands (or millions – there are 326,000,000 results in Google for “buy twitter followers”) of shady outfits which promise 1,000 Twitter followers for $29.99 is the right way to go. There’s really no need to have thousands of inappropriate or untargeted Twitter followers. In fact, it can really hurt you; consider the executive at my potential client who totally went overboard. It’s a huge red flag to have 37,000 followers but under 1,000 tweets. Once I saw that ratio, it took me only about a second to see that all their followers are either non-English speakers or have egg icons for their profile pics – they’re clearly not “real” and certainly not valuable to that person. So the credibility of that person is way, way down – at least to those of us who know how to assess these things. (To many people, 37,000 followers might look very impressive, which is, I assume, exactly why they did it.)
But people who are serious about building up and then using their Twitter account for brand (or personal) engagement must have some way to get over the threshold of credibility with at least a reasonable number of followers. Ideally they’ll be targeted followers who are relevant to the person or brand in question. Buying a small cadre of followers early on might be the way to go; somehow I’m quite sure that if you pay Twitter for them, they won’t remove them.
Disclosure: I was given $100 in Twitter ads credit through the American Express Small Business Twitter partnership – as I’m sure thousands or more of other small businesses were. My decision to write about Twitter ads was in no way influenced by this credit.