Businesses often gauge their success using social media based partly on how many Twitter followers they attract. But there’s a problem with that approach: A big portion of those followers may not be real people.
Twitter’s recent SEC filing related to its planned IPO offers an interesting glimpse inside the company operations. The San Francisco-based social media giant estimates that less than 5 percent of its 215 million users are fake, but acknowledges that “the actual number of false or spam accounts could be higher than we currently have estimated.”
Especially if you start amassing a large follower base or tweeting regularly, spammers may feel you’re a good target. An analysis of President Barack Obama’s Twitter followers last month suggested that more than half of them (53 percent) could be phony.
The software programs or “bots” spammers use are trying to generate their own followers and eventually sell accounts with high follower numbers. Facebook, by contrast, has done more to identify and shut down fake profiles.
What does it matter if your Twitter followers are fake or real? On the bright side, your posts could be generating a lot of quick “retweets” from fake users. Some of these accounts use software that allows them to automatically repeat what Twitter accounts are using. A recent tweet from Mashable, for example, garnered 400 copycat posts within 15 minutes, reports The Wall Street Journal.
But it could also mean that you’re overvaluing the effectiveness of your Twitter account. Followers and retweets alone don’t necessarily mean you have clout (or Klout, as the social media scoring tool is called). It could also mean, of course, you’re wasting time trying to engage spammers—not potential customers.
Another potential hazard is cyber security. Fake Twitter followers may send spam links as part of phishing and hacking schemes, according to IT news web site The Next Web. “Hackers spend a lot of time preying on social networks, and they’ll try any method to do it,” Paul Judge, chief researcher at Barracuda Labs, told the site. “When we looked at Twitter, we saw that attackers have become very efficient at utilizing the viral features in Twitter to carry own attacks, which are found in those fake follower accounts.”
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