Can you buy social media influence?

By Linda Cheung

imageJillian’s recent guest blog Klout… and how it can be manipulated made me think of the phrase: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

As social media use grows, so do measurements of its use.

In What makes a credible social media expert? Heather Townsend warns readers to “be very concerned if your social media expert has more friends than followers, or similar numbers of friends and followers” because it suggests automated following and low engagement.

I agree, and always steer clear of such “experts”. However, I’m also aware that wherever there is a measurement, there will be people who look to manipulate it, and it’s not quite so easy to steer clear of these individuals.

Buying “friends”

I’ve met many people who have bought followers. For £X they have purchased hundreds, in some cases thousands, of followers. While I get why they’ve thought to spend their money, I don’t really get why they bother.

In the same way you can’t buy genuine affection, you can’t buy genuine social media engagement.

Purchased followers won’t engage and will often unfollow… so your friends/followers ratio will falter, requiring you to buy more followers… who won’t engage…

Spending cold hard cash is obviously the most literal way that you can attempt to buy influence. Many others have tried softer approaches – awareness of how your friends/followers ratio may be perceived has resulted in hundreds of articles on how to gain more followers.

Using tools

In The ultimate guide to getting more Twitter followers Heather refers to passive and proactive means and automated following. I know these methods have been very successful for Heather, but I’ve not yet pre-scheduled/bulk uploaded tweets because for me it seems counter-culture to the real-time nature of Twitter. Nor have I used software to auto-follow because, as Heather points outs, the tools simply help you find followers, not engage with them.

I’d be interested to know what you’ve tried, what’s worked and what hasn’t.

As social media becomes more important, so will the measurements. It’s been fascinating to watch the growth of Klout, and I like that it tries to incorporate 35+ variables to measure “True Reach”. Similarly PeerIndex wants to be “the standard that identifies, ranks and scores [social web] authorities” and it was interesting to see how they ranked speakers at the GeeknRolla conference.

The right balance

Jillian has already illustrated how Klout can be manipulated. I’m also aware of people who have tens of accounts and re-tweet, mention, and generally provide link-love, all to increase how one main account is rated.

Will it be money, time, tools, or all of the above that are used to ensure the “right” influence?

We all want and need measurements… but no matter how many variables, measurements are statistics… and lies?!

Free Ebook: Brilliant at the Basics of Social Media

Like this? Share with your friends...
    • http://profiles.google.com/juliansummerhayes Julian Summerhayes

      Linda
      I think the key issues for business is “Will it make me money” or “Make my job easier”. We can debate the semantics of this – brand awareness etc – but I am not sure in speaking to a Managing Partner I would get very far if I started talking about the numbers or a Klout score. That said if I could show a direct relationship between the number of followers and the number of new instructions then fine but I have yet to see anyone be brave enough to lay claim to that one. For me it is about engagement, adding value and reaching out and asking for something from time to time. I have not used any automated tools to get followers and am happy to allow things to grow organically. For me the ROI is the operative phrase that social media should focus on and not scores.

      Regards
      Julian

    • Linda Cheung

      Thanks Julian.

      Good to know that you have taken a similar approach and absolutely to businesses caring about revenues and efficiencies. While Managing Partners may start their social media journeys by questioning relevance, which platforms, what tone of voice, etc., I would be surprised if they didn’t care about number of followers, influence scores and ROI if/when they decide to use social media.

      Hear, hear to “engagement, adding value and reaching out”!

      Linda

    • http://twitter.com/craigkillick Craig Killick

      Social media ‘influence’ is an interesting phrase and in my opinion (and experience) only serves to fuel the ego.

      Part of the problem as I see it is that because there are tools that measure pretty much everything, people have become obsessed with it. Problem is with statistics (as you point out above) is that they can be published to suit the publishers / readers needs.

      I recently said I think Twitter will fade away during 2011. I actually think it will evolve into a conversation platform. You could say that this is what it is anyway, but it (like most things) got hijacked by the marketers trying to make use of another ‘free’ digital platform.

      The problem is, as in life, not many people are that good at having conversations, especially when there is commercial intent sitting behind it.

    • Heather Townsend

      Thanks for sharing my blogs & a good discussion point. I was with a potential client yesterday in the property sector. He thought that by working with me he could get access to my 6500+ followers. I said it didn’t work like that. They were engaged with me & wouldn’t like it if I suddenly started advertising his company. Your twitter following is not like your little black book…

      Good blog.

    • Linda Cheung

      Hi Craig,
      I’m surprised that you think Twitter “will fade away” this
      year. While some aren’t using the platform well, they don’t stop Twitter being a fun place to chat – when
      those hard sell marketers annoy you, make your excuses and join the party in the
      kitchen!
      Speak soon,
      Linda

    • Linda Cheung

      Thanks Heather. I hope the prospect understood and is a client soon, if not already!

    • http://www.andover-it.co.uk Andover IT

      I’ve not used any auto-follow tools but I do use Hootsuite to schedule posts.

      I find it’s quite useful if you’ve scheduled a series of blog posts as you can get Twitter to post a link a few minutes after they’ve gone live. Quite handy as well if you are aiming at another time zone.

      Regards buying influence I have but not in a cash way. I found posting a link to some free information every now and then worked as people found it useful and quite a few followed me. Would that be buying? In a way I think it was, but one I was happy with.

      Ultimately for me it comes down to whether I feel that person has something to say that’s worth listening to…even if I don’t agree with them.

      Richard

    • http://twitter.com/yodelay Duncan Johnson

      Absolutely Yes You Can…
      …but it usually comes with a Caveat ;o)

      I can share with you what we have learned from trial and error. I must first say though that as consultants we are not in the habit of making recommendations to our clients or any one who attends our training courses about things that we have not tried and tested ourselves.

      I don’t just mean the squeaky clean good stuff but the nasty horrible “dirty” stuff too.

      Here’s some examples we’ve tested.

      =============
      Buying Email Lists
      =============
      People forget Email is very much a form of social media. Lists you buy (from proper Data providers) enable you to get the quantity of people within a predefined target audience you specify. Treat these contacts with soft fluffy gloves, respect, educate, and generate a reaction slowly and you can get a small percentage involved with your brand at a deeper level.

      But, the caveat, the vast majority are never going to be as good quality or as responsive as someone who has come to your website by their own means and voluntarily signed up.

      This is a softer approach. You are basically swinging them away from the email, onto more modern social media platforms.

      =================
      Buying Friends and Likes
      =================
      Yes a little surge can influence your Klout momentarily.

      But, the caveat, you need to continually buy friends in order to keep your popularity up. Social scores go up and down just like Trends in Fashion go In and Out.

      Depending on where you buy friends from also depends on their quality… if there is any quality. Many of the purchased friends are freebie hunters or people in systems that are “befriending” sites they have no interest in because the Middle-Man Friend Buying Service has promised them friends in return or other incentives. Hence, you’re going to get low quality friends who quite often will Unfriend soon after or who are never going to be responsive to anything you do. Or they are simply a fake persona created by one bot of a thousand programmed by an angry spotty oink with an abundance of talent just waiting to be guided. (I salute you).

      For strategic longevity we simply wouldn’t recommend buying friends.

      ==============
      Paid Positive Tweets
      ==============
      This is an interesting one and very effective. It’s been covered loads already because major brands know it works. The trick here is paying a popular tweeter to say something nice about you without them admitting that you’ve paid them.

      What you are wanting to happen is that their followers in turn take note and follow their beloved thought leader and start liking you or your target by association.

      You basically leverage someone else’s influence to bolster your own. Bit like hanging out near the cool gang at school. Cool by association.

      There’s not much of a caveat here from what we’ve noticed.

      =============================
      Automated Following and Software/Tools
      =============================
      This is similar to Buying Quality Email Lists. Auto following loads of twitter accounts in the hope that they follow you back will build up your numbers so you’re going to get the Quantity.

      Caveat… but not the Quality. The followers you get from this approach are just not the same as those we get from natural things we have done.

      Whilst we’ve seen gradual increases in Klout and Peer Index through these tactics the biggest increases have always come from Engagement with those who are like-minded in the vertical you are working/promoting.

      My opinion is still on the fence with this as a tactic because you are only using a bit of software to do something that you should be doing manually anyway.

      This is the dividing line between tools like Tweet Adder (who go for the fully automated solution) and Market Me Suite who go for the Semi Automated with Manual Confirmation.

      Still… either tool… are more about Quantity and not Quality.

      Is just not as good as pumping out useful info for people, them following you off the back of it, and you engaging with them because they know more good stuff will usually follow.

      Anyways, that’s been our experience from our trial and errors.

      Hope this helps,

      Duncan

    • http://twitter.com/YodelayKeir Keir Harness

      Mark, not sure on Heather’s point of the follower / followers ratio standing at 1.0 being indicative of automated following. The jury is still out on what the most effective ratio is.

      Each ratio type (positive or negative) will have an impact on the author relevancy score of an account.

      A ratio of 1.0 (Equal numbers of followers to following) looks natural. Entirely plausible that a user would follow back everyone who has followed them and removed accounts which do not follow back.

      I think follower velocity is a better indication of automated following. If an account has a ratio of 1.0 but is growing by 1,000 followers a day or week this looks more like suspect behavior. Unless the account is so interesting and awesome or celebrity enough that the follower velocity is plausible.

      I am surprised that Twitter has not followed this metric more closely.

    • Andy Drinkwater – iNET SEO

      Great article :)

      But like Keir, I am not sure about a close ratio of followers to following – shows the want to build a network rather than automated and for me, I tend to follow everyone back.

      Interesting insights tho :)