Social Media Faking It – Cheaper Than You May Think, But Still Not Worth It

A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

How much will social media fame cost you in 2014? At $6,800, it is probably cheaper than you thought.

This money will buy you a million Twitter followers, get you a million YouTube views and 20,000 Likes on your Facebook page. As a bonus, you'll also enjoy a robust number of Pinterest, Tumbler and Instagram followers and you'll still have room in your budget for 250 comments on your blog and about 100,000 views on Vimeo. What a bargain.

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Social norming is powerful. If something is popular, society tends to place a higher value on it. If an article has numerous social shares (i.e., tweets, Likes, etc.), then it must merit attention. If a celebrity, politician or musician has a huge Twitter or Facebook following, they must likewise be worthy of further investigation.

This reality encourages some high-profile individuals to manipulate their social media standing by acquiring fake followers. Many of the spurious accounts are "bots,” user profiles automatically created en masse, with no human behind their fictitious personas.

The good folks at WhoIsHostingThis? were inspired by my Celebrities With (Allegedly) The Most Fake Twitter Followers article to create an infographic that explores the benefits and risks of faking one's social media persona.

The Cost Of Fake Fame

Perhaps the relatively low cost of faking a following is part of the problem. If you buy in bulk, the price of 1,000 Twitter followers is about $1.75. This is about half as much as 1,000 YouTube views, which will cost you $3.10. On the expensive end of the scale are Facebook Likes, which will set you back about $35 per thousand.

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Thus, if you purchased all of the social media "juice" shown here, it would only cost you about, $6,804. Certainly a large sum for an individual looking to impress their friends, but less than a typical Saturday night bar tab for an A-list celebrity.

According to this Forbes article, prolific blogger Steve Farnsworth has the highest percentage of "good" (95% non-fake) Twitter followers among public relations professionals. This is a remarkable percentage, especially given that Steve has over 110,000 followers. To put this into perspective, I have less than 8,000 Twitter followers, yet 3% are classified as "fake" by StatusPeople's online forensic tool.

I reached out to Steve and asked him how he is able to maintain such a robust number of authentic followers. He noted that, " Throughout the year I review my Twitter followers looking for bots, accounts that have been abandoned, or that are tweeting links with viruses and I remove them. This causes the number of followers to drop too, but that's a good thing. The social media industrial complex is fraught with digital marketers and consultants who puff up their abilities and accomplishments. I tell my clients to be honest in their marketing, and in turn strive to walk the talk. So, I manage my social media presences and audience. We live in an electronic fishbowl where tens of thousands people can tell tens of thousands of their friends that you or your brand are bamboozling them in nanoseconds."

Not surprisingly, Steve's tagline for his PR firm is "Content Is The Currency Of The Social Web." Content matters, not puffery. 

The Downside

Just as tools exist to quickly and cheaply create counterfeit minions, inexpensive services also exist which make it easy to ferret truth from fiction.

Each social media platform enforces rules which punish fakers. For instance, Yelp calls out establishments which attempt to manipulate their reviews. Correspondingly, Klout is penalizing obvious fakers.

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According to Don Charlton, Co-founder and CEO of the applicant tracking software company The Resumator, "Employers have become increasing more sophisticated when reviewing an applicant's social media prowess. No longer are they taking the numbers at face value. We are finding that many hiring managers are evaluating the quality of a candidate's social media network, as well as its overall size."  (Note: I am an investor in The Resumator via Rincon Venture Partners)

Is Your Favorite Celebrity Faking It?

In addition to high-tech tools, there are variety of common sense ways to assess the veracity of someone's social media empire.

For instance, the lack of customization of a user's account profile is an obvious sign of a bot. Twitter profiles with a large number of promotional tweets and numerous followers whose twitter streams are similarly spammy is another clear giveaway of a nefarious account.

In addition, if one of your friends has an outsized number of Twitter followers, but their tweets are seldom retweeted, they are either especially witless or their followers are non-existent (or both!).

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Although it might be understandable that self-absorbed public figures feel compelled to embellish their social media presence, it is a losing proposition. Even though it is cheap to cheat, the potential negative blowback of bogus social media fame is significant. Thus, in 2014, accrue your social media status the old-fashioned way - earn it.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never Tweet about that killer burrito I just ate - just startup stuff.

Images:  WhoIsHostingThis?

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.


Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.





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