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by Ali Moghadam on 2nd August 2013
Something big is following me. A swirling mass casts a shadow on the periphery of my vision. It has tens – no – hundreds of thousands of people caught in its irresistible gravity. It’s growing constantly, swallowing more, and more, and more, snowballing, ballooning, until it is bloated and stretched, warped and distorted from its original form. The rules no longer apply to it.
It sounds like the description of a black hole. But it’s a Twitter profile. And I won’t follow it back.
See, this is the problem: I’m followed by someone with an impressive number of followers. I think for a moment – “whoa, does this mean I’m important?! Have I finally arrived? Am I being ushered into a circle of high power, the secret society – am I about to become verified?!”
Then I look at their profile a little more. The wolf is actually a cunning little sheep – it follows far more than it is followed. It leads no pack. I am one of hundreds of thousands to them. A statistic, a notch in the bedpost, a brownie point. Fodder. Expendable. Pointless. And now, I’m leaving. I don’t want in on your follower binge, thank you very much.
And here I thought I was on the cusp of great power. I had the mind-set; “followers make me famous and better at the internet!” Silly me. So I don’t think like that anymore.
“Followers”… It’s just numbers. I can’t be expected to follow or respect someone based on numbers. But I will happily unfollow them based on them – specifically the number of people they follow en masse and the number of tweets they (don’t) send out.
I, like many others, use TweetDeck to simplify, organise and get the most out of my Twitter experience. It makes tweeting faster and more efficient – but it also alerts me to the kind of account I want to avoid following.
The Activity stream is a sure fire way to find out if someone is auto-following. You can spot a lazy or out of date spammer in a flash, because their following stream fills with hundreds of people they have followed in seconds. And they are pretty indiscriminate about who they follow. Why would the CEO of an apparently successful, ground-breaking firm follow a 17 year old One Direction fan, a foul-mouthed party animal, a fictional character and egg profile after egg profile, in one hit?
Because it’s a robot. And those little profiles follow back.
Okay, so some people reading this will have at some point dabbled in (or still practice) some kind of auto-follow tactic. But in their hearts, they’re good folk with an important message, who probably just what to get heard and who for the most part, say and share things that matter. A machine on the other hand would lump all people who auto-follow and unfollow into the same bracket, algorithmically picking who it keeps based on who followed them back and not necessarily sharing worthwhile information.
The thing is, anyone with sense would follow you based on what you say, share and do inside and/or outside of the Twitterverse, regardless of your follower count. The only reason you would need to auto-follow tens of thousands of people is because without the numbers, you’re nothing special. You need to be validated, and I can see how it’s possible to feel that a big ‘audience’ does that. Believe me, it doesn’t. You put yourself out there, where you need to go. You can’t rely on a mish-mash audience made up of whoever will follow you back to achieve what you want to achieve.
So stop auto-following. Things worth doing aren’t easy, growing your followers included. I’ve decided to take it easy. Go slow. I’ll get there if it’s what I want, but it’s not the only thing that matters. There are other channels that can promote my message. I can always rely on my friends, family and word of mouth. I can ask notable people to check my stuff out, or just write an eye catching tweet.
The thing that gets my goat the most about these swollen, number heavy accounts is the content they pump out. Are there really 100,000 people out there who continue to want to see a jet of the SAME POST with a different URL shortener splattered across their news feed? Find an account like the ones I’ve described (it’s not hard, just check your own followers) and look at their tweets:
Do you suppose that the free e-book is page after page of the same thing? Probably not. So why is this Twitter profile page after page of the same thing? What does it say about this user? How does it make the audience feel?
Here’s how it makes me feel: I want to rip the computer out from where it sits, throw it in the air and wait for it to land on my head. I’d rather do that than read the inane ramblings of a machine that has been told to spit out rubbish all the live long day.
And that’s why I’m not following you back.
There is an alternative to auto-following and binge tweeting. You can buy Twitter followers. That statement alone is enough to get my knickers in an absolute tornado of a twist. I grind my teeth thinking about it. WHY?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!
Let’s have a little look at what your money gets you:
You will be followed by X amount of machine made accounts, purpose built dummy profiles or reclaimed inactive accounts. These machines are stupid. They do the bare minimum in order to pass as real (albeit uninteresting) people. They’ll tweet the kind of self-centred inanity that we’ve all become accustomed to in a bid to pass as real.
This tool from Status People breaks down your followers into fakes, inactive and good. How many fake followers do you have?
Think about it. You have paid for a bigger number next to your name. The number means nothing, because it’s made of people who don’t exist. You used to be broadcasting your messages into a void. Now, all you’ve done is make the void bigger. These machines are stupid. The best chance you have of a retweet is if their coding selects you at random. And then, you’ve just been retweeted to an army of machines. These machines are also stupid. They don’t care about what you have to say, because they don’t know what you’re saying. Do you see what I’m getting at? There’s no point communicating with a fake following.
The point is the number. By having a bigger number of followers, you hope to convince the online world that you’re bigger than you really are – like how a blowfish inflates itself to ward off predators. The blowfish makes itself look bigger and more imposing as a first line of defence. It’s also packing a lethal neurotoxin. Anything that eats it will be killed or at least become extremely ill or paralyzed.
What’s the point in that? Revenge? And more importantly, what does it have to do with fake followers?! Hear me out:
Eventually, evolution does its job; the animals that didn’t have a taste for blowfish didn’t die and had lots of babies, which also didn’t care much for blowfish. And the blowfish with the poison weren’t eaten anymore, so they went on to have lots of babies with even stronger poison. By containing lethal toxins, the blowfish is playing a long game, and it’s become quite a successful little sea creature. It’s unique and fascinating and it has survived. The ocean now knows that you don’t mess with a blowfish. And it’s nothing to do with its inflated size. It’s all to do with what it’s packing under that scaly bonnet.
Same goes for your Twitter activity. It takes generations of blowfish and their prey for their little quirk to become recognised. But it is one powerful little quirk. Likewise, big, ”important” Twitter users will come and go. It can take a long time to gain the notoriety you crave and suddenly inflating yourself might be a tempting fast track to fame.
But you just end up as a big fish in a small pond. And the pond is full of robots.
You may have seen this knocking about:
A 2,000 following cap, but no limit on the followers you can have. Not such a bad idea you might think, it will certainly stop the overnight spam success stories. Twitter says it has imposed ‘reasonable limits’ to reduce undue strain on the service and to combat abuse. Once you hit that limit, it’s heavily controlled. But does it make sense for the people who actually want to follow those people? People who have a multitude of interests, with a wide range of thought leaders in each? What if you don’t care about people following you back, but you just want to absorb knowledge like a sponge?
What makes more sense is the second rule – “Every Twitter account is technically unable to follow more than 1,000 users per day”. This is a clear effort to kick spammers where it hurts, but really, who in their right mind is going to hit that limit in an average day? That’s a massive effort for a real person.
Piece of cake for a bot.
We can’t all be a celebrity. And that’s a good thing, there’s more than enough questionable ‘talent’ out there and we really don’t need any more. Worryingly, anyone can be a celebrity on Twitter – just read this excellent post by Kevin Ashton and his enigmatic alter ego, @SantiagoSwallow. The post covers the seedy underground world of fakery in detail and is well worth a read if you haven’t done so already.
Spam is rife on Twitter. Businesses run on it, entire industries have surfaced dedicated to it. But underhand tactics are becoming obvious to everyone, and it’s only a matter of time before people stop following back. I’ve stopped and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Just remember – before you follow back that ‘high profile’ account, check them out. You might be another cog in their spam machine.
Blowfish Or Diodon Holocanthus Underwater In Ocean from Bigstock
Blow Fish Frontal View from BigStock
Ali is experienced in working with SEO and Social Media, helping businesses find their voice in competitive markets. He loves digital media and finding innovative uses for it, with a keen interest in how creativity on the internet can help shape success.