Are Followers Real or Fake?

Marketers are under increasing pressure to increase a brand’s number of followers. Of course, marketers want the followers to be real and involved, but what if that isn’t possible? Well, there are companies that sell followers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. However, all is not as it seems. Many companies sell the names, profiles, pictures, and other details of real users, but with some variations, and unbeknownst to the actual user who is being impersonated. The result: fake users are sold to many companies to help increase the tweets, retweets, likes, etc.

All social media platforms seem to be infected with fake users. According to a recent article in the New York Times, nearly 15% of Twitter’s active users (48 million) are actually automated accounts that simulate a real person. And, in November 2017, Facebook stated to investors that it has twice as many fake users than it had previously estimated, bringing the count to roughly 60 million fake accounts.

The fake accounts are known as ‘bots’ and can be used to build audiences and influence opinions. The bots are purchased for the purpose of increasing the followers, and thus the influence of the person or brand purchasing the bots. Bots can be programmed to post at a scheduled time, monitor trends and post as needed, and amplify clients’ accounts by following, retweeting, and like tweets.

Which would you rather have: real, engaged followers or bots that are not engaged?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Begin by having students read recent news articles about fake users. Here is an article by the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/27/technology/100000005704904.app.html?emc=edit_ta_20180127&nl=top-stories&nlid=65703977&ref=cta
  2. Why is this an issue in digital marketing?
  3. How does the topic of “fake users” impact the marketplace?
  4. Should companies/brands “buy” followers? Why or why not?
  5. How valuable are followers in digital marketing?
  6. What would you do if told to increase followers? Would you buy them?
  7. Have students go online and research “how to buy followers.” What are their findings?

Source: Confessore, N., Dance, G., Harris, R., & Hansen, M. (27 January, 2018). The follower factory. New York Times.

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