Digital Deception: The Illusion of Influence

Let’s take a look at some of my recent new followers on Twitter.

There’s @KieferBusby. I’d like to tell you something about Kiefer but I really can’t because his profile reads like this: “The most effective deal only for this week, buy 5k Twitter Followers only $29 || hurry on.”

Then there’s Meghan Ascensio (@meghanb90). I wonder if she’s friends with Kiefer because her profile seems to be offering the same deal: “It’s time for starting business using twitter, Buy now !! Only $29 per 5k Twitter followers.”

And then there was Chalfon Mulvenna (@kexajuwavehu).His profile says that he is an “Internet expert.” Apparently he is not enough of an Internet expert to keep his page up on Twitter so I could find his tweets about how I could buy thousands of views of YouTube.

The Internet has proven to be a vehicle for the democratization of publishing. As online supersedes print, the monopoly of newspaper, magazine and book publishers has fallen by the wayside. Control of the printed word no longer means control of communication. I can publish my blog posts on the same Internet that Walter Mossberg, Maureen Dowd or David Sedaris uses. And while their publisher’s brand and marketing presence (as well as their personal reputations) gives them a distinct advantage over me, I can in fact drive readers to my stuff using the same things they (or their agents) use, search and social.

So as the print franchise is disrupted, so to is the world of controlled, audited circulation which was supposed to tell us who gets to the most readers. In its place is the wild and unstable world of views, clicks, uniques, et al. And that in turn has given rise to a new definition of who is influential.

Marketers and PR people who not so long ago were focused on media buys and media relations respectively have now broadened their outlook to targeting “influencers.” Companies like Cision (nee Bacon’s) who used to sell these folks media databases, now offer “influencer databases.” HR staff and recruiters are also looking at “influence” as a credential for certain positions.

In order to help figure out who the real “influencers” are, a number of services have popped up that rate individuals according to their influence, the best known of which is Klout. Their influencer scores are primarily based on social media. Measuring Facebook, Google+, Twitter and others, the score is a calculation based on your activity, the size of your following, the number of shares, likes, retweets, favorites or whatever you get and also comparing how many people follow you versus how many you follow.

There are some serious issues with this as a reflection of true influence. For example, a very savvy social media user who has built up a very big following and who often tweets about how he or she has a headache, can have a higher Klout score that suggests more influence on health issues than a world class doctor who only casually uses social media.

I could come up with some exceedingly cute photos of my dog (have you looked at the Off the Leash homepage?) and get a ton of likes and shares and comments. That will give my Klout score a boost. I could go on vacation for two weeks and ignore my social media accounts. That will cause my Klout score to drop. But in fact I don’t think either of these things make me more or less influential. Klout scores are short-term, influence is not.

Which brings us to the spammy and probably completely fictional Twitter followers that I mentioned above. Some of these services use software that can create fake Twitter accounts by the thousands. When you pay them for a following, what you get is basically a fictitious following, although the numbers will be there. This tactic has been known to be used by politicians and celebrities. There is a fake follower check  that will identify these fake accounts.

A slightly less sleazy approach to buying Twitter followers is services that use software to identify thousands of accounts that have something in common with their customer and then follow all of those accounts. A certain percentage will follow back. So it will also pump up your numbers (and your influencer score) and will be based on real accounts. These services will stop following you after a few days because you don’t want to have the number of followed vs. followers show what you are really up to.

I generally will follow someone who follows me as a courtesy unless I see something in their profile that turns me away (see @KieferBusby above) or if I see that they have far more followers than people who they follow. (That’s okay if you’re Barack Obama or Cory Booker but seems fishy if I have no clue who you are.) To try to catch these phonies I use a tool called Qwitter which sends me an email each week telling me who “unfollowed” me. I reciprocate. Just Unfollow is a similar service.

While I’ve used Twitter as an example, there are similar “services” that provide the same sort of apparent social media boost for other networks. What is the promise of these services? That you too can be an influencer even though you may not know shit about anything.

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16 Responses to Digital Deception: The Illusion of Influence

  1. Lenie says:

    Hi Ken – I’ve received those followers and have looked up their profiles and the thing I found really interesting was that while they could give me thousands of followers, a few for as little as $5.00, they didn’t have all that many followers themselves, certainly not the thousands, Makes you wonder, huh?


  2. jacquiegum says:

    Oh for the love of being liked! Hahaha! Interesting that I have started writing a blog about this Ken…seems there truly is a psychological component to not having a tweet re-tweeted or getting unliked on Facebook. Makes me think that we’ve all gone mad and that the need to be an “influencer” digitally has clearly clouded the judgement for some!


  3. Tim says:

    You have to wonder when the pendulum is going to swing back to the mid-way point again. It is clearly off to the side right now. Like Lenie said it has to make you wonder when someone is offering a service to get you 1000’s of followers yet they have clearly not taken the same steps. Kind of like a landscape gardener with an overgrown front yard!


  4. maxwell ivey says:

    Hi ken; this is the first post of your I have read. I came here from the linked in group blgoggers helping bloggers. and i have to give you credit for the headline. maybe you can answer a question for me. I am a blind computer user, so I access the net with a screen reader on my laptop. is there an ap that will show me who hasn’t been active on face book or google plus so i know who to unfollow or unfriend? thanks for telling me about quitter. my followers verses following isn’t good enough for twitter so i usually have to unfollow people that aren’t helping me spread my message to follow those who are. looking forward to your next post, max


  5. Hi Ken,
    You’re right about this whole phenomenon.

    Klout also has no access to secret or closed Facebook or LinkedIn groups, and you can be very active in them and never get a fraction of a point. You can be laid up in hospital for 2 weeks and, like you indicated, your Klout score drops like a stone. For me, real clout and real personal interactions are more important than a number.

    I know of people who have skewed Amazon and Google page rank by purchasing 5 star glowing reports about them and their website, rather than earning organic traffic. All of this excludes other black hat methods that some yet use and are willing to risk a Google penalty for.

    Inflated numbers may give the illusion of influence, but that means nothing if you don’t have meaningful relationships with people.. After all… how many fake followers will purchase a product, for example? Zip. Zero. Zilch.


  6. Duke Stewart says:

    Spammers and fakers really make this frustrating sometimes but thankfully we have tools like the ones you’ve listed to check up on them. I think the faker site made a mistake on one of mine but one out of 2 isn’t so bad. This was really helpful. Thanks again.


  7. I always wonder who is going to buy followers on Twitter! I never thought Lady Gaga might have fake followers…


  8. Mina Joshi says:

    Very interesting information. A lot of PR companies like to see that you have a huge following of FB and Twitter fans before they offer you any marketing kind of assignments. That’s when people must buy the followers!!


  9. Welli says:

    Interesting lesson on social media. Very critical to know these things to avoid being fooled and also enjoyed false glory. I also noticed fake views on blogs which are from internet creepers. One needs to be aware to get a proper perspective of their internet success.


  10. Pingback: When Big Data Comes Up Small | off the leash

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