Commentators in PR, marketing, tech and news gave a thumbs up to Twitter after the network substantially reduced the number of accounts users can follow per day from 1000 to 400.
In a technique known as follower churning, spammers and aggressive marketers use automated programs to follow massive numbers of users, hoping that some will follow them back. They then soon unfollow users who don’t follow back, again with automated programs. Twitter users who are kind enough, or naive enough, to follow them back often end up following bot accounts.
Taking an increasingly tough stance against the practice, Twitter recently suspended three apps — ManageFlitter, Statusbrew, Crowdfire – for follower churning, TechCrunch reported.
No Longer a Wise Growth Hack
Once touted as a popular “growth hack,” follower churning has become mostly the domain of spammers. Both its method and goal now seem outdated. It’s not clear how many PR pros and social media marketers still use the strategy. Those who do can and should embrace more principled and productive methods.
“Not using these tools may mean slower community growth for PR pros and social media strategists, but a more holistic approach can also provide an opportunity to host more transparent, trustworthy conversations with real audiences who care about a brand,” comments Nicole Schuman at PR News.
Many measurement experts deride the goal of follower churning, to accumulate a large number of followers, as a vanity metric with little or no real business impact. Followers gained through the technique usually don’t engage with the company and might not be within its target audience.
Marketers may hope to gain prestige, or social proof, with enormous followings. But increasingly sophisticated and cynical social media users may be on to their tricks. A large number of followers, especially when accompanied with an equally large number of accounts being followed, is unlikely to move a consumer to purchase.
“It’s highly unlikely that a niche fly fishing business in a small town or a specific brand in the B2B industry will have one million Twitter followers. If they do, users will notice,” Schuman says.
Despite warnings against pursuing the vanity metric, some business owners still eagerly pay marketing “gurus” to amass large followings through follower churning. “But it’s false, it’s a façade,” says Andrew Hutchinson at Social Media Today. “And over time, as social media becomes more ingrained into everyday business culture, and as digital literacy is also becoming more robust, people are learning that there’s more to Twitter, and every social platform, than building out vanity metrics.”
Follow these Strategies Instead
A more ethical and more productive strategy is to reach out to consumers and social media influencers directly through social media listening. By monitoring relevant keywords, marketers can enter relevant conversations and encourage influencers to mention their products. Companies can identify sales leads, respond to customer complaints and obtain competitive intelligence, including data on competitors’ product development, marketing strategies, product positioning, key customers, and public relations activities.
Bottom Line: Twitter deserves applause for reducing the number of accounts people can follow in a day in order to combat spam. The only real question is why it took so long for Twitter to stymie follower churning on its platform. Social media experts recommend marketers avoid the use of follower churn techniques to inflate follower numbers and to pursue more principled strategies and more meaningful goals.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.