Skip to main content

Rent-a-mob – Making the numbers count

7th Sep 2012

The practice of purchasing Twitter followers has been in the news having been condemned by a senior cleric in Saudi Arabia. His outburst would appear to have been provoked by recent revelations that a number of high-profile Saudis, including sports personalities and religious leaders, are buying their Twitter followers via a marketing company.

This is by no means a new practice and it comes pretty cheap – for a few hundred quid you can extend your followers by tens of thousands. If you google ‘buying Twitter followers’ you will be able to find numerous sites that promise to up your social media status with the help of a friend - or two, three or thirty thousand.

It’s not just Twitter followers either. You can also buy friends on Facebook and ‘likes’ on Facebook and Youtube. There are quite a few individuals getting up to these shenanigans with politicians at home and abroad (presidential candidate, Mitt Romney is one of the latest) being forced to deny that they’ve engaged in such practice. It’s a dangerous game if you’re a politician reliant on the public’s trust especially as it’s relatively easy to spot the offenders. A prime example is former Conservative parliamentary candidate, Mark Clarke. Clarke joined Twitter in March, has tweeted a relatively low amount of times and follows less than 200 fellow tweeters however the politician went from very few followers to over 50,000 virtually overnight – an achievement only within the domain of the very famous. It’s a desperate measure and one that leaves you looking like a bit of a turkey when you’re found out.

In fact, the PR risk, by running to such levels of dishonesty, is wholly counterproductive. Getting found out automatically belittles you and presents you with the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. It basically shows you up as ‘Billy no-mates’. One of the US ‘Real Housewives’ cast, outed as a ‘no mates’ by her sudden and remarkable surge in Twitter followers decided that the best form of defence was attack and suggested a case of cunning sabotage, hinting at fellow cast members as the possible perpetrators. The only problem with this argument was that to carry off such a spiteful stunt would have required the thinking of a top digital expert - not a description befitting any of the accused cast. However, an admirable stab at retaining some dignity for what is a shaming situation to be embroiled in.

Those in favour of buying Twitter followers – namely, those selling the service - would have you believe that it’s a recognised and (at a stretch !) respectable marketing strategy that gives value to an individual or his or her company. And we know it’s pretty cheap.

So is it worth it? Not really. Any Twitter enthusiast will tell you, it’s not the number of followers but the amount of times the tweeter tweets and that his or her tweets get retweeted that stack up to make you look good. It’s also not really in the spirit of Twitter and risks derailing it and taking from it the status that it has earned when phantom followers are recruited.

And, anyway, isn’t it only teenagers who think that the more friends that you have the better you look? Numbers are always going to impress in the very first instance but when you start having to count then it’s all really getting a little bit sad.