A huge Twitter following can super-charge any career. Writers looking to land an agent, musicians trying to make it big, or anyone trying to raise their public profile can benefit from gaining lots of followers. Of course, that takes a lot of time—why try and curry favor with the digital masses when you can just buy it?
Today an infographic summarizing the still-quite-popular tactic of paying for an inflated follower count hit the web. Put together by the folks at Who Is Hosting This?, it illustrates how cheap, widespread, and easy it is to juice up your Twitter fame—the average cost is only $0.01 per follower, and the top 15 Twitter personalities have follower counts that are approximately 30% fake and 40% inactive. That includes President Barack Obama.
But the information also serves as a reminder of just how meaningless and ineffective purchased Twitter followers are. Since they measure engagement rather than a sheer follower count, social media metrics like Klout scores are totally unfazed by how many accounts follow you, and services like Status People and Twitter Counter can easily gauge how genuine your follower count is.
The practice of paying for Twitter followers came into the limelight during the 2012 election campaign, when Mitt Romney’s follower count suspiciously rose by 116,000 people. Four months later, a New York Times report detailing the ways and reasons by which users juice up their follower count. Not long after, writer Seth Stevenson purchased 27,000 followers for $202:
"Confession: In the month or so since I bought all those followers, up until outing myself in this story, I've sometimes felt a small ego jolt at the thought of people noticing that impressive number next to my name. Which is creepy and absurd. Unlike my talented Twitter colleagues, I did absolutely nothing to deserve this feeling of pride and accomplishment. I very much did not build that."
It didn’t take long for Twitter to get rid of them all.
There is a wealth of blog posts about how to buy followers, and almost all of them caution against it. But the practice isn’t going away. In fact, the low cost for the huge dopamine rush and potential of a huge payoff has kept the follower farms in business. Besides, there’s no real consequence to adding a few thousand followers, and a fake follower is actually quite close to the real thing, Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser told the New York Times.
"Forty percent of our user base only consumes content," he said. "What looks like a fake account to one individual could actually be someone who is on Twitter purely to follow people — like my mom, who follows me and my brother, doesn’t have a profile bio and has never actually Tweeted herself."