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27.10.16 / Buying Twitter followers – what you need to know.

Ever wondered where those accounts get all those followers from? Why, despite the huge follower count, they don’t get much engagement? How those start up businesses get so many followers, so fast? What is that freelance consultant doing who has treble the followers of industry bigwigs? Yep, they bought their followers.

Yes, for those of you sitting agog, one can really buy a bunch of followers. Well, we say that, but the chances are that many of them will be fake accounts, run by a single person, automatically. Either way, you can buy a bunch of accounts, who will follow yours, and boost that shiny number next to your name.

The ‘why would you do this’ is clear – setting up, and growing, new accounts is really hard going. Who wants to follow an account with 7 followers? It’s hardly a glowing endorsement. There’s a reason buskers always put a load of change in their guitar case – popularity breeds popularity (attachment theory in social networks).

What did we do?

So, we decided to explore the reality of buying followers by doing it. Not on our OneFifty account, but on a dummy one. It’s worth noting, before we outline how this works, that Twitter are officially against the purchase of followers (albeit limited efforts appear to be made to police it). We would never do it for ourselves, or clients. The account we’re using for the purpose began with two followers. After all, however ugly the duckling, it has two parents who think it’s beautiful. Although actually we don’t think this is beautiful. We gazed at in admiration and horror, as we ponder creating Frankenstein.

Surveying the field of potential vendors of twitter followers is a depressing exercise. We chose to stop after the first two pages of results for “buy Twitter followers”. Our faith in digital marketers keen to make a quick buck had sunk lower than when we accidentally did a similar exercise for “search marketing gurus”. Within that time, however, we discovered a mini cottage industry. One significant enough to have at least two sites dedicated to reviewing the quality of this murky pool of vendors. It also demonstrated the way people come across these services – I’ve rarely seen a site with such a high degree of search keyword optimisation.

How do they work?

It seemed there were a few points of differentiation between the services:

  • Whether they required your password
  • Whether they guaranteed your follower numbers for a minimum period of time
  • Whether you could select the territory and language your new followers were based in
  • Whether they were ‘real’ people you were buying

Nearly all show an awareness of the issue that you breach Twitter’s terms of service by using such services (Twitter prohibits one from buying or selling followers, and likewise for account ownership). They address it head on, in many cases. Few offer much reassurance, however. One who stood out for their, erm, probity in this respect was Devumi. Pricier than their rivals, they team up buying followers with buying other social actions at the same time (liking, retweeting etc), which they claim reduces the chances of Twitter suspending your account. Now I suspect that’s true – Twitter will be using some form of algorithm to detect accounts buying followers, as well as accounts which are within such “bot networks”. Here’s Terence showing how one can identify such networks. One of the dimensions in Twitter’s detection algorithm will almost certainly be other signs of “real” account activity and popularity alongside the rapidly rising follower count.

Surprisingly there’s less consensus than one would expect on pricing, given this is an entirely online marketplace, and everyone is getting their leads via organic and paid search. Using 10k follower “packages” as the benchmark, the cheapest we found was the marvellously branded “Buy Twitter love”  at £24.99, through to Devumi topping the scales at $99 (they really are the Rolls Royce of this situation).

Most surreal is the confusingly named “Buy 1000 followers”, who offer a million dollar package for $2500. I’m unsure why anyone would hand over such a large amount of money to such an unconvincing looking service, but anyway…

Not full of confidence, we opted for “greedier social”. Toward the cheaper end at $39.99 for 10 k followers, they won our business through their acceptable copywriting and lack of requirement for the account password. Plus they took payment via PayPal, unlike some competitors who seemed to have built their own payments systems. I kid you not.

We decided to start small, buying a thousand followers to test the water. The account we’re using, it is worth noting, had been registered a considerable time before, and we’d taken care to send a few tweets before we started buying, to give it an air of credibility we thought might stop Twitter’s ‘bad actor’ sniffer dogs from finding us immediately.

Did it work?

After the payment had cleared, our followers started flying in. After 20 minutes we spotted our first ‘egg’ – an account without even a photo. Oddly for a service offering UK-based accounts, we found a surprising amount of Russian names. It did, however, deliver the promised numbers (plus a few hundred). What’s worth noting is that, 40 days later, only about 50% remained. Contractually the followers are only promised for 30 days. That, combined with some accounts being suspended by Twitter (for obvious reasons!) meant residual numbers are lower.

So, what’s the lesson?

Unsurprisingly, this is a shady space, with shady providers. It’s also ridiculously straightforward. But, having done it, accounts with a lot of fake followers are rarely only using that tactic to sustain their newly acquired numbers. Auto-following as one example, is clearly playing a part. In this case, knowledge is power – it’s not a route we’d advise on for growing your channel… 

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