The recent rash of bogus Twitter follower scandals, like Newt Gingrich‘s 1.3 million supposed fans, and the oil industry’s apparent astroturfing efforts, are entertaining blog fodder. But they’re also important as a reminder of what’s erroneous about linking social media status to a friends and follower count.
(It’s actually unclear what percentage of Gingrich’s followers are faux, but his number is particularly impressive when compared to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney 68,000 number. Yep, mine’s bigger than yours. You know how boys are.)
It bothers me that these mini-scandals undermine good ole Twitter as a platform and a business tool. Just as you’re judged by the company you keep in the real world, Twitter has always risked getting a bad reputation. It’s seen by some as a perfect hangout for the egotists, hucksters, and fakes. That’s not the Twitter that I know and love.
And it would seem to make no sense to the account holders. Why would anyone actually pay a third-party for access to bogus accounts when social media is about connecting and engaging others? Why, like Anthony Weiner, would you risk having the wrong kind of fans – e.g. porn actresses and spambots? The obvious answer, of course, is pure ego. They’re willing to look foolish by inflating their following in order to impress the few engaged fans that they actually have.
Are you listening, Klout? The obsession with numbers as metrics is the real culprit here. Judging someone’s social influence by follower count just isn’t viable. I know sophisticated services like Klout claim to go beyond the raw fan numbers, but they are still too Twitter-centric and too focused on the numbers. These recent Fangate incidents are another reminder.
True influence is evidenced by quality and frequency of content, sharing, and action. Most of all, it’s about who’s really listening. And when it comes to the shiny new tool or the point of view that misses this simple fact, well, I just don’t follow.