Should you trust Twitter follower numbers? - Updated
Subscribe now for $100 (23 issues) and save more than 37% off the cover price!
Get the latest news from Computerworld delivered via email.
Sign up now
Update 2:05pm: It seems Adnan Khan's Twitter account (@adnankhan) has been reset and he now has only one follower, as pointed out by Twitter user and journalist Juha Saarinen (@juhasaarinen). Khan's account remains protected.
Saarinen adds that Khan received a large boost in followers towards late July, and says Khan went from " [around] 1,800 followers on 21 July to [around] 30,000 on July 23."
Because Khan's account has been reset, Twitter Counter no longer shows this information.
Update 4pm: Last week Louise Mensch, a Tory MP in the UK, was criticised for gaining 40,000 followers in the course of a few days. Mensch took to Twitter to proclaim her innocence, and mentions she was the target of a malicious spam attack like that described by Status People [below in original story].
I have 66k genuine followers and while I've been off Twitter some loser spams 20k fakes onto the acct, then 20k more.— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) July 25, 2012
The power and importance of social media can be seen by how much influence it has in the role of employment. Employers and recruiters have taken to LinkedIn to look for prospects and often use Facebook to screen them.
But what happens when human nature kicks in and someone games the system?
Bill Rundle, who works at Porter Novelli handling PR for Microsoft New Zealand, has written a blog post where he relates that, as an experiment, he bought 2000 followers from Buyrealfollowers.com. He questions the ethics of inflating Twitter follower numbers in this way because of the level of influence that is perceived with higher follower numbers.
Last week Rundle pointed out a service by social media management software provider Status People, which shows the number of “fake” and “inactive” followers a Twitter user has.
The Status People system takes the most recent 500 followers [originally this article mistakenly stated 10,000 followers] and scans them for their follower to following ratio, and how actively followers post new content. When the number that these accounts are following far exceeds the number of their followers and the activity is low, Status People flags this as a fake account.
Earlier this year Raffi Krikorian, director of applications services at Twitter, told Computerworld that the microblogging service uses a similar method to help it detect and remove spam accounts. Krikorian says Twitter has access to further algorithms and tools for spam detection, but was unable to go into detail about them.
Status People says that apart from Twitter users buying fake followers another possibility is that fake followers can be added maliciously as part of a prank or to discredit the target, a trend it is finding more common with celebrities and political figures.
A quick scan through some of Computerworld’s NZ Top Tech Tweeters list shows the followers of those on the list are mostly legitimate according to Status People, with between 1 percent and 5 percent of followers being classed as fake.
Computerworld has come across a New Zealand Twitter account with 28,590 followers, 94 percent of which are fake according to a test carried out using Status People on Friday.
The account belongs to Adnan Khan (@adnankhan), an account manager for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand. On LinkedIn Khan says his role is to help New Zealand businesses use Facebook as a sales and communication channel.
In Khan’s role at Facebook he has a lot of influence in the social media community. Khan has spoken at business and marketing events on the topic of social media, recently at the Social Media Club in Auckland - which brings together hundreds of Auckland’s prominent marketing and digital media specialists.
Computerworld has sought comment from Khan regarding his Twitter followers. Khan has so far declined to comment, passing queries to the Facebook press team.
Since we contacted him, the Khan Twitter account has been made private, protecting his updates and also preventing people from looking at his followers.
When Computerworld checked Khan’s followers on Friday (before the account was locked), apart from the most recent 20 or so followers - Khan’s followers were mostly similar to those purchased in Bill Rundle’s experiment: with 1:100 Twitter following-follower ratios, bios taken from movie quotes or music lyrics and very few updates.
Here are Status People tests on some New Zealand Twitter accounts:
Vodafone New Zealand - 11 percent fake, 42 percent inactive, 47 percent good
Telecom New Zealand - 11 percent fake, 32 percent inactive 57 percent good
2degreesmobile - 5 percent fake , 29 percent inactive, 66 percent good
Computerworld NZ - 2 percent fake, 11 percent inactive, 87 percent good
Stuff - 10 percent fake, 33 percent inactive, 57 percent good
Posted by This Guy at 1:29:09 on August 3, 2012
Posted by Anonymous at 10:43:16 on July 31, 2012
Posted by Steve P at 22:37:30 on July 31, 2012
Posted by Anonymous at 9:31:22 on August 1, 2012
Posted by Anonymous at 10:19:33 on July 31, 2012
On Friday Khan's followers list showed a large chunk (I checked 3 'pages' ) that were obviously fake accounts, and unlikely to have heard of Adnan Sami Khan.
Their characteristics included:
1. Profile photos of mostly young, white men and women and;
2. Profile bios which were all movie quotes, jokes, or music lyrics - no original or identifying information
3. The accounts followed around 1000-2000 people each
4. The accounts had about 5-10 followers themselves
5. The accounts would consistantly have around 4 or 5 tweets, those tweets were not in reply to conversations, they were random words or song/movie quotes.
Also noted in the story is the large jump in followers from July 21 to July 23 (~28,000).
Unless Adnan Sami Khan has a large following among young white individuals prone to quipping very similar movie and song lyrics, who decided to follow him in two days - your theory seems unlikely.
Thanks for the idea though. Hopefully Adnan Khan (in New Zealand) will speak out on his behalf soon.
Sim Ahmed / @simantics
Posted by Sim Ahmed at 12:27:56 on July 31, 2012
Posted by Anonymous at 9:04:27 on July 31, 2012
Posted by Jennifer D. Luong at 19:21:34 on July 30, 2012
Posted by Steve P at 19:37:11 on July 30, 2012
I think that the rule of thumb is, dont trust how many twitter followers a person has.
Posted by Anonymous at 19:13:10 on July 30, 2012