Buying a Social Media Audience

By Hali Ortega

Five dollars can buy you a cup of coffee, a fast meal, and thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook likes. Purchasing a social media audience has been a tactic many people and businesses use with the hopes of building a real following. Websites like fiverr.com allow this type of social media presence boost in as little as 24 hours.

Photo from Tod Barnard

Photo from Tod Barnard

The question is do these services really work? On a journalistic endeavor Sam Biddle of gizmodo.com purchased followers under a friends Twitter handle. For five dollars he managed to get 2,000 followers, so it seems these services do work.

Besides the ethical issues, there are plenty of downsides to purchasing followers or likes. The glaring issue with buying followers or likes is that often they are shadows of people, not the real thing. These followers and likes are inactive or bot created accounts. Marketing blogger Michael Brandvold remarks for five dollars the exponential increase of numbers, “…sounds like a bargain, except this doesn’t promise you any further engagement or awareness of your brand,” because they are not active consumers, making them meaningless.

Another issue is that Google monitors these transactions by marking excessive increase of followers. A study by tastyplacement.com revealed the search engine combats these purchases by making sure increases of followers of 1,000 would lead to more than a 1 place drop in Google search ranking. On the flip side, large amounts of social engagement increased the Google search ranking.

There are also those pesky terms and conditions on social media websites that most people don’t care to read. In the rules section of Twitter for example, it states your account will be terminated if you are, “Creating or purchasing accounts in order to gain followers…Using or promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers (such as follower trains, sites promising “more followers fast,” or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account).” Buying a social media audience then runs the risk of losing the social media account altogether.

Although this is not the only route to build numbers on social media. Poynter’s Adam Hochberg detailed the buying of an audience through contests. One case he mentions is the station WFSB-TV out of Hartford, Connecticut. This station ran a contest during the “sweeps” month for Nielsen TV ratings where, “Visitors who click the page’s “like” button can enter a drawing to win a new Nissan Maxima,” which garnered them around 20,000 likes.

There are even more ways to “buy” a social media audience as outlined by Mitz Pantic of business2community.com. Besides contests, increasing numbers of likes and followers can be done by offering coupons, discounts, or referrals to people who have the same audience as you.

A lot of consumers may then follow or like people and businesses out of the hope of winning or obtaining something offered. These methods might rid of the ethical and social media rules dilemma, but whether or not they pull in active consumers to engage with your brand is another issue.

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14 responses to “Buying a Social Media Audience

  1. I think it’s highly unethical, particularly for journalists, to even consider buying followers. Gaining followers should be based on the content being offered from a certain profile and maybe even on what the profile will do for you. Using bribery and contests to gain followers doesn’t do anything to promote your brand or idea in the first place, as people are only interested in the incentive for themselves. The best way to gain followers in my opinion is to continue posting on your profile in the way you want to be perceived, and letting followers follow you on their own terms.

    • I definitely agree, when it comes to a journalist buying followers or likes is unethical. A journalist should be focused on giving out good information relevant to their brand, not followers or gains in following. How do you feel about a company or business doing the same though?

  2. Wow! This is fascinating, I would have never guessed you could buy followers. In terms of journalist purchasing followers I agree with Taylor it is unethical. But I can understand why companies would be interested purchasing an audience. Especially when using contests and bribery to attract followers and promote their products. I just understand why anyone would be interested in buying followers when in the fine print it says your social media account could be deleted.

    • I feel like a lot of people see the risk worthwhile with the way social media has become one of the biggest tools for marketing.

  3. I think this post highlights the change that social media has made since Facebook first started and why some people are less enthused with the sight as another post mentioned. Social media has gone from being a means of interacting with friends to a marketing and advertising tool.

    The idea behind buying followers seems like a great way to boost a company’s image but it undermines the image of the social media sight in the process. I think that Twitter foresaw the potential for the site to be misused and added it to the terms and conditions. I just like to think that in the long run companies that try to buy followers will not be as successful as companies that gain them through word of mouth and recognition for good business practices.

  4. I should really count up the number of times someone has tweeted me offering me the chance to buy followers. I always thought it sounded sketchy, but after reading this post I guess I have to believe that it’s real. I, however, feel like it is very unethical to do so. Like you point out, a lot of the followers you buy are inactive accounts that are just there to hold a follower place. It might make your Twitter look good if you have a lot of followers, but only if those followers are real people that you are able to interact with.

    • I didn’t know they actually asked people through Twitter. Were they Twitter accounts specifically for that or were they just people?

      • I think just random people. That’s why I always though it was kind of sketchy. Maybe what I’m thinking of is something different, though. I’m not really sure.

  5. I had no idea that buying twitter followers was an enterprise, so I really enjoyed this post and all of the research you put into it! I definitely agree that the practice of buying followers is unethical, but from the sound of it, it doesn’t seem to be very effective either. If you could get removed from twitter for the buying followers, it’s probably not a good practice to increase your social media presence. i also like how you mentioned that there are other more legitamate ways companies can build their social media outreach. Things like giveaways and challenges can engage audiences on a deeper level and give a profile the real kind of engagement it needs to grow.

  6. Like Abbey, I was oblivious to the buy followers on Twitter world previous to this post. After reading the post the whole practice seems ridiculous. I would rather have 10 followers who are constantly engaged, or at least care about the content of my posts then 10,000 who just glaze over. Speaking of gaining a lot of followers fast, what do you guys think about the Twitter account holders who follow a million people in hopes of exposure?

    • I’ve actually seen that tactic work for a lot of people. There are always those people who say, “Follow me, I follow back.” If you follow enough people who say that, pretty soon you might have a descent and active following.

  7. I understand why buying followers is a business, and why so many users are willing to do it, but I don’t agree with it. It’s obvious that if people, businesses, etc. want to follow you they will. I also don’t think people or brands should have to bribe other users. Followers should have their own personal reason for following. It’s also useful to have followers who interact, impact and participate.

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