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Buying Twitter followers: The 'black market of social media'?

Buying Twitter followers: The 'black market of social media'?

CREATED Oct 29, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
 
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - In the world of social media, the number of friends and followers a business has counts.
 
On Twitter specifically, a high follower count can bolster a business' brand and fuel free advertising. Trouble is: finding followers takes time. There is a shortcut, but some call it a digital no-no.
 
To understand the phenomenon, consider this question: What do Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and President Barack Obama have in common?
 
The answer? Each has tens of millions of fans following them on Twitter. With such social media masses come eyeballs, mouse clicks, prestige and popularity, according to marketing gurus.
 
“The internet is a popularity contest,” said Kerry Stratford, president of Tucson-based Caliber Group, a marketing, public relations and interactive firm.
 
Stratford said it takes strategy, patience and hard work to build a broad fan base.
 
“It's a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “It's something that takes time. You build your reputation over time. People want to take that and shortcut it a little bit.”
 
There is a shortcut: purchasing Twitter followers.
 
“It's the black market of social media,” Stratford said.
 
It's simple: pay up to up your Twitter count. More than a dozen companies offer the service. Buy Twitter Follow charges $15 for 1,000 followers. Pay $225, get 25,000 tweeters to track your tweets.
 
“Just imagine if you were the owner of that Twitter account and just having the power to have 5,000-plus people listening to your most recent tweets,” said Frank Tobin, owner of the London-based website.
 
Tobin said his customers are musicians, celebrities, companies, politicians and sports teams that are all mainly in the U.S. They want to foster more followers so more eyes see more tweets about their business, deals and discounts.
 
Does it work? 9 On Your Side did an experiment with reporter Kevin Keen’s Twitter account, @kgunkeen. One thousand followers were purchased. In less than two days, more than 2,000 started following the account. The company said it always over-delivers to make customers happy.
 
It worked, but Stratford warns to wait before you click to order.
 
Keen asked Stratford: “What's the harm in having an extra 10,000, 100,000 people following to help you along with building your brand?”
 
“You certainly can do that,” she answered. “It kind of goes against the spirit of what social media is all about.”
 
Stratford, who doesn’t recommend the practice to her clients, said the new followers probably won't interact because they're not human. They're fake accounts set up with names and pictures, but no real person tweets, she said.
 
Tobin said his company mixes real and fake followers.
 
“We do pride ourselves in that the majority of the followers we provide are real,” Tobin said, adding roughly 65 to 75 percent of the followers provided are real and could interact.
 
Stratford still doesn't recommend tricking your Twitter total, calling it "unethical" in the public relations and marketing worlds.
 
“People are all about reputations and maintaining a reputation that you're being ethical, honest, open and transparent,” she said. “If you're following followers just to make yourself look better and prop yourself up, then I think that's kind of not in keeping with your reputation.”
 
“What do you say to that?” Keen asked Tobin.
 
“We personally understand that's acceptable -- that people would want to naturally do it," Tobin said. "But we don't harm the account. We don't harm anyone.”
 
Still, Stratford knows of people who've pulled out the plastic and pulled off the purchase only to regret it later. She recommended finding followers the old-fashioned way.
 
Tobin would neither reveal how the fake Twitter accounts are created nor how he gets real people to offer their accounts. That, he said, is a secret.
 
9 On Your Side asked Twitter what it thinks about this practice, but didn't hear back.