We live obsessed with numbers. We want our social networks full of followers and, more quickly, too. But getting them organically requires time, steadfastness, and strategy. The alternative? Fake followers. Bots and profiles bought that are not human. They’re not real. They’re only zeros and ones, and they’re present in many accounts. They are the so-called phantom followers. They are not real.
Watch out for them, because for a while now and after a multitude of user complaints, social media and especially their algorithms have declared war on them.
Having such profiles on your social networks not only does not benefit you, but it clearly hurts you. The problem is that they can’t identify them or inherit the management of social networks with many of these followers.
“Activate your fans, don’t just collect them like baseball cards”. Jay Baer, Convince & Convert
What are phantom followers and how to identify them?
A phantom follower can be a profile generated by a bot, profile purchased, or profiles remotely controlled by artificial intelligence programs.
Facebook is working on detecting fake accounts back in April 2020 with now an active, 5%, probably the best-case scenario, or about 125 million active fake profiles on the platform.
You can identify them by the following features:
They don’t have a profile picture. They appear directly without a photo.
The username is weird. Many vowels or many consonants in a row and with several numbers should alert you he is a fake follower. For example; @xxxxaaa555 (invented).
They are profiles with way too many followers, but few followers. They don’t have posts on their feeds or profiles. Exponential growth in a very short time. Moving from 20 to 1,000 followers in one week is another clue to rare behavior.
They do the follow/unfollow. I mean, follow profiles for once you also follow, stop doing it. What’s the point?
No engagement on their profiles. No likes, no comments, no mentions, no sign of human behavior.
Algorithms clean up
Followers can be bought on almost every social network: Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and also engagement to energize low-activity accounts. That if a comment, that if a reaction, that if I like it, all false!
Why is it done? There are several reasons:
Need for visibility. For new accounts, it is important to reach a critical mass of followers. To balance from the competition, and to position itself on algorithms.
The false belief that only big communities can be taken seriously. This idea is increasingly being countered by the perception that small communities are also valuable.
Especially if they have a lot of interaction with their followers. However, phantom followers do not help to gain more community, nor to gain more visibility. Having an account with followers who don’t interact with you reduces your growth and visibility. It lags your brand’s credibility and it can happen, in the extreme case, that they block your account.
Social media algorithms are increasingly trained to recognize these phantom followers. Now, with the use of machine learning, social media has become increasingly easy to detect fake followers or unauthentic comments and likes. And it’s not uncommon to see that, with each algorithm update, follower numbers diminish markedly in some accounts.
War against bots
In customer service services, bots are a very important part of solving repetitive questions or procedures that can be done automatically. But they can create a mess if used wrong.
Here are wrongful bot practices:
Malicious use. Example: using automation to get something trending.
Artificially creating multiple or overlapping accounts.
Generate, solicit, or buy false engagement.
Post, take part in the conversation, or “follow” en masse or aggressively.
A bot can auto-generate much more content than a human, and it can engage in conversation with already-programmed response flows.
Hashtags as spam.
The actual value of brands on social media is the emotional bond with their followers. A link that builds trust and makes followers community and potential customers.
The shortcuts to getting more followers, whether by buying them or through bots, are the wrong decision for your brand. Not only do you jeopardize your account, but also your brand’s credibility. Increasing the number of followers is the consequence of a strategy, and phantom supporters have little to say about it.
“Social networks aren’t about Web sites. They’re about experiences.”
Mike DiLorenzo, NHL social media marketing director