follower chasingFor the past week or so I’ve been trying out a service called Twidium after they gave me a trial account.  It’s a pretty simple piece of software that lets you follow (or unfollow) a sizeable number of people automatically.  For instance you can ask the software to follow x number of the latest followers of a particular account.  Put in your criteria (ie how many tweets they must have made) and away it goes, following people whilst you go off and do other things.  Suffice to say the hope is that you will get people following you in return and slowly building up your followers.

The purist in me thinks such thinking is absurd, and that someone following you merely because you followed them is hardly likely to be the most devout of followers.  Yet a quick scan of various social media related job ads still shows that many professionals are still judged by the number of followers they have.  That you can buy a thousand followers for less than $20 is seemingly neither here nor there.  The fact that most of these accounts aren’t even real people, let alone ones with an interest in you or your company is irrelevant, just so long as we can superficially appear popular.

I’m sure by now many of you will have tried out the StatusPeople application to see how many of your own followers are fakes.  A study conducted earlier this year suggests that a large chunk of big brand followers fall into that camp.  The research revealed for instance that around half of Dell’s followers were in fact fakes.  Failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney hit the news over the summer for seemingly buying followers after his account shot up incredibly quickly in 24 hours.

Of course the illusion of social proof can tempt people to engage in follower inflation in a bid to make themselves look more popular than they are, or at least look as popular as they believe themselves to be.  For them it doesn’t matter if they’re engaged or not, the issue is purely one of perception.

With proving the ROI of social media still a prickly issue, the sooner companies get to grips with aligning their social media work to a tangible and measurable objective for their business the better it will be for the industry.  How many followers you have is irrelevant unless your business is one of those actually selling followers.

Rather than worrying about how many followers you have, think about how Twitter can help your business service your customers better.  Once Twitter becomes a business project rather than a marketing one, then you can begin to measure its effectiveness in a practical way.  If you can’t think of a way for Twitter to help your customers, that’s ok, no one is forcing you to be there, focus your efforts where they can make an impact instead.

Hopefully as users cotton onto the sham that many inflated follower counts represents it will encourage businesses to do away with this most useless of metrics and focus instead on things that really matter (ie their living and breathing customers).