#48 – Fake Twitter retweets and Instagram bots! Is it a good idea to pay social media influencers?

#48 – Fake Twitter retweets and Instagram bots! Is it a good idea to pay social media influencers?

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When is a social media influencer not a social media influencer? We discuss…and argue.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Welcome back, and this week’s episode is all about social media influencers. We have a couple of stories that we’re going to kind of work our way through, and then we’ll get to another reputation cage match because you guys seemed to enjoy that last week. The first story is about Twitter and it’s cracking down on I guess fake influencers. It’s suspending popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass retweeting, which is known as tweetdecking. Erin, I had never really thought about the concept of tweetdecking. Perhaps you can explain exactly what it is.

Erin Jones:                  The first thing that I thought of when I heard about this is, is tweetdecking the best name we could come up with for this? It’s very awkward and sounds like you’re just one slip away from saying something horribly inappropriate, but TweetDeck is a social media dashboard application. It’s used for managing Twitter accounts and it used to be a third party application but then Twitter acquired it. So it’s kind of their preferred tweet Twitter management application, and what these tweetdeckers are doing is setting up multiple Twitter accounts within one dashboard so that they can really quickly fire off tweets, retweets, whatever they want to make a certain account look like a bigger influencer or make a tweet “go viral”. Another term they were using a lot was virality, which I also thought was dangerously close to sounding something very different from what we’re talking about here.

But basically what these people are doing is going in and just mass producing shares, likes, retweets, content to make these accounts look authentic and look like influencers. They’ve inflated certain accounts to appear to be real influencers on social media.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, because they can get paid good money if they can demonstrate that they’re actually getting an engagement and retweets, so it’s in their interest to make this automated process and get as many retweets as possible. But there are some accounts that have been suspended that had tens of thousands, if not millions of followers. It kind of reminds me of kind of a purge that Instagram did a few years ago. But this is on the back of Twitter already, kind of going through and purging fake followers. A lot of people saw their follow account drop down a few months ago, but it is kind of crazy.

I have actually seen this in action. I’ve been I guess the unintended recipient because I’ve had a tweet that’s mentioned me or mentioned, maybe I was mentioning tracker among other tools and it got retweeted, and then like you see the same tweet from different accounts like almost instantaneously and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s not natural. Someone’s clearly got an account here that is like multiple different usernames and just gaming the system.” I never knew that this existed. I mean you think all the stuff that I see going on you would think I’d be smart enough to know about tweetdecking, but I’ve never heard of it. I guess the concept of it I was aware of, but it just goes to show that whenever there’s some kind of system where people can make money there’s going to be black hat techniques that are going to follow along.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. When I first started reading about it, it felt incredibly juvenile to me. When you’re looking at a product like tracker and you see a 14-year-old girl with a My Little Pony profile image tweeting about it, you question a little bit if they’re really using the product or if they’ve just gotten caught up in a tweet storm.

It would be awesome if these people would use these powers for good and actually share content of value, say something that people want to hear instead of focusing just on getting famous or getting this amplified content, because if you look at content graphs, it shows that when this happens, the content spikes and then it drops off to almost non-existence. It’s pretty obvious, like you said, that this isn’t an authentic case of something going viral or producing value within the content.

I think it’s interesting that people had the foresight to put this together and do something really cool with it. I just wish they would’ve used their powers for good.

Andy Beal:                  And definitely if you have a Twitter account, then don’t get tempted to get pulled into one of these rings of Twitter uses. The promise that I’ll send you money if you help amplify these tweets, it’s not worth risking your reputation. Even if you use fake accounts, it’s still not worth something being traced back to you. Then if you’re a brand, it’s absolutely vital that if your team or your agency is going to put together some kind of influencer marketing campaign, that they vet these accounts to make sure that they’re not bots.

That leads us into our second story because The New York Times had an article, which we’re going to put in the show notes, that basically looked at the massive amount of robots, of bots that are pervasive on Instagram. And so there’s a market for Instagram users that will basically sell posts. You send them a private message, and yeah, they’ll post whatever it is you’re trying to sell and they’ll make thousands of dollars usually based on the number of follower numbers. All of those followers tend to be fake and they tend to be bots.

There’s also a growing market for market research, intelligence firms if you like that are trying to figure out ways to identify all of these bots. I don’t know about you Erin, but I see it on Instagram. Instagram’s become a new favorite of mine. I’ve kind of rekindled my love affair with Instagram and I’m using it a lot, but I do see a lot of fake accounts that will comment on what they hope is a relevant post and it’ll say something generic like, “Cool post. Check out my bio right away,” and you just know it’s a bot.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. I find it fascinating that they can spend this much time because you know it takes a lot of time to be doing this all day for what return are they getting. I have a friend whose daughter is actually well on her way to becoming a social media influencer. She’s a local model and she gets thousands of likes and comments on her pictures on Instagram, and I would say a third of them at least are these junk comments that you’re talking about. “Check out the link in my profile. Cool post. Like you. Hot mamma.” Like really? She’s 17. Seriously?

But it’s the same kind of thing. There’s just that lack of authenticity, and from a human side I feel like it’s fairly easy to spot. Some of them are definitely better than others, and I’ve had some that I’ve gotten caught checking the profile to determine if I really think it’s a real person or not. But if people are wondering about this, you can usually tell the article that you referenced for these companies, they mentioned high emoji quantities in their comments, terrible grammar, a teen girl photo posting about things that teen girls wouldn’t normally be posting about.

I really like that we’re able to get some more information from these firms that are really doing great research and showing us where we can spot some of these problems, but it also concerns me that people are going to be using these metrics to get better at being deceitful.

Andy Beal:                  One of the things, you really do want to identify the influencers. It’s good to know who’s influential for your product, service, or industry. But one of the things I also look for is to see are they influential in other networks because it’s really hard to gain multiple social networks at once. I always crosscheck to see they’re, look at their Instagram numbers versus Twitter or Facebook or YouTube. Do they have a blog? Do they show up when I google their names? Do they have content that shows up? Can I actually figure out this is a real person, so do they have maybe a LinkedIn account or something of that nature?

You really need to be careful that you are engaging someone that a) is real, but also has real engagement and not just a bunch of bots that either they’ve set up or are benefiting from. You also need to ask your team or your agency to make sure that they’re vetting this because you may find that there’s an agency out there that is under a lot of pressure to increase your engagement, to get you a lot of likes or tweets or whatever it may be, and so they may turn to bots to achieve that, maybe at worst, but at best they may just gloss over doing a thorough investigation to see whether or not the influencers they’re reaching out to and spending money on your behalf are real or not.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, and I think that a lot of this comes back to authenticity. If somebody inflates your follower accounts and you have five posts that get 10 million likes across five posts, versus another company who really does their homework and finds audiences that you connect with and finds influencers within those communities, and you only get 10% of the engagement but it’s real engagement and you end up getting real business from it, I would think the value for me would be far greater in having less likes but more authentic communication and contact.

Andy Beal:                  Absolutely. There’s some metrics that are throwaway metrics when you compare to actual influence. That’s why I kind of liked Clout a lot in the past because it kind of gives me an idea as to what they’re actually influential about. Because I see people on different social media channels, they’ll put the hashtag that it’s an add or they’ll make it clear it’s an ad, but it’s for something that has nothing to do why I am following them. So it’s really cheesy and it really just makes me cringe that this person is probably making $20 but really devaluing their own reputation as a result.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. Like you said, if it’s something that has to go with their brand, great, I don’t mind looking at it, especially if it’s someone I respect, whether it be professionally or in the entertainment industry endorsing something that relates to them. It’s kind of like we’ve discussed in the past, celebrities talking about politics. Those two worlds don’t collide well for me, so I roll my eyes and move on. If a celebrity wants to tell me about their skin care regimen however, I might be a little bit more interested because I know that that’s something that they value, whether it be personally or professionally.

I feel like a lot of the times what really frustrates me the most is the people who get caught up in these less authentic influencer issues are really small businesses that don’t have a lot of money to work with, so they get talked into this big, “Oh, we’ll get you 20 million likes, and it’ll be great, and it’ll only cost you 19.99,” and then the client or the small business doesn’t understand why they’re getting banned or their posts aren’t being shown because somebody just dragged them through the mud.

Andy Beal:                  On that note, that leads us into the Reputation Cage Match. Sorry, I couldn’t afford a voiceover for that so I just did it on the fly. Last week we did this Reputation Cage Match and it was well received. We thought we’d give it another try. It’s going to be on the topic … Well, the question is, is it a good idea to pay influencers to promote your brand?

The format is we each get two minutes. We each have to argue one side of the coin. So one of us will pick for and one of us will pick against. We’ll give it two minutes of our best effort to argue for or against. The reason being is we want to give you an opportunity to hear the pluses and the minuses of each side. Then after we’ve each had two minutes we’ll have a little bit of a discussion and see if we can figure out who’s the winner. No I did win last week it’s fair to say. Everybody agreed on that. No, not really. I lost badly. However, Erin had to go first last week and I had the benefit of hearing what she had to say, so I’m going to go first this week. Here I go. Here’s my time starting now.

Should you pay influencers to promote your brand? Absolutely not. If your product is not good enough to get used by influencers organically, then don’t shell out money to fake it. I mean it’s the same as astroturfing when you’re paying to get these fake reviews. Take that money and invest it in your product your service. How about actually making a product that these wonderful influencers with thousands or millions of followers are just going to want to tell their audience that they love using without you having to line their pockets?

For me, when I see that someone is promoting a product or a brand, I start switching off. I think to myself, “Well, they’re getting paid to say that. How can I trust whether or not they actually use that product?” Then when I see those same influencers promoting a different company or brand every other week I’m like, “Wait a minute. You don’t have any loyalty.” I’ve actually seen people on for example YouTube that will promote one product from a particular niche one week and then a couple of weeks later, because they’ve got paid more money, all of a sudden this other product is the greatest thing that we should be using and now I really don’t trust them. I’m probably going to ignore it.

Now there’s also the rules that you need to consider for how you even sponsor somebody. You don’t want to get caught up in a situation where the influencer doesn’t do their right disclosure, and next thing you know you’re getting thrown under the bus with them because they didn’t disclose properly or they just kind of didn’t even disclose it at all and now it’s a paid endorsement.

The other thing as well is if you are a known sponsor of an influencer and they get into some kind of trouble, some kind of scandal, people are going to drag you down with them because they’re going to say, “Well, wait a minute. Isn’t that the spokesperson for x, y, z company and they’re in this scandal?” Well, you may find that you’re getting people tweeting to you or commenting because they want to boycott you because you have this paid relationship.

Now that’s not really going to happen so much if they just happen to be a fan of the product that you use and … I’m out of time. But no, don’t pay your influencers. Erin?

Erin Jones:                  All right. Is it a good idea to pay influencers to promote your brand? I say yes. 74% of consumers currently rely on social media to help them make purchasing decisions. And the influencers are already on social media. They’re the ones affecting those decisions. Don’t you want your brand to be one of the ones that people are choosing? Trust in brands is declining and the power of influencers is currently on the rise, so instead of you telling people how great you are, let an influencer do it for you and people are going to believe them more quickly because it feels more authentic.

We’ve been seeing celebrity endorsements our whole lives. How is this different? Does anyone truly believe that Taylor Swift is wearing drug store cosmetics? I highly doubt it. Or Kylie Jenner really, is she really drinking Pepsi? Please. I doubt that that girl has had a carb since 2003.

Microinfluencers on social media are much more authentic, they’re more believable, they promote products and brands that fit their image within their local circles, whether that be local geographically or local on the internet. They find their tribe and they connect with that tribe, so why not capitalize on that?

Many brands and business owners feel that great influencers don’t need compensation. They should just share based on their pure love of that brand. But if you’re already paying for things like advertising and content, why wouldn’t you pay for influencers, especially if they’re going to convert? Business is all about the money after all, right? I’ve seen research stating that for every dollar invested in an influencer brands are getting back about $6.50, and those are some really good returns, and much less expensive than buying followers who may or may not be bots.

You can also almost always see a big increase in your social interactions and traffic to your website, so for me this is a win-win. Personally I only work with clients who I trust or believe in what they’re doing. I often share their social posts or products because I do believe in those things. Is the fact that I’m getting compensated by them going to affect negatively on me if they pay me to do an increase in my posts? I don’t know. Looks like I’m out of time.

Andy Beal:                  First of all, kudos to you. I can tell that you came prepared this week after that, licking your wounds last week. You’ve really researched your numbers and you made some valid arguments. But let me ask you this. Coke. Let’s just take a can of Coke. Who are you going to trust more? Somebody that says that they like Coke because they just like Coke, or somebody says they like Coke because they’re getting paid a million dollars to say that they like Coke?

Erin Jones:                  I agree with you there.

Andy Beal:                  There you go. That sound you, that thought you hear is me dropping my microphone. Here.

Erin Jones:                  Take that mic back up for a second, because what if no one mentions Coke and someone that you like is drinking a Pepsi

Andy Beal:                  Okay.

Erin Jones:                  Whether they got paid or not to hold it, is it better to not be in the picture at all or is it better to say, “Yeah, Coke paid me but I love them”?

Andy Beal:                  Well, you need to create a product that just there are products out there where nobody’s paying anybody. And then it could be somebody that has 10 followers, and as you said earlier in the podcast, they’ve got the right 10 followers and so now they are endorsing a product that nobody’s ever heard of and people are going, “”Well, I trust that person. They don’t sell products for a living. I know they don’t get paid. I’m going to check that out,” and then they tell their friends and they tell their friends. So now you’ve got this natural organic growth of this hype for your brand, as opposed to this astroturfing thing. Kind of like what you see on Amazon. When I look at reviews on Amazon, if I see that it’s a Vine sponsored or whatever they call it, I just don’t even read the review. But if I see it’s a verified purchase, that’s the person I want to hear from.

Erin Jones:                  True, very, very true. However, I still think we can’t all be Apple and we don’t all have 60 years for the world to realize what a great product we have, so sometimes it helps to get a little bit of bump from people who are seen as people being people who matter.

Andy Beal:                  All right. So if I track you right, what you’re saying is this is not astroturfing, this is planting real seeds, but maybe sprinkling a little bit of miracle grow on it, is that what you’re trying to say?

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, yeah, I like that. I think that sounds good.

Andy Beal:                  Well, on that note, we’ll call it a draw. How about that?

Erin Jones:                  All right. I don’t know. I’m going for the hat-trick next week, so …

Andy Beal:                  Darn it. I need to pick a better side on these arguments. All right, guys, if you have a topic you’d like us to discuss or a question for us, then head over to our Facebook page, which is /andybealorm where you will see that all five of our followers are organic. Now I don’t know how many we have, but hopefully it’s more than five. You can also go to andybeal.com, find the latest podcast page, read the show notes there, and leave us a question or suggest a topic for next week. As always, Erin, I appreciate you chatting with me and going head-to-head.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you. I love being given the opportunity to voice my opinion.

Andy Beal:                  Even if you’re not right I appreciate it.

Erin Jones:                  I was waiting for that.

Andy Beal:                  And thank you guys for listening. We hope you enjoyed this show. We do appreciate your feedback, so let us know if you enjoyed this new Reputation Cage Match style. If so, we’ll keep on doing it. If not, we will drop it like a paid influencer and a hot potato. All right, have a good week. Thanks a lot and bye-bye.

ByAndy Beal

Andy Beal is The Original Online Reputation Expert™. A bestselling author of two critically-acclaimed reputation management books, a keynote speaker at dozens of events, and brand consultant experience with thousands of individuals and companies.