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Dodgy social media: Buying followers, and why it may not always be a bad idea

feature-dodgy-seo-200You may have heard of blackhat search engine optimisation. But what about blackhat social media?

For a few years now, companies have been hiring the services of businesses and individuals to artificially inflate their follower numbers. Whether it’s on Twitter or Facebook, “likes” or “followers” are simply another commodity ready to be sold or traded at will.

This practice has only become more important as social media plays a bigger role in any company’s strategy. And there are plenty of businesses making a living selling success.

Forget about the stigmas attached to it for just a minute,” says Mat Carpenter, head of local social media firm GetWithSocial.

“With us, each new fan or follower is a potential lead – if your business wants to explore a new sales channel or is looking to secure new, long-term customers then I would definitely say it’s essential.”

And it’s not just Facebook or Twitter where the importance lies. Videos on YouTube are judged by view counts, posts on Tumblr given legitimacy if they’re spread across the blogging network quicker than others, and Pinterest clearly shows how many posts or boards are followed by individual users.

It’s a lot of work to get those followers.  For some, it’s too much work.

That’s why they turn to companies like uSocial in the United States, or GetWithSocial here in Australia, or GettySocial. These types of services offer to “buy” social media followers or likes.

The end result is that you’re given a pretty significant boost in your count and, as a result, your reputation. With a higher social media follower count, it’s more likely your content will be shared – and Google will be paying attention.

The more views you have on a YouTube video, the more likely you’ll be profiled on the site or show up higher in rankings. Again, Google will be watching closely.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Fake reviews and celebrity endorsements on Twitter are just a few ways businesses are fixing the social game.

But does that mean you should play it?

Experts suggest what you’re buying isn’t true social media engagement. Just a follower count.

“If you’re just simply searching for, or looking to create the perception that a company or a brand or an individual has a strong following, then you can do that.”

“But it doesn’t actually provide the type of social media community who will at the end of the day provide the value that you’re looking for.”

There are certainly benefits to using these types of services. As Mat Carpenter of GetWithSocial explains, you’re able to tap into a willing and ready audience quicker than the natural excavation of followers would allow.

“Put it this way: you don’t want to be ignoring social media or the act of buying followers.”

Carpenter argues there’s a clear benefit to buying social media followers quicker than your normal timeline would allow. It’s just speeding up the process by putting the page in front of people who may be interested.

“Essentially what we do is put our clients Facebook/Twitter page in front of thousands of users which can be targeted via country, and only people who like the look of the page, are interested in the niche or topic, or have a vested interest in the service, will like the page – others simply don't.”

But then, there’s the other part of the equation.

Social media experts argue these followers are never going to be as engaged with your brand had they found your company organically.

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