When the The New York Times published a fascinating read, “The Follower Factory: Everyone wants to be popular online. Some even pay for it. Inside social media’s black market,” I wasn’t exactly surprised.
In summary, the article calls out celebrities, influencers, brands, etc., along with agencies that find ways to quickly grow a user’s social media following with fake followers. The followers are bots and falsely created profiles copied from real users. There are not real people behind the accounts.
It’s not a surprise to me as a marketer. In fact, our JLab Audio marketing team often shares a laugh at these accounts — from tech blogs to fitness gurus — who have hundreds of thousands of followers, but terrible content or ugly websites. And for years I’ve marveled at other brands that have twice the following of JLab … or at least “influencers” who have 100,000-plus followers, but don’t have anything to offer. It’s a superficial world and people often just glance at the follower number vs. digging into who they’re following. They’re misled, for instance, to believe that the person posting gym selfies with 200,000 followers actually has some good fitness advice for them.
We come across both influencers and brands all the time that have fake followers. You’ll often see super low engagement (e.g., likes, comments, shares) or a few posts with some engagement and others with none. Even with paid engagement, the quality of the interactions isn’t real. Either they’re mostly likes and shares or the comments are vague, implying that they paid for engagement with fake profiles.
JLab has held true to being authentic as a brand, without buying followers. The company has even gone so far to end a relationship with an influencer who had four times our followers because the person wasn’t authentic (either they paid for followers or misrepresented themselves to their followers).
It all boils down to authenticity — for either the brand or influencer. Here are some tips for brands as they look to grow their social following:
- Authenticity Rules: Focus on being true to your brand and products. For JLab, we have such a great family of sports products that it’s a natural fit to work with athletes who, as part of their routine or workouts, use earbuds. Work with influencers in your industry who would naturally use, enjoy, and talk about your products or brand.
- Quality Over Quantity: Focus on influencers or ambassadors who have engaged fans. We have some great examples from our JLab ambassadors. LPGA golfer Anna Nordqvist has 45,000 followers on Instagram and gets 15-plus comments and 1,000-plus likes per photo (healthy engagement). While her following isn’t earth-shattering, it’s an engaged group of people who love golf (likely). I’d rather have someone with 50,000 engaged fans vs 200,000 unknown fans. In the end, the more engaged audience is more likely to see your content (thanks to social media algorithms) because they actually care about what that influencer posts.
- Don’t Try to Make Something Work. Just like your mom always said, “don’t try to change a person.” When evaluating an influencer partnership, look at what the influencer is currently posting and assume that your brand is associated with it. Don’t like it? Move on.
- Be Patient. We all want results — and fast. That’s why so many people have jumped on the paid followers bandwagon. You get 25,000 followers for just $225, according to The New York Times article. That’s a huge bump for a small to midsized brand. But it’s not real. Growing real followers takes time, so be patient.
- Pay for Followers. What? Did I just say pay for followers!? Well, not in the sense of buying fake ones, but paying to place your message/content toward real, applicable people who are interested in your brand. If you need to grow your follower numbers more quickly, paid or sponsored placements is a good option to target users.
While it takes time, building a genuine social following is the right move for a brand or influencer. Don’t get caught playing in a game of lies and fraud — it will reflect poorly on your brand.
Terra Teat is the vice president of marketing at JLab Audio, a seller of personal audio products, including headphones and earbuds.