Blog: What is the value of a follower?

Influicity CEO Jonathan Davids on what fake followers for Clinton and Trump could mean for your business.

By: Jonathan Davids

Amid the noise surrounding the US presidential campaign, Adweek recently published a story that should catch any marketers’ attention. More than a third of Trump’s and Clinton’s Twitter followers are reportedly fake, according to a study released by ad-fraud detection company eZanga. The study went on to investigate the accounts of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, finding a surprisingly high number of bot accounts there as well.

Follower fraud is clearly an issue, but even when the followers are real, assessing their value can be quite difficult. Jonathan  Davids InfluicitySome people manipulate platforms to give the perception of popularity. Similar to how website operators would intentionally fool search engines in the early 2000′s, new tactics are being adopted by a generation, trying to boost their numbers in a big way.

Brands and media buyers alike have taken notice, and we’ve been hearing a lot of questions on this topic. With so many great, authentic influencer channels out there, how can a media buyer ensure they’re getting real quality and not fictional followers?

Engagement matters

The rate at which viewers react to a piece of content on social media, such as liking a photo or commenting on a video, is the most telling sign of follower value.

As a baseline, an advertiser can use 2% as a minimum reasonable engagement rate. For every 100 views, at least two  viewers should be interested enough to react. Anything less should raise a red flag.

In writing this column, I spoke with a number of execs at media buying firms and the sentiment can be felt across the board. Subscriber numbers represent only one aspect of the decision process. Authenticity, depth, and overall connection with the product are essential.

Marketers should also be aware that low engagement doesn’t necessarily mean bad quality – it’s only one signal. Certain categories have notoriously low engagement rates, like photography. Technology and gadgets, which attract a tech-savvy viewer, tend to have much higher engagement rates.

Beware of huge follower swings

When an influencer experiences large swings in their follower numbers, specifically when they gain and then lose followers at an alarming clip, that could be a sign that they’re buying followers.

The reason? Follower farms pay individuals to follow certain accounts, but there is no requirement to remain a follower for very long. After a day or two, the numbers fall off a cliff.

The critical exception here would be an account that is gaining in popularity. For example, the account for iJustine shows an increase of 155,432 followers the last 90 days. For a channel of three million subscribers, this number is not surprising.

A deeper look at the numbers

While the eZanga study is fairly recent, the problem is not a new one. Last year, a study was commissioned on how many fake Twitter followers exist on the accounts of top music celebs. The results, which shocked many industry observers, indicated a range of 55% to 67% of all Twitter followers on these accounts are actually fake.

Marketers should be cautious when approaching influencers with whom they have not worked in the past. Third party verification is essential.

Jonathan Davids is the founder and CEO of Influicity