Four years after eliminating its own native feature, Twitter has outlawed the ability to auto follow through third-party services. This “immediate and programmatic means of following another user back after they follow you,” as described by TechCrunch, was a longtime staple for social media climbers and brands alike until Twitter severed ties in an unassuming developer blog post on July 3.
From a marketing perspective, there were two ways to look at auto following: 1) It allowed Twitter users to grow followers at an unrealistic rate to build false clout or 2) It allowed brands or public figures to easily connect with their fans – everyone loves a follow back. Whatever the reason for its rampant use, the feature and related services got the axe soon after Twitter was deemed “the largest offender (or victim) with its underground economy for buying and selling fake social accounts” in a Barracuda Labs report. Whether this report had actual influence on Twitter or the rules update was coincidental is unknown. As a result, services like Twitter Auto Follow Back, which claims interaction with more than 334,000,000 Twitter followers and has a designated “#TeamFollowBack” hashtag, have become obsolete in just a matter of days.
Twitter has also rid itself of “follow fast” services in an effort to cut down on spam accounts. These programs deliver fake followers for a relatively small fee – Forbes.com reports users can pay $10 for 1,000 followers or up to $1,350 for 1,000,000 followers. Many prominent celebrities have been called out for having a high fake-to-real follower ratio, which raises suspicions that they pay for their fans. According to a StatusPeople assessment by Forbes.com contributor John Greathouse, Britney Spears’ followers are 36% fake, both Justin Timberlake’s and Lady Gaga’s are 27% fake, and Justin Bieber’s are 29% fake. In fact, Twitter itself has a 37% fake follower base. However, let’s be fair – many “fake” followers can also be bots that latch on to prominent accounts without solicitation, hoping to get a follow back from actual engaged fans so they can spam them. Don’t write off The Biebs or Mother Monster just yet.
If you’re one of the Twitter users out there who’s quietly freaking out about this change, don’t fret. This is actually a great opportunity to ramp up your involvement in your social media bottom line. As you get new followers, take the time to look at who they are – where are they from? What are their interests? What do they tweet about? Who do they follow? From there, you can better craft your content to suit your current fans and strategically search for users to entice to follow you based on shared interests and a genuine value exchange. With a more hands-on strategy, you’ll achieve quality over quantity and see your engagement improve accordingly.
Greathouse, John. “Celebrities With The Most (Allegedly) Fake Twitter Followers.” forbes.com. N.p., 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 9 July 2013.
Perez, Sarah. “Why Twitter Finally Killed The ‘Auto Follow’ For Good.” techcrunch.com . N.p., 8 July 2013. Web. 9 July 2013.