Buying Followers

@DigitaLori, the CEO of a KBS+ (an ad agency in midtown), recently conducted an informal experiment with Twitter Promoted Accounts. Lori Senecal set out to understand the difference between social media connections that were “bought” through paid social media placements versus those “earned” through traditional social media relationship building techniques. In the end, she decides earned is better than paid. I slightly disagree with her findings, but this provides a good starting point for debating best practices for developing and curating a digital audience.

 Ms. Senecal launched a paid promotional account campaign for her Twitter profile over a three day period. After the first day of the experiment she paid $75 to Twitter Promoted Accounts, earned more than 100 new followers, and confirmed the theory that you can buy, authentic, relevant social media audience members for a price – Twitters algorithm for matching her with relevant users was working nicely. However, Lori felt paying for popularity felt weird, inauthentic, and made her uncomfortable, since she was essentially trading money for users to join her audience. By the end of the experiment, she made 45K new impressions, obtained a follow rate of .48%, and acquired 217 new followers in total.

 In Lori’s words, she found engaging with her social media audience to be similar to maintaining face to face, interpersonal relationships, “what you get out of it is directly proportionate to what you put into it – quality, content, and conversation – consideration of your partners interests – honesty and respect”. She found paid placement to be an efficient method to gain short term exposure, create an immediate spike in reach, but for long term growth it requires hard work, understanding one’s audience, and effectively creating and sharing content.

 I don’t think we can simply say paid social media placement versus old fashioned organic audience growth is simply good or bad, I think a better approach is blend both techniques or decide on a strategy based on specific goals related to characteristics of the person, thing or idea being promoted. I think Lori’s analysis is mostly accurate, but to some extent creates a false dichotomy between organic and paid audience development. When social media managers debate the pros and cons of paid versus organic growth they don’t simply need to choose one strategy, I believe they may strike a balance between both depending on the variables involved with the object or idea being promoted.

 Questions to the class:

 Do you agree more with my statement above – striking a balance between organic and paid growth is a good approach depending on the variables involved? Or do you agree more with Lori Senecal, organic, meaningful audience growth trumps paid growth? Or something else?

 In what ways would the promoted object or person in question influence your decision to use organic social media growth and, or paid placements?


7 thoughts on “Buying Followers

  1. I agree that you should strike a balance between paid and organic media approach. I think Lori Senecal’s original strategy of starting with organic and building your user base and then strengthening in with paid media is correct. People appreciate authenticity but also value convenience. When we think of Amazon, people search for items organically but also utilize the recommendation feature and trust that Amazon is offering up relevant items. Twitter is doing the same thing, setting up that first date between the follower and the followed. I think paid media works as long as you maintain relevance. People want to be offered up items that are pertinent to them.

    • I completely agree that there should be a balance between the two, and I think the Amazon example you used was a perfect example. Even though ads are being paid for, people are following because it matches their interests. Twitter is helping to align you with the correct outlet, and in order to keep that following you need to interact and use the organic media approach to continue to stimulate their interests once they are aware of your presence.

  2. I agree that balancing the two is the way to go and I also think you need to pay for social media in some form or another to gain momentum on platforms like Twitter or Facebook. I almost think about it like a giant snowball or the Flywheel effect from good to great (once the fly wheel has built momentum you can’t really identify on specific thing that got it up to speed).

  3. I also agree that there should be a balance between the paid and organic social media approach. However, I slightly prefer Lori’s “earn meaningful audience” opinion. I use twitter just for information gathering and fun so I would just follow some news agency and the people I interested in. When I used microblog several years ago, I followed more than 500 people. But now this number is less than 200. I don’t think I need that much information and I believe that Lori’s also want to make her target audience feel “this is what I want”. However, I can understand those who choose to pay for this.

    • While I understand that paying for followers can improve the audience you are connected with, I totally agree with the comment above about Lori’s “earn meaningful audience”. A blend is always the perfect solution, but I think the nature of Social makes it necessary to have an authentic connection with the audience and to develop relevant content; this is not easily attainable. Therefore I think users should be cautious with having the right balance between the paid and the organic social media approaches.

  4. I’d agree with you. If she is using Twitter to also bring attention to her company and to drive additional sales, than paid search probably should have a part in her plan. She still needs to build the relationship with her customers and create the content to do that, but buy paying for exposure, she creates the opportunity to get more people to know who she is and what her ad company provides and give her the chance to build the relationship with people she wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

  5. I think the natural inclination for most people when they see a “promoted tweet” or “promoted post” on Facebook is to view it as you would a “special advertising section” of a magazine – it just seems less legit than earned media or earned followers. But, I think if done correctly – if they’re entertaining and informative – you can actually discover an interesting product/service/event that you wouldn’t have otherwise, and in that case you don’t mind it. I think it does make sense to buy followers if your tweets appeal to a niche community – maybe one that would be interested in what you have to say, but wouldn’t necessarily find you otherwise. I don’t think it’s really necessary for most companies to do it, but for start-ups or small companies that don’t have the resources to staff a full-time social media person (or even afford interns to help), it could be worthwhile for them. I think social is one of those things where you just need to get the ball rolling in order to pick up momentum. But of course you can’t rely solely on buying followers, because landing a follower in the first place doesn’t necessarily mean you will keep them – you have to provide substantive, interesting information that appeals to them.

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