The business case for cheating your way to social media superstardom

cheating your way to social media superstardom

On a recent post examining the bribery that is going on over at Empire Avenue, reader Shawn Manaher asks:

“Do you feel paying for any kind of traffic to a website or social media post is appropriate at any time or any level? Just wondering if you feel that there is something inherently wrong with that or not?”

If you care about marketing and love social media, you are probably raising the roof with a resounding “NOOO!”

And, as much as I would like that to be the answer, I owe you intellectual honesty on this blog and the answer is YES — it might make sense to cheat the system — in one situation.

Faking your way to superstardom

Buying fake followers or bribing people for traffic will not provide long-term sustainable business benefits, but it can effectively do one thing: Build a short-term image of power, authority and popularity.

Several years ago, a social media celebrity confessed to me that he was a fake. He had purchased more than 100,000 empty Twitter followers on eBay. He organized a scheme on Empire Avenue to “like” his Facebook page and share his blog post. He even lied about having a book contract to create a facade of importance. He built a profitable speaking career on the foundation of pure fabrication. So, faking it worked … but we’ll return to his story in a minute.

Numbers matter

Truth is, people may perceive the value of an individual (or even a business) based only on the numbers — followers, friends, tweets, likes. Why? Because in our hurried world, these numbers are shortcuts to help us decide what to do and who to listen to. This is a well-known psychological concept — people believe something because there is a signal that other people are thinking something or doing something and that gives the content, idea, or individual credibility.

It’s a fundamental human process to assign legitimacy, validity, and value to those things we believe that other people are assigning value to, whether it is true or not.

It’s easy to be a fake

Perhaps you’re upset by people blatantly cheating their way to fame. The Internet offers an unprecedented opportunity to manufacture social proof through tricks and devices. It’s possible to market your own prominence through strategies that don’t have anything to do with real insight, authority or value.

Because of the Internet’s vast ability to grant social proof, and our willingness to accept that evidence as truth, the talent to manufacture social proof can be a legitimate source of online influence – even apart from an individual’s actual experience, ability, or personal accomplishments. 

That might sound icky, but the answer to my blog reader is “yes.” There is some value to bribing or paying for social proof because on one level that might be all that people care about.

In the short term.

Let’s go back to my friend’s story. The reason he was telling me that he was a fake was because he was also saying farewell.

In the short-term he was able to fake his legitimacy through lies but eventually, his customers expected him to deliver the goods. Real value. Real insight. The pressure to keep his real world in line with his fake world became unbearable. He was beginning to fail so miserably that he decided to drop off the Internet altogether. He folded up his fake tent and got a “real job.”

The courage to be real

I would like to end this post with an appeal for you to stay strong, stay centered, and avoid the easy temptation of faking it. Yes, being honest is the right thing to do, but there are solid business reasons for this, too:

  1. I sincerely believe that in the long-term, true authority and expertise will rise to the top. That’s why I don’t get upset when I see people cheating the system. In the short term you can fool a few people but in the long term, the real people will win. Do the hard work. Earn those readers, followers, and likes the old fashioned way.
  2. Building your social proof in an organic and honest way drives the right business behaviors. You will have to learn, adjust, adopt, and deliver value to create REAL social validation. Cheating is lazy and an addiction that will ruin your business.
  3. Finally, we should all be concerned about staying relevant and standing out in a crowded market. I believe one of the ways to do that is through radical honesty. These days, it is so easy to be a fake, and so common to be a fake, that the people who have the courage to be honest will be rewarded.

At least that’s what I’m counting on. And I know I’m right. So hang tough {grow} people. Let’s support each other and grow our businesses the honest way. Agree?

Illustration courtesy

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  • Agree, the funny thing is that some of the most amazing people have hardly any followers. Talented photographers or what have you.

    The issue I notice is trying to maintain a great fan base/followers across the main social channels.

    Some people have 500 Twitter followers but then 82k Instagram followers. Obviously each platform meets different needs, BUT if you were to judge someone on their low follower amount on Twitter keep in mind that they may be kicking but on Instagram or Facebook.

  • RandyBowden

    I have always just focused on trying to do the best with intigrity. Not worrying about those that somehow manuvre the “falsehoodom” with ease. Many have spent a fortune of their time trying to unroot the “fake” and claim victory for cleaning the space while in my mind branding themselves in the never ending process as somewhat a bully and not a marketer!

  • It’s a case of “live by the sword, die by the sword,” isn’t it? If you build your house on sand, the sand can erode away beneath your feet at any moment.

  • Good observation Tiana!

  • I have purged those folks from my social media existence. It is just toxic. I want to surround myself with people who move ahead with integrity — like you!

  • Surely a consideration that you must make before commencing on a strategy such as this is that YOU know you’re a fake, and that will come across if your ever called up on it or asked to present, write about or speak about your field of ‘authority’. Dangerous route I would say.

    I’d rather have less followers and be genuine. Is authenticity a measurement of the so called ‘Influence Scores’?

  • And I think it will. I had a guy ask me “I just bought 6,000 followers on Twitter. What do I do next?” My answer: “Start over!”

  • This recently occurred when one of the best-selling authors in our field was called out by an audience question about buying book reviews, likes and even blog comments. Flustered, the author actually admitted that he did this, to the shock of the audience and moderator. Interestingly enough, his second book has far fewer reviews.

    I think trying to maintain an image of integrity when your whole image is built on a lie would be exhausting.

  • Exhausting but deserved, “you’ve made your bed now lie in it” 🙂

    Where can I buy Twitter followers?? [JOKE]

  • Although this particular post doesn’t get into it, you have no doubt heard a company talk about “we need more Facebook likes” or Twitter followers of Pins, etc. There usually isn’t a strategy involved, just social proof metrics. My company is better than yours because I have more Facebook likes.

    When I talk to clients who say “the boss” is judging them specifically on Likes or followers with no thought about real engagement I die a little inside, but I usually ask if simply buying followers is a possibility so they can get on to the real work.

    Social proof, gaining an advantage, cheating, performance enhancing drugs, advertising… they are all starting to blur for me.

    In this case it’s easy to see the downside because it was a single consultant who couldn’t follow-up, but what about when you are one mid-level marketer at a giant global brand that has metrics to hit? In that case is it less insidious or more? Are you putting the entire brand at risk?

    It’s hardly a black/white issue for me an more. I used to say “never”, but I now see times when it actually makes sense for a given set of circumstances.

    Thanks for the even-handed treatment of the issue Mark.

  • What a great post to start my week off 🙂
    My hope is that we can slowly educate people to detect the fakes. My post about how to remove fake Twitter followers was very popular – that makes me hopeful. “Social Media is like online dating: if you cheat, you’ll get caught”

  • Daniel Newman

    Great title, strong post. Building a brand takes time and hard work. Most people don’t want to take the time to do what it takes.
    Most people who are really successful in anything have done the work.
    so many online lessons are just iterations of life lessons. Right? 🙂

  • Rodger

    I read in a NYT article a while ago how a comedian used fake Twitter followers he purchased to empower his stardom. He was funny, had paying gigs, but wanted to move to th next level quicker, so he purchased a few rounds of Twitter followers. As his following numbers increased, so did his ability to close bigger gigs.

    Could this have happened over time and with more sweat? Yes. I do think, however, sweat build better numbers than the swipe of a credit card.

    I think it’s better to buy advertising, get real media coverage, and/or make a pack with a group of colleagues to help each other promote content across the internet.

    Admittedly, I tried buying Twitter followers and I spent about $20 for about 4,000 followers.My goal was to buy follower incrementally to give the appearance that I was important. Within a week, Twitter had found these and removed them. So, I wasted $20 I could have otherwise spent on a good bottle of wine. I did some basic math and discovered to beat the system, I’d have to spend a lot more than what I could budget. The numbers told me, it wasn’t worth it. So I stopped.

    Through my experiment, I found it made no difference. What makes a difference is engagement, providing valuable content, helping others, and being nice.

    Thanks for this post, Mark.

  • What an amazing post @businessesgrow:disqus. Really appreciate the way you explained things here. I have always talked to people that NUMBERS dont matter if you cannot communicate with them all and build relationships with them. I have only 1500 followers there on Twitter. But they are highly responsive, they help me whenever i need them and they give me respect of what i do. Being AUTHENTIC & Honest is the righteous way to get business always.

    The network can only be judged by the people you follow or the people following you. The content you write or the content you curate. Quality will always overcome quantity.

  • LoriGama1

    So glad you wrote about this subject, Mark. Though I’ve been on Twitter for several years, I “only” have 11,000+ followers but I cherish them all because they took a moment of their precious time to decide whether or not to follow me and they did. They are my “organic” tribe. Organic is better than synthetic!

  • I think the “business case” I presented certainly extends to brands too. In one of my classes, a marketer from a huge CPG company admitted that his brand was buying Likes to the extent that they actually had a metric of “cost per like.” The reason? They always wanted to have more Likes than the competitor. Pure social proof.

    Those Likes are empty but it does accomplish something.

    However, think of the risk. First of all, the leader of this marketing department is tolerating unethical practices that will be driving the wrong activities in the department. This is lazy marketing that becomes an addiction. Instead of driving engagement that leads to loyalty, the emphasis is on deception and cover up.

    And if it is ever discovered (which is not that difficult) you are might end up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Who would risk this.

    And in the end, all you are left with is big numbers to support an ego, fake people only spend fake money I suppose. : )

    Thanks for your kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Nice. Thank you sir.

  • Agree 100 percent my friend. Well said.

  • A remarkable comment Rodger. Thank you for this honesty and sharing your experience as a great lesson for the {grow} community. This is an exceptional blog post in its own right.

  • You are a role model on how to do it right my friend. You are having a significant global impact through your generosity, heart, and genuine caring for other people.

    In fact we can use our relationship as a lesson. As Saad has said, he only has 1,500 followers. And yet, I have contributed to his blog several times, I have given him many hours of free personal counsel, we have talked by Skype, and he is featured as a best practice in my book The Tao of Twitter.

    Saad would never have achieved these remarkable benefits if he spent his time gaming the system and faking his social proof. In fact, if I clicked on his profile and saw that he had 500,000 followers, I would go “yuck” because I would know that could not possibly be real.

    Because he is honest and has become my friend (through our content connection), he is a person I want to be associated with, help, and do business with. We have REAL connection and you never know where that will lead. We will help each other forever.

  • Good for you. Not only do I not fake social proof, I actively block spammers, which has probably cut my Twitter followers in half! But I am proud that every person following me is a real person or business to the best of my knowledge. Good job Lori!

  • I started getting organic Twitter followers when I followed your advice and created a better (and slightly humorous) Twitter bio. Seriously, I started getting followers because I like bacon. And chocolate. LOL But it was reading your posts on funny Twitter bios that started me thinking. And, I believe, made me do a better job of picking people to follow.

    That said, when I was writing movie scripts (a brief period of extreme madness), social proof was everything. Literally everything. Someone had to like your script for anyone to like it. At the entry level at least, no one had the confidence to like something, even if they liked it. LOL

    Book publishing was a bit like that. An agent was social proof or a contest win.

    I guess my point is, your excellent advice applies equally to anything worth doing. You need to find the inner confidence to press forward, basing that on real, sustained effort.

    Unearned kudos really don’t satisfy deep down.

  • Jenny Brennan

    Hi Mark, yes I agree with your opinion. Having come to social media late compared to most and having been on a steep learning curve ever since I see the advantage of building real relationships slowly. I have just over 560 Facebook fans, 1200 Twitter followers and of course the “obligatory” 500+ connections on LinkedIn (I think it’s meant to make you look well connected) – and of course I am starting to get more active on Google+. Anyway my point is that even though I have a small online network on social channels I have still been able to seek out quality connections such as yourself. I have taken time to get to know these people and am proud to say that I have worked for some of the best known social influencers in the industry – all really down to earth and lovely people. I have done this by listening, watching and interacting when appropriate in addition to being totally transparent and honest. My big goal this year is to develop and grow my blog and of course increase my fan base, Twitter following and connections on LinkedIn. If you work hard and pay attention, great relationships can be nurtured. I am looking forward to meeting you in “real life” this March. Keep up the great work – I now have the confidence and passion to be a little more active in these discussions – another of my learning curves 🙂 Jenny

  • Sean M. Lyden

    Thank you for writing this post, Mark. It’s an encouragement to all of us to stay the course and grow a following that’s genuine and built to last. In the context of social media (and social proof), the adage “fake it till you make it” can be dangerous in the long run.

    Although my Twitter following is smaller than most people — under 700 — I’m driven by these two questions:
    -How can I improve my tweets in a way that brings more interest and value to my followers?
    -How can I do a better job of attracting the right kind of followers who will benefit the most from my expertise and tweets?

    The onus is on me to do the work, to make the connections, to bring the value to others — and ultimately grow my following. Your book The Tao of Twitter, which I read a little over a week ago, has helped stimulate my thinking in coming up with good answers to the two questions and point me on the path of diligent patience toward authentic social proof.

    Keep making an impact, Mark.

  • Social proof is certainly big in the real world too, as you say, But I think online, it goes to a whole new dimension!

  • Awesome. BTW, if you have more than 423 followers you are in the Top 10% of all Twitter users, See, you are a BIG DEAL!

  • Sean M. Lyden

    I like that perspective — thanks, Mark.

  • Having the courage to be yourself no matter what is sometimes a scary thing Mark!

    The one thing I’ve changed about the way I go about social media this year is to engage with people.

    An endless stream of links and thank yous just doesn’t seem right in 2014!

  • We’ve walked away from prospective clients who seem to be caught up in the numbers game. I don’t want them because I know, no matter what I do, they will never be happy because they are evaluating on numbers alone. You want to cook your books? Fine by me but I’m surely not going to be the head chef.

  • Mark, this is a terrific, well meaning post and I applaud the “purest” responses. I wholeheartedly support everything being said. BUT, where there is money at stake (combined with a lack of understanding of the reality), social fakery will continue to flourish unless either regulatory agencies or the consumers themselves respond to severely reprimand the fakes. This problem is not about being pure and honest, it is about some (arguably many) misleading the unsuspecting consumer and significantly capitalizing on it before it all crumbles (and the normal folks pay the price). That is the bubble many are concerned about.

    Please remember, we (the members of the grow community and the social industry at large) are a minute representation of the internet user population as a whole. We understand the reality, they have no clue what is happening, why it’s happening or the potential impact.

    Just last week, Target was one of the first companies ever to be punished by it’s customers for a security breach so severely that the company had to state the negative impact to sales during their earnings report.

    This needs to happen in these cases of fake social representation as well. Don’t just give it lip service, live it! Companies (misguided or otherwise) who are building a fake social presence need to be exposed and shunned. Until this happens, the problem will continue and escalate, IMHO.

  • I am so happy you joined the discussion. We need your voice around here! Thank you Jenny!

  • Amen Tim. Nothing more to add except Thank you!

  • That’s why I love you. You are a great leader Kristen.

  • First of all, I am happy to see you my dear friend!

    Yes, this is a small section of the web but all we can do is control ourselves and our reactions. It is hard to not be thrown off center by the snake oil folks or to be angry about the scams you mention but I would rather just worry about what I can do to be a positive influence. It’s great to have people like you Steve as a great role model!

  • Mark, I just want you to know that you’ve got perfect timing. I’ve seen a few posts lately in professional groups asking about whether or not it’s ok to buy likes for their clients, especially in light of Facebook’s recent actions. Your post is a shot of courage for all marketers dealing with clients who want to benefit from social without doing the hard stuff—earning trust.

  • Word @businessesgrow:disqus !!

    The post is a shot in arm for many of us who have worked very hard to build the following organically. Many of us have kept away from using shortcuts and built the fan base slowly and steadily.

    But I have had few clients and have also seen some local politician who want immediate stardom. For them the numbers are more an ego issue and they do not bother if 1000 followers fall off after they have bought 10000. End of the day, their counter point is, people usually look at numbers and judge the importance. Very few will actually go into your content and these folks play with such psych very well.

    Secondly, I have also seen ‘brands’ reach out these folks for their ‘perceived’ reach.

    We in the industry know these games very well, but will my dad also know it. So while we are in the number game, I see that sites like EA will survive and do well.

  • Right on brother! I get so tired of watching folks build their following on G+ by shoveling cat memes and stolen images but I’ve always felt at the end of the day, even though my following is much smaller – they are real people that follow me because they are tuned into what I share and not some gimmick.

    A while back I posted: “Thinking aloud… Empire Avenue, no different than buying likes.” to my G+ stream and that riled a few feathers. I like the cheaters to know I’ve got my eye on them. I’m kinda evil that way.

  • Andrij Harasewych

    I wish I could “gift” followers to people that deserve it more than I do on Google+!

  • thank you, Mark, for your wisdom, as always. seriously…thank you. keep singing this song. It’s so true. As you can see from my “low” numbers across all channels, I’m “organically grown”, and it’s just fine by me.

  • Very timely Mark. I’ve seen a couple of prime examples of cheating.

    1) A new client’s followers bloomed from under 100 to past 4,000 in a single week. (He later admitted buying them, and I no longer work with him.)

    2) A website owner pointed out some unbelievable views/share numbers posted to a blog article on a PR2 website (the owner professed legitimacy, even though the shares were 1,000 x greater than the best shared blog I’ve enjoyed).

    I must admit, seeing these made me feel like a failure, even though I know they are fake.

    Fortunately, the lure to the dark side isn’t even close to being strong enough to make me cheat.

  • Mark Vang, Sactuary Networking is one of the more valuable groups in G+. Good job!

  • Mark- thanks so much for writing this article! I shared it on Google+ together with some detailed thoughts on it. I thought it would be good to share some of those thoughts here…

    …if ever there was a time for discussing the ethics of the social web and the topic of “cheating” then now is the time!

    If we’re all honest, I think we do act differently online. We say things that we might not say in public and we can sometimes do things that we wouldn’t do in public.

    The mantra that I try to keep to is Would you do this or say this if it was in the real world?
    Similarly, if you are talking about someone, would you say that to their face if they were sitting in front of you?

    How about numbers and metrics? In my view it is a huge problem. How do you measure someone’s success? Is it…
    – Their Klout Score?
    – How many followers on Twitter they have?
    – How many people have circled them on Google+?
    – How often they post each day?
    – How many likes/RTs/+1s they are getting?

    The above can be an indication, but unfortunately it’s so easy to cheat the system and effectively buy or manufacture the above.

    I’d say, take the above metrics with a huge tub of salt. Look at the content that they are posting? Is it quality content? Does it add value? Are they cheating the system? Can you trust them?
    Last year, I wrote an article about some of the silly or even dirty tactics that some so-called social media “gurus” do in 20 Steps to become a Social Media Guru. Do you recognise any of these? Are you doing any of those steps? If so, time to have a reality check!

    I think Mark Schaefer and Rob Zaleski have had great courage (although I think that’s just the way they are) to bring up the whole subject. It is so easy to be a sheep and follow all the same tactics that other so-called gurus and big names are using…
    If X is doing that, then that is probably what we should be doing
    I am guilty of that too. Let’s stop and think. What are you on a social network for you? Why are you doing what you are doing? It’s just too easy to follow the crowd! It’s so tempting isn’t it?

    Instead of cheating the system, how about building really value relationships with people you trust? That is worth more than its weight in gold!

    Trust and Value
    This is what it is all about. Trust. Having a presence on social media is mainly about building up trust. You can build up thousands of followers on Twitter, you can get loads of +1s on Google+ and you can increase your Klout score, but do people trust you? Have you built up meaningful relationships?

    …Let’s try and change this decline! Let’s stand firm in our fight to take back the social web for good and have integrity! Let’s do it now!

  • Randy. I feel your pain. The fact that you feel like a failure is a good thing. It means you are doing the right thing- even if it doesn’t feel like it! I’m so glad Mark wrote this article. We need more of them and we need to start fighting against the pollution of the social web. As I said in a previous comment, it’s easy to act differently online. I am sure your client wouldn’t buy friends in real life, so why should it be ok online?

  • That’s fantastic. It can be hard walking away from clients, but if they are unwilling to listen to your advice it is the only way. I assume that these prospective clients were unwilling to listen to you? The problem is that there are so many people that are playing the numbers game. It is so tempting!

  • Mark, what is your definition of a spammer? There are obvious examples, but I wondered how far you went? I frequently get people who send me automatic direct messages on Twitter when I follow them saying “thanks for following me, let’s connect on FB!” It drives me insane and I am tempted to unfollow them. However in some cases they are genuine people who are good to follow.

  • Thank you Katherine. I recently experienced this first hand when a large customer’s ad agency was putting them on a plan of Facebook Like purchases. I fought this all the the way to the company CEO and won, at least for now!

  • Very timely article Mark,

    With my love for Google+ being threatened by those looking for the free lunch, it does more than damage their own long term trust and authority, they are dragging innocent people down with them that just want to use Google+.

    I don’t know that there is a solution, but I think awareness is where I am going to start.

  • Thanks for the very well-articulated and supportive comment Malhar. Another negative is backlash from cheating right? We had a politician here in the US who was disgraced because he bought his followers. He lost the election — probably for lots of other reasons — but it did not help his reputation!

  • As you might have seen, last week Rob Zaleski wrote a post about EA being a cesspool and got the same kind of flames. I had to delete some of the personal attacks. I truly do not understand that behavior, I love Twitter. If corruption was ruining Twitter, I would not defend it, I would work to make it better or quit. I can only assume that people defend the unethical and even illegal practices on EA because they are benefiting from them personally. I just don’t see that working out for them in the long run. Thanks.

  • Ha! That’s great. Maybe we should create a new group called “Organically Grown” to recognize and reward professionals who don’t cheat. I’ll bet people would put their badge on their sites proudly! I actually think that is a legitimate business idea Lynn.

  • You made an extraordinary observation here Randy — viewing these big numbers made you feel like a failure, even though you KNEW it was fake!

    This is so interesting and true. I call this “being knocked off center” and it happens to me too. I am a competitive person, which I think is healthy in business, but I would never let that get in the way of ethics or values. BUt I do also feel that twinge. The other day I was looking at the profile of one of the defenders of EA (on my post last week) and he had over 600,000 Twitter followers. I know what it takes to build an organic audience and I am certain that number is a result of years of EA “missions” and other games. If you just think through the math it is impossible to grow like that unless you are a celebrity. Still, my internal reaction was “wow … that’s a lot!”

    I’m at a place in my career where I can let that stuff roll off my back but I can certainly see how a newcomer would be intoxicated by the promise of quick stardom.

    Thanks for the great comment. I think it will resonate with a lot of people Randy!

  • Honestly I only dabble in G+ ( there are only so many hours in the day) so I have not witnessed what you are talking about. But I would think that if people are trying to game Google they will be shut down or shunned by Google at some point, right?

  • That’s the other push point Ian. If they won’t listen when they’re not paying me you know they won’t listen when they are!

  • Thanks Randy.

  • Jonathan Malkin

    Excellent article. I’d go a step further and encourage entrepreneurs to put themselves out there! Show people who you are. People want to see the real you.

    To that end we interview entrepreneurs about subjects people rarely talk about including depression.

    What’s your opinion on revealing who you are including your values and personal struggles you’ve overcome?

  • Online is social proof on steroids! But, like you said, without knowing anything about people, we have to look for clues to help us navigate. It’s kind of crazy when you think about how much the world has change. I used to think my world hadn’t changed as much as, say, my grandmother’s (born 1898 – died 1993; went from horse and carriage to men in space), but now I’m not so sure.

    We know more…but we also know less…

  • Jenny Brennan

    Aww thanks Mark I needed that today, it’s been a challenging one 🙂 Thanks

  • Much appreciated Mark.

    The gentleman who bought the followers insisted that it was like seating diners in the window of a restaurant, “helping” prospective diners make a favourable dining choice.

  • TheMainStreetAnalyst

    Not really sure where to agree with you on this and where not, Mark. This is a topic that is difficult to explain in a short post. Fact is, marketing is marketing. If you claim that individuals “cheat” their way up in the social media world, you must mention the big brands that buy likes and followers for millions of dollars. If you can read financial reports go and look at the reports and numbers for acquired traffic. Some of them are called top notch social media marketers and people adore them and celebrate them. Has to do with our affection for big shots that cannot be at fault. If an individual does the same, it is called cheating. I don’t agree with that. I also don’t agree with the shot at Empire Avenue. EA is an outstanding tool for small businesses and individuals (and for the big brands, they just don’t understand how it works) that don’t have the millions to buy traffic elsewhere. It’s debatable for everyone what is a “good product” and what not. But that’s not on one or a few to decide on. No matter what you are selling, yourself, a brand, alcohol, food, lingerie or even just moon-cows, the market decides what is good and what works. And the market is much bigger than a community. I am in sales and marketing for 35 years, no matter what you advertise, when you sit in front of the purchase manager (or the hiring manager) and you have to show what you have to sell, the truth comes out. If you manage to sell a “moon-cow” and the buyer can’t make sense of it, you will hear about it, and so will the world these days. That’s how the market regulates itself in marketing and business. To judge individuals or small businesses on buying traffic, likes and followers is wrong. The point is better made with the politicians. They can regulate marketing, but my guess is they won’t. And you can take a guess why that is.

  • This topic might make an interesting guest post? Maybe get some quotes from people like @iagdotme:disqus and others who feel intimidated by numbers.

  • Thank you for the wonderful comment and I’m glad you posted here too so we can keep the conversation more or less in one place.

    This is a timely and relevant discussion and in terms of success I like to consider the “why” more than the what.

    Why are you doing this? Is it to have a high Klout score? Probably not.

    Is it to feed a family? That is a good reason.

    Is to engage in something rewarding and interesting? That is a good why.

    If you know that why, then you will know the measure. If you count on external measures of success and compare yourself to other people you will never be satisfied (and I use “you” in a generic sense). Look at the why and then you will find the measure.

  • I think I have a history of that on the blog. I do draw a line on disclosing too much of my personal life in a sensational way but I do use personal stories and struggles to teach.

  • Let me think on it… happy to do so.

  • That would be a great thing to do @Mark. I would really love to have that badge on my site

  • First of all, I’m glad you disagree and thanks for taking a stand. Well done.

    We all have to make decisions in our lives. Do we go with the flow even if its wrong? Do we steal music online because everyone does it? Do we steal online content because everyone does it?

    And do we fake our success because everyone does it?

    I know people need to do what they need to do to put bread on the table. But that does not mean I’m wrong in encouraging people to do the right thing.

    All those fake followers? It may make you feel powerful in the short term or help you appease a boss but they will add zero to your bottom line in the long run because it’s not real. What is the true business case for 50,000 empty “likes” or fake people who will never engage with your brand let alone buy something from you?

    Also, I stand by my assessment of Empire Avenue.

    Thanks very much for the well-written dissent. I appreciate that very much.

  • Kevin Green

    lol Mark your assumptions are so off. Seeing as I am probably who you are talking about. When I started twitter a few years back, I lived on Twitter 20 hours a day developing a following. I developed a hashtag that would trend on twitter quite often. My follower numbers were even higher but I have been force unfollowing and deleting inactive people. I DO NOT run Empire Avenue missions to boost numbers. You have a lot of great information to share but you are starting to come across very tainted in your opinions lately. So you know what it takes to…then at least acknowledge hard work and stop with your slander of how you think it was done.

  • I am not slandering any one, sir. I am stating a view and I did not name names.

    Here are the facts. If somebody was on Twitter for four years they would have to gain an average of 411 new followers A DAY to reach 600,000. My opinion (which I own as an opinion, not a fact) is that unless you are a true celebrity with massive exposure, that rate is unlikely to occur through organic growth alone. In fact, it is unimaginable.

    Chris Brogan, probably the closest thing to a social media celebrity we have and one of the most highly-exposed speaker, authors, and bloggers in the field has 233,000 followers, as a benchmark.

  • TheMainStreetAnalyst

    Appreciate your response, Mark. You have all the right to encourage people to do the right thing, but nobody does anything wrong in legally acquiring traffic. I think that’s the subject of the discussion, at least for me. Whether the traffic is good or bad is a different discussion and the buyers problem. Don’t disagree with you about the quality of fake followers or likes when it comes to engagement. However, 99.9% of people visiting a Twitter or Facebook profile don’t check for faked followers or likes, they are just impressed by the numbers. This is what those that buy likes have in mind. Again, if they expect engagement with the robot, their problem.
    Also, I agree with you about stealing content! However, as a photographer now selling my work, I am aware of who are my fans and who are the not so creative people that use my photos for their own “glory”. I use the not so creative people as a marketing tool, they show off my work. I have sufficient legal protection when they are used for commercial purposes, and so has anyone else. The stuff I am selling is not posted, or is posted with protection. Times have changed and we all have to adjust to it, even the powerful music industry, or we will be overrun.
    One thing that has changed in the recent past, having huge numbers of followers and likes alone, is not considered a success anymore. Those that still believe it still is, will have a rough awakening when they count the revenue. It is not a surprise that marketers have problems to measure ROI when there is nothing or not much to measure. Again, the market, and what you stated, fake followers don’t buy!
    As far as Empire Avenue goes, Mark, you should have another look. The platform is a great marketing tool. I know that a lot of people have problems to understand it, but others had and still have great success with it.

  • Trevor Cherewka

    Great blog post. It shines a bright light on the myth of “if it’s n the internet it must be true”. I am not so much worried about our generation but the generations to come.

    Who is validating everything? That is the question.

    Below are 2 official statements from our sources of information.

    Encyclopedia Britannica has used thousands of eminent experts, scholars, and leaders to contribute to Britannica since the company’s founding in 1768.

    Wikipedia – Anyone can be a Wikipedian—including you.

    We have created a world that allows people to be delusional and think they can fool the masses…and rightfully so. Take your friend for example. He was getting hired for speaking gigs from someone who vetted him at some point.

    I cleverly came up with this the other day (but it may have been used before). The Internet is not meant to keep stupid people busy but rather to keep people stupid and busy.

    Great post. Sorry to come off as a rant but I’m just so jaded these days.

  • Could you tell I got on a roll?! I’ve been frustrated about not planning in time to write articles for my blog and then I end up writing an article on your comments and on Google+! Thanks for getting us thinking about this.

    It’s that simple word “WHY”, isn’t it? You’ve brought us all to the real question. I think it’s so easy to miss, and that’s a tragedy.We can all have a little play with the virtual social shares part of Empire Avenue and have a bit of fun- but that’s all it is- the “Why” is “for fun”. But, what is the “why” of doing an EA mission or buying followers or boosting a Klout score? I think the Why gets forgotten about (poor thing!)

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the details. I’ve been there, many of us have I am sure. But as you say, we need to ask “why”. The why for me is indeed to “feed the family”. I want to grow my business this year. That’s what will be my focus on social networks this year, as well as having a little fun (if that’s ok!)

    The whole metrics thing is difficult. What are the metrics of growing a business? Ultimately it’s about sales and revenue. If your Klout score helps in that, well, great, but I think there are more important metrics….

  • Hi Kevin. Just out of interest (I am being genuine here), are you active on social media for business or fun (or a bit of both)? Are you active on EA and all your social networks to build trust in you and “brand loyalty”? The reason I ask, is that it is a question I’ve been asking myself recently. My focus this year is to build up trust and to hopefully demonstrate to people my enthusiasm and expertise in my area. I’ve found it easy to lose that focus, but that’s my aim for 2014.

    By the way, I would have to disagree that Mark’s opinions are “tainted”. I am sure you disagree with them, but I think he has put forwards his views in a well thought out way.

  • Love that, @businessesgrow:disqus – let’s do it!!

  • Thanks for taking the time to share your view Trevor.

  • *high five*

  • I would love to read a post from Randy about this topic. It’s very true that people like me are a bit intimidated by the numbers even though we see through the game.

  • Kevin Green

    Well it came from a lot of hard work as stated before. I am not a Chris Brogan I just had fun on twitter and people liked it. I shared content that I thought was fun. I was back in the day the number one person on Listorious, when I curated lists when they first came out on twitter I had more than half of mine in the top 100 most followed on Twitter. When Quora came out I was in the top 20 of most followed people on Quora. When twitter became a hit in Japan I would on occasion tweet back in Japanese to some followers who would send a thanks etc. Twitter was a blast for me then and I would spend sometimes 20 hours tweeting live. I was also featured on many “top dogs” of twitter blogs, was interviewed on radio was at one time in the top 20 people with the most friends on twitter. It didn’t start from scratch, at the time I had a pretty good FB following that helped snowball my twitter. I also grew as I believed in shaking hands with people who put their hand out to mine. For 3 years I was on the road 150 days a year meeting people. Then 2 years ago I was diagnosed with cancer yet very few people knew as I tried to go on doing what I loved the best I could. Do to time constraints and other projects now my twitter is more broadcasting then engagement the last few years. Yet I still attract over 100 people who retweet me for the first time each day, and on an average day a few thousand retweets from others. Yes a far cry from when I was reaching millions of people each day,

    I believe someone else asked here, why I do what I do in social media. I truly enjoyed engaging with other people and sharing with them things I had found and enjoyed that I thought were helpful. I am not selling anyone anything on social media and my most of clientele for my business are not involved in social media itself to network.

  • Kevin Green

    I will try to keep my answer as short as possible. Before social media I had a lot of fun in AOL chat rooms, helped develop some major forums in music etc. FB took off big in Canada before the US and family got me addicted to it. As social media started gaining strength I quickly found my friend list at 5k with many people in my industry, When twitter came out I resisted joining and thought it was a waste of time, I finally joined and my FB followers actually chose my twitter handles, not the best ones looking back now. I started twitter to reach out to my peers and clients only to find out they really were not into twitter and from a business point it was not the way to go. My actual clients were using FB for family only and the real bright spot was LinkedIn for finding them. So I just starting having fun on Twitter and was pretty good at it. To answer your question, I am in social media for fun, has it helped me business wise, yes, it is kind of cool when you are at a convention, a seminar, an auto show, or at a client and someone comes up to you and says, yeah I know you from twitter.

    Until 2 years ago I enjoyed travelling around the world and was on the road over 150 nights a year so I enjoy sharing photos and content from my experiences.

    I have many things I would love to do in social media but I just don’t have enough time in a day anymore.

    Goals for 2014? I want to continue to help others but try a few different things like Video and HOA.

  • Leonard Sipes

    Hi Mark: What’s more corrupt, people buying followers or the blogging industry/SEO people who sell services and goods while 95 percent (per Search Engine Land) of us get 30 visitors or less a day?

    I firmly believe in white-hat procedures but lets admit that there’s a lot of fraud in the process of establishing a digital presence and it flows in multiple directions.

    Best, Len.

  • Marie @ Substance of Living

    Hi! I needed to read this because sometimes I get so frustrated when comparing my follow/like success to others.
    Thank you,
    Marie @ Substance of Living

  • Hang in there! Stay centered!

  • Can’t argue with that point Leonard.

  • Jonathan Malkin


    Jonathan Malkin
    Journalist for Entrepreneurial Honesty

  • Fake followers don’t buy the stuff you sell. That’s what the record industry keeps learning over and over again. When they push all kinds of fake YouTube views, the single doesn’t sell much better, is what I’ve read.

    And I have much more fun things to purchase than followers. peanut butter. And sweat pants. And gym memberships. : )

  • I’ve been a fake follower of gym memberships for many years, especially when I sign up in January, go a couple of times, then give up! 😉

  • I really don’t know you at all. I think the first time you have ever commented on my blog is this week so we literally have zero connection and I can only look at this academically from what you present here.

    There really isn’t anything in your explanation that would make me say, “Oh, I get it now.” In fact, it sounds like you are a guy who is really into big numbers, Number one on Listorious, number on Quora, number one on Empire Avenue and you have the most Twitter followers of anybody who has ever commented on my blog except Gary Vaynerchuk who is a NYT best-selling author and was just on the cover of Fast Company magazine.

    I really appreciate the time you put into your responses and I have no reason to mistrust you but obviously what you have achieved without Gary V-level (or even Brogan-level) celebrity seems miraculous to me, a guy working his ass off every day and who is on a fair number of “must follow” lists too.

    Thanks very much for the commentary Kevin.

  • Dude. Were your ears burning? Mentioned you in the comments below. Thanks for carrying the flag for real.

  • George F. Snell III

    You are confusing two things here from the original question. There’s a difference between paid distribution and buying followers. A very big difference.

  • Kevin Green

    You just don’t get it, I was explaining some of the things that caused momentum.

    Have a great day

  • You could be right about that George.

  • Admittedly, I don’t get it. We are in agreement : )

  • Kristy V2

    After reading through the comments, it seems you poked a
    “social” bear of sorts. From what I understand they’re not hibernating
    well this winter anyway, might as well keep them up. :^) Such
    exciting/thought provoking dialogue!!! It makes me realize, I’m not the
    only one feeling pressured about “social worthiness.” Thanks for having
    the courage to bring up this topic. …This topic would make a great panel discussion, pros on one side “cons” on the other. :^)

  • This really would make a great panel discussion. Thanks.

  • Kristy V2

    It’s controversial for sure…maybe next Social Slam, streamed live…

  • I was surprised in a Social Media leaders group on Facebook that many within the group pushed back on me when I talked about brands, government and individuals buying likes, retweets and followers…. I was absolutely shocked. I, too, knew it was happening but didn’t realize the extent.

    If an accountant at a public company adjusted the numbers on a company’s balance sheet to make it look better to investors, they’d be locked up in jail. I honestly don’t believe this is much different. Fantastic post, Mark.

    Full disclosure: Once upon a time I tested the strategy myself. I tried to tell myself that it was just a way to get in the spotlight… but I eventually gave up. First – it didn’t do anything but change the numbers… my audience and community of connected, valued colleagues never really changed.

  • A comment better than the original post. Thank you sir!

  • Greg Shadik

    Yes Google can and will move them down in search and i cant prove it yet but at some point they might be able to differientate between what is fake and real. I’ve seen Business show up high in search one day and the next no where to be found.

  • And tea.

  • Growth from a honest point of view is not easy. I say to everyone who friends me, contact or connection. Take all of me or none or me I don’t change much. This means you take the real me. I don’t have big degrees I’m a drop out. I’m smart but it can’t be shown on paper. Social media is perfect for me. When you have a disability you can become and network with people who are like minded. When I write something its me all of me. Try building a network with almost no attention span.

    I have a dream so big that if will probably never even get of the ground. Actually It sorta has. I want to create the next big social media network. Don’t have the programming skills or money to do it. This has not stopped me from building a network of Connections on many social media platforms. I tend to try out all the networks I can join. Very few I have filled out the profiles. But, some are very large like my main Google+ account. Just under 7k in other’s circles. I have found ways to grow, but not ways to make money yet. Missing most of those skills still. I do have marketable skills, but not all of them I need.

  • Tobey Deys

    Mark, you and I both sell cupcakes. Although I am loathe to admit it, yours are equally as delicious as mine. I, however, have the capital available to buy billboard space whereas you can only afford a small ad in the local newspaper. Am I cheating?
    Social media have somehow been brushed with a patina of significance beyond its true value; to sell. There is nothing unseemly in selling one’s wares be they cupcakes, books, widgets, or hopes for peace.
    I wholly agree that the real authority will eventually succeed but I’m reticent to believe that social media should be considered anything more than what they are; new mediums for connecting and communicating with the most important people in your business ~ your customers.
    As always, I love your smart thoughts 🙂

  • Love this.

    I am working on a post on this very issue. I think an ability to network to get things done on the web trumps a lot of traditional business skills and experiences, Go for it!

  • I would not consider out-spending me on a billboard to be unethical. If the billboard said, “WInner of the Paris World Bakery Competition” and you weren’t … that would be unethical because you are making a claim that is untrue.

    While businesses have always had the ability to cheat or pretend to be something they’re not, the risk is significantly higher on social media today because a) you are publishing and honesty is an expectation and b) the risk of discovery and exposure of a fraud is greater.

    I would add one other thing. Faking credibility is a slippery slope, At what point do you move to stronger and stronger “drugs” to keep the facade alive?

    I have been in business to long too not think that not only is trickery going on in the space, it may dominate the space. But I do think in an information dense world, those who commit to honesty will stand out over time.

    An honor to have you comment Tobey!

  • I was so upset by this post that I almost didn’t let my bot comment on it.


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  • Well done!

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  • Mike Hind

    Curious to know your view on those accounts on Twitter that follow loads of people *just* to get follow-backs. While not exactly cheating, it seems disingenuous. I’m often followed by self-styled social experts with, say, 25,000 followers who are ‘following’ 24,750. I always figure they’re NEVER going to engage with me (how could they, with such a busy timeline) so I rarely take the bait.

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I genuinely *follow* everyone I follow and don’t worry too much about my own following – as long as the ratio suggests I must be at least vaguely interesting to some.

    Of course, I will be buying 100,000 followers in time for #CompanionStorm, cos the bar’s going to be high there.

  • HA! : )

    I’m old fashioned in that regard too. I do recognize there is some value to the social proof of a large following but I have never participated in those kinds of activities.

  • Honesty is the best policy, but liars prosper.

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