Apparently there is a big uprising within the Toronto social media scene over fake Twitter followers. I’ve read that it may also involve Obama, but he lives south of the Q.E.W., so unfortunately he’s excluded from this blog post.
The question some people have asked is: Who cares?
Apparently a lot of people do, based on the blogs, Tweets and odd crazy YouTube video flying around the socialsphere.
In fact, I don’t believe I have seen the Toronto social scene so fired up since we scrambled to check into “Toronto Earthquake” to earn a Super Duper Swam badge on Foursquare back on August 23rd of last year.
But I digress.
It is nice to see some of these conversations start to take place out in the open. They have helped raise attention to the two I’s of social media: Influence & Insecurity. The time has come for some accountability in the world of social media.
The conversations are not new – they happen in private, but for some reason people have been scared to air these issues one of the world’s most transparent networks for fear of retribution. Or maybe no one wanted to be socially ostracized and branded a hater. Who knows.
Respected Toronto-based community manager Sheldon Levine wrote this week, “What’s even funnier about this situation is that the usual “social media expert” folks who usually say that the number of followers you have doesn’t matter, all of a sudden care about these follower numbers.”
He makes an excellent point.
For years we’ve heard people preach about engagement – quality over quantity. But we all know that that is one dirty lie. It really is about the numbers for most brands and many individuals. A hockey player isn’t measured on how pretty he scores goals. At the end of the day, no one will remember how, only how many. That’s life.
I believe it was Jay-Z who said, “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie.”
Unfortunately, in this Toronto tale, the numbers do lie. In some cases, they REALLY lie. And this angers bloggers like Zach Bussey.
“No big surprise to me,” wrote Bussey of the news that certain influencers possess a large percentage of fake followers. “I knew it was only a matter of time before these fake people were exposed for their bullshit behaviour and corporate abuse by lying to companies and saying they had a larger network than they truly did.”
In Sheldon’s heartfelt rant, he defends those who are part of a witch hunt that seeks to out the fakers – you see, nothing is worse than being outed as a fake in what is supposed to be the most open, transparent place on earth.
People are attacking these influencers. I’ve seen comments equating it to lying on a resume. While we have learned that it is possible to have someone load your account up with fake followers without you having any control over it, I clearly don’t have as much sympathy as Sheldon – the fakers need to be held accountable for their misleading ways. And there’s no doubt that we live alongside some dishonest people on Twitter faking influence. But the real question is who provides these influencers with power?
I would argue that the fault lies with the system (Read: Brands, agencies, etc.) that have helped build up these so-called influencers. Influencers have been rewarded with cars, free trips, exclusive parties etc. This created a competition among people to become one of the most popular members within the community – remember the drama created when Virgin Airlines flew Torontonians to San Francisco? If anyone is to blame for the rise in fakes, it is the people who created this competition. Essentially they replicated high school, but with real-world stakes.
“Rather than scrutinizing the fakers, turn the finger to the brands that are choosing to associate themselves with these fakers,” says Valerie Stachurski in a recent blog post. “Clearly, big numbers mean more to them than quality, so that’s their own problem.”
The system needs a reboot and this saga may be just the jolt required to turn the tide. Of course, change will only happen if people recognize that the current model is broken. That’s exactly what Stephanie Fusco points out in her open letter to PR professionals. She argues that the same influencers are being used over and over again by agencies and it is eroding credibility. Not to mention, it is extremely lazy in my opinion.
“The opinion of a blogger who shills for a different brand every minute means nothing,” argues Stephanie.
So what is influence?
I was sitting in a board meeting on Monday and my mind wandered onto this very topic.
Our board is currently tasked with raising more than $10-million for a charitable cause. Each person in the room was asked to reach out to their network to bring in donations ranging from $100,000 to $1,000,000. That’s a lot of money. That’s also the moment where I realized that my influence paled in comparison to the other heavy hitters in the room who had access to CEOs and successful businessmen and women who could provide us with six and seven figure contributions.
At that precise moment in time, my Klout score, my Twitter follower count, and my Facebook friend total all meant nothing. All I had to my name was my reputation and the real relationships that I have solidified over the course of my life.
And why the insecurity?
If we return to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he describes the stages of growth in humans. Esteem is the fourth of five levels. This passage from Wikipedia explains it better than I could ever hope to:
“Esteem presents the normal human desire to be accepted and valued by others. People need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution, to feel self-valued, be it in a profession or hobby. Imbalances at this level can result in low self-esteem or an inferiority complex. People with low self-esteem need respect from others. They may seek fame or glory, which again depends on others.”
At the end of the day, you are only as strong as your reputation. Which is why I try to live by the advice my father always gave me – the same advice succinctly summarized in this quote from Four Seasons founder Isadore Sharpe: “It’s the Golden Rule – the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.”
If you work for a brand or an agency, it is on you to do the due diligence to make sure you are working with reputable people. If you are an individual making your way in this world, keep it real. No one should ever fault you for that.