Some time last week I got followed by an aggressive bot. (The TL;DR version right there.) How do I know it’s a bot? Well, the first hint is also why I describe it was aggressive. I noticed a suddenly rush of new followers. And I mean a lot of followers. In one day alone I had 235 new followers.
I typically get five or six new followers a day. It’s not much but you’d be surprised how quickly your follower count grows when you consistently get even a small number of new followers like this. When I am trying to build my follower count by actively following new people, interacting with people or running promotions I can add more, but never in the range of two hundred a day.
I noticed these new followers were all from the Middle East. In fact around ten, twenty new followers with Arabic profiles I started to wonder what was going on? Had I suddenly gone viral in that region and not known it? Was some Arabic reader rushing around with his/her kindle saying, “you all got to follow this American writer, she’s awesome!” (We all wish this was at the root of every mysterious bump in followers, page hits or sales. But sadly it’s rarely true.)
Here Temporarily and Tomorrow I will spend,, Thief, My Character. -Unknown twitter bot
Bots are automated software systems designed to tweet and act like real users. Some are very sophisticated. Others, not so much. Bots follow new accounts based on algorithms. I don’t know what keyword I used, what followback ratio or klout score led them to my doorstep, but here they are.
Bots can also be automated to create new accounts, so skilled bot owners may have hundreds or thousands of twitter accounts at their disposal.
But what can you do with a thousand twitter accounts? Most twitter bots are created with the sole purpose of boosting other accounts follower numbers. All the ads you see for ten thousand twitter followers for five dollars, are bots. There is simply no other way for such businesses to be viable.
More sophisticated bots can not only create Twitter account they can create the profiles as well, taking pictures from a database or from the internet and adding text to make it look like a real person’s account. As you know automated text is not a perfected technology and the bots are often programmed to use keywords and any large body of text written with keywords in mind often comes across as funky. Google translate is far from perfect as well. Put the two together and looking at some of these profiles can be downright hysterical.
Having decided that most of this rush of new followers were bots I decided not to follow back. I usually have a pretty liberal followback policy, including eggs and accounts that under other circumstances may also be bots. A few bots here and there don’t bother me but a huge rush like this this did. Here is why I chose not to follow them back.
1. Bots are usually created by people who are looking to sell followers. I do not buy followers. Having a huge run of automated bots following me might create a different impression.
There is an interesting parallel with the recent controversy around paid reviews. An expose was written about well known Indie authors buying reviews from review websites. What the expose didn’t cover was whether or not all of the reviews written by paid reviewers were paid for. Twitter bots and fake likes on social media sites often do a lot of legitimate following and liking, to avoid suspicion. It would make sense to me that to sell paid reviews, reviewers would have to do the same, write many legitimate reviews of popular works so they look like legitimate reviewers.
Either way, it’s clear that people notice. Even though I didn’t pay these bot accounts to follow me, it’s likely that some people will notice and assume I did. Which Is why I won’t follow them back. If they unfollow me in a few days, all the better.
2. Bots will never buy my book. no matter how many bots you have in your following list not one of them will buy your book, review your book or give you any tangible benefit. Bots and paid followers are the perfect example of failing to understand what social media metrics really mean. Paid following does not equal a large fan base, any more than political candidates hiring crowds for events equals votes in the voter booth. If you stoop to paid followers, or encourage others to do, you will lose in the most important sphere of all, long term success.
3. Bots do not interact the same as real people and their value as followers isn’t the same. It is better to have 100 followers who are real people and want to interact with you then ten thousand bot followers. Bots do what they are programmed to do and little else.
4. Like attracts like. I have five thousand and some followers. As a writer, I find the majority of my followers are also writers, bloggers or book lovers, as it should be. Bots follow by automated algorithms. Invariably they will end up following other bots, who share their online behavior. Then it becomes a vicious cycle of triggering each other’s algorithm. So bots may have hundreds of thousands of other followers, all of whom are also bots. They share what they’ve been programmed to share and retweet what they’ve been programmed to retweet, all to other bots. Interacting with such accounts is like shouting into the void. Your post might get shared a hundred times and never seen by a human eyeball. Don’t waste your breath.