Your company is a social media star. On Facebook, you have 10,000 fans. On Twitter, 7,500 followers. You're 'listening' and 'engaging' on a regular basis.
But are you as socially successful as you think?
According to Impermium, a startup dedicated to curbing spam on social networks, social networks may not be as social as you think they are, which in turn means you may be overestimating your popularity on the social web.
In looking at more than 90m users and 100m pieces of user-generated content from its client base, which includes Posterous and Bebo, Impermium found that up to 40% of public accounts on social networks it works with are fake accounts set up by spammers and scamsters. Not surprisingly, according to Impermium, the juicier the target, the higher the 'fake' figure.
The problem is significant. As detailed by TechCrunch:
Impermium also found that so-called 'sleeper cells' of social web abuse are growing fast. One if its customers experienced an attack of 30,000 fraudulent new accounts in one hour. Those accounts then posted 475,000 malicious messages to legitimate community members.
Social spam is not new, of course. But it does appear to be more prominent today, and it's getting more sophisticated as spammers see more opportunities to profit in the channel.
While Impermium doesn't work with Facebook and Twitter, it seems logical to assume that, as Impermium suggests, spammers target the biggest fish. If you use Twitter, for instance, you're almost certainly familiar with social spam.
I personally would estimate that a meaningful double-digit percentage of my followers are fake accounts. Oftentimes, they're not too hard to spot.
The implication here: the social media universe may in reality be a lot smaller than it looks. That obviously could be problematic for companies like Facebook and Twitter, one of which could soon be a public company.
But the biggest problems are arguably faced by businesses and digital marketers, many of whom are increasing their social investments with the belief that social platforms are some of the best places to reach consumers today.
Obviously, it would be unwise to write off social media even if a significant minority of 'users' don't exist, but Impermium's numbers hint at why it's so important for companies and digital marketers to develop meaningful social media metrics.
The number of fans and followers you have is an easy metric to track, but it's also typically going to be of limited use for many reasons, just one of which is the fact that many of those fans and followers may not be real.
To accurately assess the strength of your social media presence, setting tangible, action-related goals and measuring their achievement will increasingly be required as spammers continue to flood social platforms with fake accounts.