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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.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 September, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Nick Stamoulis

Focusing on how many fans/followers/friends you have isn't worth the time. Fake accounts are everywhere, and worrying about getting your next 1,000 Twitter followers means you start counting those fake accounts as connections. Those numbers are not how you should be measuring social media marketing success.

over 5 years ago

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Tom Chapman

I think it's pointless to measure success by the amount of follows and likes - it's an easy way to think you might have hit targets but until those follows get converted into potentials and actual customers they are no more than unqualified leads.

over 5 years ago

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Pete Austin @MarketingXD

Sounds low. I calculate 90% of people who try to follow me on Twitter just want me to follow back.

Most have "following" counts close to 2000, which indicates the actual following is automated. Also some have never tweeted!

Don't know whether this makes them "fraudulent", but they are certainly not genuine. I never follow them back and they unfollow within a week.

over 5 years ago

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SanDiegoSeo

That is some of the best advice for twitter users. Check who you are going to follow, I mean sure it may take 15 seconds but it would be worth it. As for Facebook at this moment I see no plausible way to control spammers.

about 5 years ago

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Innes

In short, social media is a tool and serves to help businesses and individuals communicate to a wider audience. Make sure you have a rough idea who you want to follow and also how you will engage with who you follow and what you plan to say!

about 5 years ago

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Ambreena Budaly

Some great advice here. I think people are quickly starting to realise that it is about the level of engagement you have rather than numbers which don't necessarily mean anything. There's no point having 10k followers if you don't participate in conversations with them.

about 5 years ago

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Concise Law News

Interesting post, I was attracted to it for another reason on twitter. For me, all social media are increasingly becoming more about business. In sectors like law, few tweets are in reality "social". still love twitter but it is more and more becoming a case of "who can find some interesting content or news first and republish it". It's quite funny to see a tweet that's about 3 days behind the curve but far from uncommon.

about 5 years ago

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John A. Fallone

It is no surprise that a significant number of social media accounts are bogus.

The ominous specter that "sleeper cells of social web abuse" are growing fast has been my observation for some time.

Clearly, it would be unwise to overestimate one's "social media success" based upon sheer numbers of followers or contacts.

At the same time, fake accounts pose more of a potential problem when associated with the malicious attacks as described in the article, as opposed to how they might cause some to over-estimate their social media prowess.

about 5 years ago

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GrumpySEO

Let's not forget, it's not just businesses that are faking it on social networks. Take a look at your average personal FB page and I guarantee they will have way more "friends" than is humanly possible. It's a schoolground popularity contest driven by the worst quality in human nature - ego. Yep, you probably guessed - I don't do Fakebook ;-)

about 5 years ago

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Alison Drake

I agree with @MarketingXD...I don't follow back if the twitterer has no history of substance...but lots and lots of followers. And they do unfollow very quickly.

about 5 years ago

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