Beating the bots

Nick Beck, CEO of TUG, says the Twitter bot cull is great news for brands.

It’s no secret that social media is crawling with bots. Celebrity retweeting, political debate reshaping and feminist trolling bots have flooded social media feeds, and they’re annoying the hell out of genuine users. Not only that, they’re skewing the figures for brands looking to hire influencers. That’s why it’s great Twitter took an axe to them.

Twitter’s recent bot cull sent shockwaves through the social media platform. It’s estimated that Twitter removed 6 per cent of accounts from its platform in a matter of days, in a move intended to, in its own words, “make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation.”
Celebrities, politicians and influencers alike lost followers by the millions. Katy Perry – the most followed person on Twitter – lost 2.9m followers in the cull. Trump lost 340,000. Twitter’s own account also took a beating, losing 7.7m followers.

While it must have been unpleasant to find out you’re not as popular as you thought you were, the fact that Twitter is taking a stand and purging fake, illicit and fraudulent accounts can only be a good thing for influencer marketing.

Trust and authenticity
Influencer marketing is built around trust and authenticity. One of the main reasons its grown in popularity in recent years is because brands can use influencers to connect with real people in an authentic way.

While celebrities present an unattainable lifestyle, people can relate to influencers who look, speak and act like them. Influencers connect with their audiences, and that connection sells. A third of Instagram users have bought an item of clothing they saw on their feed.

But an influencer with thousands of fake followers loses their integrity. If they’re willing to buy followers, what else might not be as it seems? Do they genuinely like a product, or have they just been paid a huge sum to promote it?

For brands working with influencers, what exactly are they paying for? Will actual people see their content and buy the product, or is it just being shared with a sea of bots? If brands don’t trust an influencer’s authenticity, they’ll go elsewhere. That’s why at Tug we audit every influencer before we begin a relationship with them.

Top-tier influencers might have lost out on follower numbers in the cull, but they’ve gained the valuable trust of their real followers, and of the brands who might be considering working with them. By culling the bots, Twitter has regained trust and authenticity, and positioned itself above the other social channels.

The likes of Instagram, YouTube and Facebook have yet to address their own issue of automated accounts. Facebook has an estimated 60m automated accounts. Will Twitter’s bot purge be the catalyst of change among social media channels? Or will the other players be more concerned with maintaining high user figures than authenticity?

Better ROI for brands
Brands can be wary of forming associations with influencers. Aside from the risk of trusting your brand’s reputation in the hands of another, there’s also no guarantee that it will be money well spent – especially if follower numbers have been bloated by fake accounts.

The average brand lost just 1.4 per cent of its followers in the Twitter cull. The average loss across all accounts has been estimated at 3 per cent. And yet (perhaps unsurprisingly) of the accounts that lost over half of their followers, 45 per cent were influencers.

Although 94 per cent of brands who’ve used influencer marketing believe the tactic to be effective, there are of course charlatans out there looking to make a quick buck from buying fake followers and overselling their reach. The removal of fake Twitter accounts means brands can trust the numbers; they’ll have a more accurate view of the potential reach of their chosen influencers.

Influencers tend to charge for their activity based on their number of followers. The higher the number of followers, the more a brand will have to pay for a promotional post or endorsement. Influencers won’t be able to get away with overselling themselves and charging extortionate rates anymore. What you see is what you get – at least on Twitter.

The lasting implications
Not all bots are bad. Some post funny content, others generate useful and informative information, and some are even programmed to warn people of natural disasters. But bots have been given a bad name thanks to the ones designed to infiltrate feeds and play with algorithms.
If bots are utilised for their true purpose again, instead of being weaponised for political or personal gain, they might one day be a welcome addition to our social media feeds. Until then, at least you’ll know you’re not paying to advertise to them on Twitter.

Nick Beck is CEO of TUG