Why buying of Twitter followers is a wasteful expenditure

One of our most recent ex-clients, who we shall call Client X for confidentiality reasons, gave us a target to grow their Twitter followers from less than 1 000 when we took over their social media marketing account 18 months ago, to 20 000 by the end of our term of contract that was for 12 months.

We indicated at the time that we believed this was the wrong metric to chase.

Given the industry that the client was in, and the issues we discovered based on social media analysis as part of taking over the account, we recommended to the Client X that sentiment, back by social crm metrics, be our focus.

It became our distinct impression that Client X did not take our expert advice, based on what happened after we left the account, as this eNsight intends ti show.

Table of Contents

Twitter follower growth strategy

While the rationale for the specific Twitter follower growth target was not all that clear to us, we welcomed the challenge and presented the following 4-point plan to achieve it (the target):

  1. Ramp up contribution of visual content to Client X’s social content distribution mix. This was a low hanging fruit, as Client X’s product is “photogenic”.
  2. Intensify social CRM. Client X’s industry is in the top 10 most mentioned on social media, according to SocialBakers.
  3. Run regular social media campaigns. Client X’s product is aspirational. Thus, it makes for a sought-after give-away.
  4. Introduce paid social media marketing support. This mechanic was to be alternated with social media campaigns (point 3), in a bid to keep the drive for follower growth fresh.

Notice that none of the 4 points above includes buying of followers.

We hope to prove in this post that that brands should never consider this as a way to increase Twitter followers.


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Growth in Twitter followers during the contract

Our 1-year contract expired on 31 May 2015. By then, we had doubled Client X’s Twitter followers to just under 2 000 over the duration of the contract – this means we were 18 000 followers short of target.

One of the key reasons for the resulting shortfall was our inability to fully implement the recommended 4-point plan, mainly for reasons beyond our control.

Of the 4 points, we only managed to maximise visual content’s contribution to the distribution mix, and partially implemented Social CRM.

Growth in Twitter followers after the contract

It has been 6 months since expiry of our contract, and we discovered that Client X grew Twitter followers by a whopping 16 000 in that period!

That is an average of 88 followers a day for 182 days.

Out of curiosity, we decided to analyse this phenomenal growth.

To help enrich our findings, we also analysed Client X’s 2 closest competitors.

For same reason as advanced above, Client X’s competitors cannot be revealed either.

Twitter follower analytics: Client X and 2 closest competitors

Twitter Follower growths:

Source: Twitter Counter

Our finding:

When compared to their competitors, Client X’s graph shows unusual follower growth patterns in the last 6 months.

In our experience, spikes in follower growths point to a paid media campaign with strong call-to-action, or buying of followers. 

This led us to dig deeper.

Followers shared by Client X and 2 closest competitors:


Source: Followerwonk

Our finding:

According to FollowerWonk, Client X shares only 0.2%  of their Twitter followers with each of their 2 closest competitors.

This is unusual in our experience, and it is backed by fact that the 2 closest competitors share 14% of followers between them.


Where do Client X’s followers come from?

Audit of Twitter followers for Client x and the 2 competitors

We used 2 different tools to audit followers of Client X and their 2 closest competitors, and here are the results:

Our finding:

The two tools clearly indicate that Client X has an unacceptably high number of fake followers – that is, dummy Twitter accounts.


@CityofJoburgZA hits 100K Twitter followers


The only explanation for Client X’s:

  • unusual follower growth pattern,
  • the low percentage of followers that are shared with the 2 closest competitors,
  • and the high fake follower score;

is that their Twitter followers were bought and not gained through using any of the tactics in our 4-point plan.

The biggest issue with bought Twitter followers is their poor quality; as there is no guarantee that they are humans, who are active on Twitter, and who are interested in the buyer’s business.


Buying of Twitter followers is a wasteful expenditure in our view, and this is supported by results of our analytics in this post.

The key lesson is that there is no short cut to gaining Twitter followers.

If brands are in the numbers game; robust strategy and focused implementation will lead to growth of follower of desirable quality.

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