Over the weekend, we received a message from Facebook's account manager Adnan Khan asking us to consider adopting Facebook's Social Plugin commenting system on StopPress, as it would increase the authenticity of the conversations and reduce the number of "faceless trolls" and offensive comments (if you're so inclined, you can comment on StopPress stories through Facebook, Twitter or Google by logging-in to Disqus). So we couldn't help but revel in the irony when ComputerWorld published an article yesterday about the fact that, according to social media management tool Status People, 94 percent of Khan's almost 30,000 Twitter followers were fake.
The story certainly got the social media peeps tweeting. Some instantly assumed nefarious intent; that Khan was gaming the social influence system, something Porter Novelli's Bill Rundle managed to do when he bought 2000 followers as part of an experiment (they have since been deleted by Twitter, which does have measures in place to detect and remove spam accounts). Others believed it had all the hallmarks of a spam bot attack.
We got in touch with Khan and he didn't want to comment. Facebook isn't releasing a formal statement about it either. But it looks for all money as though his account has been compromised (his Twitter account was reset last night).
Tech journalist Juha Saarinen told ComputerWorld that he went from "[around] 1,800 followers on 21 July to [around] 30,000 on July 23". Something similar also happened to UK politician and author Louise Mensch recently, whose account gained 40,000 followers almost overnight. Added to that, Adnan Khan is a fairly common name in Asia and India, and, as evidenced by the BBC's Virtual Bagel experiment, many of the fake company's fake followers—or spam bots—originated from this part of the world.
These days, as many brands—and politicians—can attest, the truth will eventually out. So it seems foolish to try and fake your way to e-greatness. But this saga proves that online social influence can be confusing and often misleading. Klout, as this story in Wired shows, provides a starting point (go on you filthy narcissists, check out your score here), but is often wildly off in terms of areas of influence. Twitalyzer/TweetStats/TwitterCounter and tons of others offer insights into stats and influence too. Things like @replies, RTs, inclusion on Twitter lists and sharing of links are all important, but there's no one definitive measure and, as evidenced by the discussion about Skinny Mobile's approach, no set way to measure the value of a fan.
And just so you know, two percent of our Twitter followers are fake. But, disappointingly, they're not the kind of robots that do our dastardly bidding, vacuum our floors or speak like Siri.