What is the Value of a Follower?

This column was originally published on MediaInCanada.com, October 2016.




Amid the noise surrounding the US presidential campaign, Adweek recently published a story that should catch any marketers’ attention. More than a third of Trump's and Clinton's Twitter followers are reportedly fake, according to a study released by ad-fraud detection company eZanga . The study went on to investigate the accounts of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, finding a surprisingly high number of bot accounts.

Follower fraud is clearly an issue, but even when the followers are real, assessing their value can be quite difficult. Some people manipulate platforms to give the perception of popularity. Similar to how website operators would intentionally fool search engines in the early 2000’s, new tactics are being adopted by a generation, trying to boost their numbers in a big way.

Brands and media buyers alike have taken notice, and we’ve been hearing a lot questions on this topic. With so many great, authentic influencer channels out there, how can a media buyer ensure they’re getting real quality and not fictional followers?


Engagement Matters
The rate at which viewers react to a piece of content on social media, such as liking a photo or commenting on a video, is the most telling sign of follower value.

As a baseline, an advertiser can use 2% as a minimum reasonable engagement rate. For every 100 views, at least 2 viewers should be interested enough to react. Anything less should raise a red flag.

According to Daniel Mekinda who runs The Story Lab within Dentsu Aegis, marketers should look beyond the top line numbers and instead focus on something more meaningful.

“Are numbers the sole qualification of an influencer. The answer is definitely no. We’re looking at a mix of their authenticity, depth, and their overall connection with the product,” he says.

Marketers should also be aware that low engagement doesn’t necessarily mean bad quality - it’s only one signal. Certain categories have notoriously low engagement rates, like photography. Technology and gadgets, which attract a tech-savvy viewer, tend to have much higher engagement rates.


Beware of Huge Follower Swings
When an influencer experiences large swings in their follower numbers, specifically when they gain and then lose followers at an alarming clip, that could be a sign that they’re buying followers.

The reason? Follower farms pay individuals to follow certain accounts, but there is no requirement to remain a follower for very long. After a day or two, the numbers fall off a cliff.

The critical exception here would be an account that is gaining in popularity. For example, the account for iJustine shows an increase of 155,432 followers the last 90 days. For a channel of 3 million subscribers, this number is not surprising.


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A Deeper Look at the Numbers
While the eZanga study is fairly recent, the problem is not a new one. Last year, a study was commissioned on how many fake Twitter followers exist on the accounts of top music celebs. The results, which shocked many industry observers, indicated a range of 55% - 67% of all Twitter followers on these accounts are actually fake.

“Now that the issue of fraud is coming to light, we are more critical of reported numbers,” says Jodi Brown who heads MediaCom Canada’s Beyond Advertising division.

Marketers should be cautious when approaching influencers with whom they have not worked in the past. Third party verification is essential.


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