Once upon a time, when I first set my blog up and quickly signed up to twitter and Facebook etc, I never thought anyone was going to read my blog, let alone “Like” *it, “Share” *it or “Comment” on *it, or  to find *it interesting enough to start “Following” *it and by *it I guess actually I mean me (or alter ego me), since whenever I tweet, instagram or share something on Facebook or my blog and all the other channels that I find myself using, actually it’s me, or my view, my image(s), my experience or something that I like, find funny, or can associate with that readers, followers, fans etc respond to in some shape or form whether it be a like, a comment, a retweet, or to favourite a tweet etc. Essentially it’s a two way ‘on-line conversation’ and of course it can be a ‘multi person on-line conversation’ if more people join in. Not only is a conversation, it can also be a measure of how many people like what I share – particularly with Instagram or Facebook where all it takes is a click to give the poster a quick Thumbs Up or a Quick ‘Love this’ by means of a heart.  In other words a form of engagement.

The more people start reading your blog, the more attention it gets and after a while you start meeting other bloggers and once in a while taking a sneaky peak at what they are doing too – not only reading their posts, and interacting with them since this is always a source of inspiration and sharing of information, but also taking a look to see how many people are following them – it kind of gives you a sense and measure of how you are doing – or does it ? … well the answer is Yes and No.

Until recently, for my own personal blog, I was happily naive about these things – in a sense, that I took a look at others, saw their numbers and didn’t think too much about it – its not as if we are all writing about the same things, or that we all have the same style, each and every blog that I follow has its own unique positioning, writing style and angle and it follows therefore that each persons content will appeal to different people.  For instance if you are writing a website that focuses purely on vegan or vegetarian restaurants and cooking, you are unlikely to attract the same followers as someone who writes about steakhouses and big hunks of meat – an extreme example chosen to prove a point.  The more generic a site is, then there will be crossover in terms of readers and a potential for numbers to be more closely aligned than the above example, but of course there are so many other factors around this that numbers are just one way of looking at things.  For instance celebrity accounts tend to have huge followings for obvious reasons and I don’t just mean TV celebrities this can extend to celebrities in their own field for instance Celebrity Chefs, Celebrity DJs, Celebrity Video Bloggers and of course Celebrity Bloggers who tend to have a worldwide following, be an expert in their particular field, have a stunning website and Blog which is often a brand and/or business in it’s own right.  These tend to be some of the early adopters of blogging and people who are extremely talented and focussed at what they do.

Buying Followers and more … 

More recently there seems to be a bit of what I call ‘Fake Celeb Til You Make It’ approach not just in the blogesphere or twittersville world, but in general.  In particular that there is a HUGE business out there where you can buy Likes, Followers, Comments, etc for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – and it’s relatively cheap to do so. A quick ten minute google session the other night revealed the following :

Instagram

For $60 you can buy 10,000 Instagram Followers, add another $65 and you can buy 25,000 Likes on your posts – essentially you choose how many of your posts you want the Likes to be on, and once you’ve handed over your credit card its done fairly quickly.

Twitter

On twitter $100 will get you 50,000 Followers, $8 buys you 1,000 ReTweets or 1,000 Favourites – these are generic followers from across the world.

If you want a more targetted approach with, what the website claims is real accounts’ then you need to spend some more dollars  – $127 will get you 10,000 followers within days and if you want really big numbers then for $999 you can get 100,000 followers right up to a spend of $3,000 for a whopping 500,000 followers – in the scheme of things, this isn’t a ton of money.

Similarly $154 will get you 10,000 ReTweets and $160 buys 10,000 Favourites which will make it look, to those with an untrained eye, that your account is successful and that your content is engaging.

Facebook

It’s possible to buy 10,000 Page Likes/Fans for as little as $230 and 2,000 Likes on your status and/or photos for an extra $50.

Note – these are Likes outside of the Facebook targeted adverts/sponsored posts etc where you can target categories of people and demographics etc to more closely match your brand – but of course they are much more expensive than buying the kind of likes here.

So, clearly, you don’t have to have a big budget to make your account look bigger, engaging, popular and more attractive to a brand than perhaps it actually is in reality…..

Why do people buy Likes/Follows/Interaction etc ? More recently I’ve seen more of this happening as some brands and PR agencies are more interested in numbers than the quality of engagement, seeming to make a big assumption that if you have big numbers of fans/followers etc, then that means that you are a power influencer or successful blogger/personality which is not necessarily the case, particularly if a large proportion of those followers are bought followers which more often than not are not genuine followers, just hollow accounts set up with enough information to pass the ‘fake’ checks done by social media account set up.

We are guilty on both fronts, one of the first questions or pieces of research a brand and/or PR company does for you (if you are a brand) is to check out the bloggers stats and numbers, and in our own media packs, as bloggers our numbers are usually one of the first metrics that we include too. As bloggers we have a part to play in this by educating agencies and all interested parties about what our ethos is in terms of our numbers, how have we gained them and why we don’t think that big is not necessarily best (unless of course you do and you have grown your numbers organically).

Authenticity

I’ve heard some people compare buying likes and followers as similar to buying your friends, and that resonates for me – surely you would prefer to have friends (followers/Fans) who choose to like you because of who you are and what you say, rather than to like you because you paid for them…..  I’ve even read some posts where the feeling is that bloggers/brands who get paid for their work because of their high numbers and those numbers are bought ‘fake’ followers are in effect committing a form of fraud since the basis of their proposition is not genuine.

How to Spot the buyers from the non buyers … if you want to …

It’s not an exact science at all and it seems that you need to become a bit of a detective, firstly of course, you can always ask and see what sort of response you get, secondly, start taking a look behind the scenes, check Likes/Followers/Fans of a page/person you are interested in one week and then a week later, great big jumps in numbers might indicate that a few dollars have exchanged hands, conversely it could mean that there post was retweeted by a celebrity, or posted on a popular site and gone viral and hence the sharp increase in numbers (this is rare but it does happen).  Become a bit of a statistician … don’t just look at raw numbers of likes v’s followers – do these as an overall percentage to give you a fair comparison.  Ask to see demographics if possible, where are the fans from – if they are all in the Kenya and Korea, but your product is retailing in Dubai, they are unlikely to be purchasers or your product/or diners in your restaurant.  Check out the Klout score of a person, some people love it as a quick measure, others don’t. Klout uses algorithms from a person/brand social media and assigns them a score using the algorithms.  The higher the number, the more influential the person is – if you buy into the algorithms approach.  I say do some, or all of the above and most of all, discuss what each parties aims and objectives are to reach a common consensus depending on what your focus is.  For instance someone who has a high Klout score, but half of the score is because of their Instagram activities, might not be the best person if you are only planning a twitter or website campaign or if you have a target audience who typically don’t engage on Instagram (my mum for instance who has no idea what Instagram is or why you would share photos with complete strangers and understands even less about why they would look at them and like them).

So what now ?

So whats the best approach? Should you buy, or not ? – I’m not writing this to suggest you do, or that you don’t – every blogger/brand has to make decisions that are right for them, at that point in time.  I understand that strategically higher numbers might be something that is necessary at the start of an endeavour, but if you do this understand, it is unlikely to get you real engagement in terms of people buying your product, reading your blog posts, eating at your restaurant etc – but it might be the boost you feel you need to show that you are credible and attention worthy.

Equally, PR companies and brands, don’t assume that big is necessarily best or better – you might be better working with a blogger/brand who has a smaller number of genuine followers who value what they say, and who they can genuine influence. And don’t forget to make a match between your brand and a relevant blogger for the best interests of both parties.

And for Bloggers, yes of course you should have a look at other bloggers and their credentials, but don’t stress about it, don’t assume you should have the same number of followers/fans etc and don’t worry if you don’t, building up a genuine pool of followers on any media channel takes time and effort and sometimes a bit of luck too – think about why you started your blog, what were your aims, and grow your numbers in a way that works for you – at the end of the day – size is not always everything and the best things can come in small packages – think diamonds, chocolates and/or macarons …..

Ultimately, the choice is yours – do you prefer the ‘Fake It Until You Make It’ approach or are you more of a “Tortoise and The Hare” ??

So what did I do ??

In fairness I should disclose what I’ve done with CoffeeCakesAndRunning.

For the first two years, I did absolutely nothing apart from muddle my way through the whole Twitter, Facebook and Instagram thing – with my blog running alongside it and I slowly started ‘getting it’ in terms of joining things up, using some tools to schedule and publish tweets and posts and to monitor interaction and engagement.

The turning point, aka the aha, moment was when I entered a photo competition on Facebook which I thought I was in with a fantastic chance of winning, my votes were high and remained significantly higher than all of the other entries, right up until about 2 hours before the competition closed, when a guy came from absolutely nowhere and was getting votes on his image from what seemed like ‘out of nowhere’ – long and short is that I lost and he won ! But I then went and did some research as I couldn’t figure out how someone could do that and get so many votes so quickly. From my research, it looks like he bought likes … but of course that’s not confirmed, just a suspicion and it was the first time that I realised that all is not necessarily what it seems in the virtual world.  From memory, I then got a bit frustrated about the numbers of Facebook and bought something like 500 Page Likes (Fans), which at that time cost a lot of money, and I lost most of them over time too – the numbers didn’t drive up any more likes or shares in case you are wondering.

With perfect timing, bad timing I mean, I then played with Instagram a while ago, I bought 500 new followers and lost most of them again fairly shortly afterwards, either because I unfollowed them using an unfollow tool as it was easy to spot the fake accounts (typically they have just 5 photos and few followers) and also in the big Instagram clean up operation when Instagram cleaned out a lot of ‘dud’ followers.  I wasn’t the only one, seems that Kim Kardashian lost 1.3M followers !

My twitter account has grown purely organically with no bought followers, favourites or retweets and it seems that twitter is a bit like a snowball, the more followers you have the more you gain proportionately.

I’m currently playing with Facebook sponsored ads to increase my followers and engagement on CoffeeCakesAndRunning but in a targeted way, so I am targeting an audience similar to that of the readership of my blog (Mainly UAE, Middle East, then Philippines, Thailand) and people with targeted interests aligned with my blog too – primarily dining and travel.  In the last week or so I have boosted a few posts to see what the impact is but have as yet to do the analysis, initial analysis shows a good increase in fan numbers for a relatively small budget (less than 150AED) and for boosted posts less than 20AED per post.

Please note that all of the above is written with specific reference to my my own website and social media channels CoffeeCakesAndRunning (Website, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram) and Bettyboodubai (Twitter).  All opinions, as always, are my own, and are not influenced or sponsored in any way.

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