Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fake vs. Real Pharma Twitter Followers

Piotr Wrzosinski (@pwrzosin), IPM Digital Marketing at Roche and a member of my Pharma Twitter Pioneer Group (see here), recently posted this to Twitter today:

"0% of my followers are fake. How many fake followers do you have..? @StatusPeople #FollowerSpam"

Goodie! Another social media metric I can use to compare pharma Twitter accounts. I quickly followed the link to StatusPeople Web site where I was invited to "Find out how many fake followers your friends have."

Before looking at my "friends" data, however, I looked at my own and found out that 73% of my nearly 12,000 Twitter followers were neither "fake" ("spam" accounts that "tend to have few or no followers and few or no tweets, but [which] tend to follow a lot of other accounts.") nor "inactive." This was quite better than most pharma Twitter accounts as can be seen in the following chart (click for an enlarged view):

I do not have 0% fakes like Piotr; six percent (6%) of my followers may be fakes. This is the lowest percentage among the 16 pharma Twitter accounts I measured. @Abbottnews had the highest percent of "fake" followers: 18%. Fouteen percent (14%) of followers of Roche, Novartis, Pfizer GSK(U.S.) are "fakes" or suspected spam accounts.

Why is it important to know how many fake and inactive followers a Twitter account has?
"There are two reasons," says StatusPeople. "First it's important for you to be sure when you communicate on Twitter that you are communicating with real and active followers. Because the more active your follower base the more likely they are to share your content.
The second reason is there are a growing number of Fakers out there. People who buy followers in a vain attempt to build legitimacy. "'Look at me I have 20,000 followers, I must know my...' They are essentially trying to game the system and it's important for you to be able to spot them, and steer clear of them. Because ultimately if you're willing to lie about how many friends you have you are not a very trustworthy individual."
Well, Pfizer has over 31,000 followers. Way back in 2010, I asked "How Did Pfizer Get So Many Twitter Followers?" (see here). I suggested that Pfizer sent out a memo to all their more than 100,000 employees worldwide telling them to follow @pfizer_news. I was kidding, of course. But I suspected something was up because Pfizer_news somehow attracted about 3-4,000 NEW Twitter followers in just a few days! Did Pfizer "attempt to build legitimacy" by "gaming the system?"

One caveat: StatusPeople contends that its tool provides "very accurate insight into how many inactive and fake" followers a Twitter account has, but ONLY if there are fewer than 10,000 followers. "If you're very 'popular' the tool will still provide good insight but may better reflect your current follower activity rather than your whole follower base."

Only 6 out of my sample of 16 pharma Twitter accounts have fewer than 10,000 followers (Phrma, SanofiUS, Diabetes_Sanofi, BoehringerUS, BMSnews, and Abbottnews).

If you want to learn how many fake followers you have, go here.


  1. Hi John, I am happy you liked the tool. However I am not quite sure if it is very The thing is, you can hardly "clean up" your official account. For my personal one I can remove any "suspected" user via special scripts (ie. tweepi, social bro, This is why I have 0 fakes and just a few inactives - which are almost all people I know personally.

    If I would do that on the official account I would risk a lot - any mistake may start a crisis situation. Removed user can accuse company for bias, censorship, or at least lack of respect towards any group s/he belongs to.

    But, obviously it is good to know, how many real users is listening to our communication. This tool can also help to discover shady tactics of getting numbers in Twitter, which may help us in evaluation of the SM external agencies.

    1. Piotr,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I can understand why pharma companies might be shy about removing suspected followers and the "risks" involved if a mistake is made. Do you feel the same about your personal Twitter account? Do you think what you do with your personal account can have repercussions for your company's reputation? Just curious.

  2. My personal activities in social media are not related to any of the companies I work or worked for, and I avoid mixing those things. In general you will not find in my blog or twitter mentions on the projects I am involved in professionally. If there are any, I put a very visible disclaimer on such posts.
    Therefore I do not think cleaning may affect anything else than my personal brand in the eyes of any removed follower.

  3. This is new to me, John. Thanks. I will dig in to this and try to get closer to Piotr's admirable zero in his personal account. Have you culled your fake accounts yet?

    1. I haven't culled any followers yet based on these data. First, I am not convinced about the accuracy or even the base assumptions. I would like to look at each individual follower identified as "fake" and decide whether or not that follower is a "spammer" and should be removed from my list of followers.

      Right now in my home state of PA, there is a Republican Beer Hall Putsch to prevent "fake" voters from voting in November. I don't want to make stringent requirements for anyone who wishes to follow me. A 6% fake rate -- even if true -- is something I can live with for now.

  4. This is great information. Thanks for including PhRMA in the list!

    1. No problem. Congrats on your top position with the highest % of "good" followers.

  5. When your business website or Blog has a large number of Twitter Followers it can dramatically increase the perception of your brand.. Buying twitter followers is the best marketing approach to boost online visibility.


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