A Clone War on Twitter?

Just when I was finishing my post about 4 odd follower types I had noticed on Twitter, a specific variety of zombie follower popped up among my growing number of followers.

Birds with different hues but the same shape

Clones may look different at first sight, but they follow the same instructions.

Suddenly I found I had 9 new followers on the same day, all boasting similar interests (sometimes in exactly the same words) and tweeting exactly the same messages.

You have got to be kidding me…

Clone accounts?

This naturally sparked my interest.

The question HOW something like that is possible is interesting in itself, but this is not a technical post. I’m sure many of us are aware of stuff like IFTTT which allows you to send automated thank-yous to new followers and other cool things – which I don’t use, but that’s a different subject. I’m sure it is becoming easier every day to have 9 (or more) accounts all performing the same actions. I will however include few pointers in case you would like to check your own followers:

What do these clone accounts look like?

Closer inspection of my clone followers showed a few characteristics:

  • They all had colorful avatars;
  • Each of them had a nice-looking bio including a link to a website (subdomain) about the same subject;
  • Like I mentioned, they all sent identical tweets, frequently referring to their website.
  • They showed not a trace of interaction – but this is tricky terrain because this, too, can be simulated to an extent. Retweeting can happen without human interference – see my earlier post mentioning zombie followers. Other aspects of interaction with other people (or accounts) may soon be simulated as well.

These clones had acquired varying numbers of followers – as if some were of a more recent date than others. The ‘older’ ones had over a 1.000 followers each. Some of their followers are accounts which I in turn follow – accounts that are not noticeably ‘fake’. This means at least some of those following clone accounts are real followers.

After this I checked my fake follower score once more, only to find that it was still stuck at 1%. Which is odd to say the least. Apparently these clone accounts are made to seem real enough to fool an app.

The other question is WHY it is being done.

What purpose do clone accounts serve?

My question why anyone would do this has an obvious answer. There must be ways to make money with this kind of clone army. Someone is obviously catering to a demand on the Twitter market.

Now, when I was just starting out on Twitter – just after I hatched actually, because I spent some time as an egg – there were people who would follow me, and unless I followed them back within 24 hours they would be gone. This sort of practice might have made me anxious to follow back everyone really quickly if I wanted to grow my follower number.

Since then, I have noticed that some people I followed were quick to follow back. Which was nice for me as a newbie, though I would have kept following them if they had been slower to follow back.

My clone followers are surprisingly still following me after 48 hours, which would indicate that these accounts serve a different purpose or at the very least are directed in a different way from the quickly-gone kind. But I’ll keep an eye on them anyway.

What happens if you follow-back all the time, without checking up on your newly found followers? How does your behavior add to someone else’s income?

What does all this lead up to?

These accounts are made to attract followers, real followers like you and me, in order to sell us as ‘real human followers’ to people who want a large following overnight.

Who is buying?

Large companies are, as a rule, not interested in offers from dealers who “like beer, & offer 1000 followers just 15$$”. But there are plenty of newbies who feel intimidated by their friends’ “follower herd”, or business startups who need followers to sell their ideas or products to.

What makes followers more valuable? If they are interested in the right subjects they are more likely to read your content, click on links or listen to your sales talk – in stead of unfollowing you in a hurry.

But people who are just interested in their follower count will not want to pay for that – and they are the people the dealers are collecting followers for. Their buyers will pay for the “these people will follow you back” guarantee. After all, you’ve already proved that by following back an account designed to round up a herd of followers.

A side-effect of this practice is that we are all approached by followers who need us, not to sell to (the follower dealers do that), but to get followed back in order to earn money.

This clone army, then, is just another possible side-effect of the hunt for followers.

Businesses, including large businesses, are not blameless by the way. The primitive metrics many have used so far to figure out whether the time and money they have spent on social media has brought any tangible results (more money that is) have added to the scramble for followers.

Getting “Moo!” in stead of Milk

This may be the point where we replace “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” with the marketing version:

  1. If you measure your success by counting clicks, you’ll end up paying to get more clicks.
  2. If you pay for clicks, you get people who will click for free vouchers.

You don’t get the most engaged kind of follower this way, and businesses have started to notice this. In fact it really helps if people start following your business because they are interested (no news there).

For any business it is high time to move beyond clicks, likes, and follower numbers – if you haven’t done so already.

Meanwhile I have taken a few pictures of my sympathetic herd – to keep in my chamber of oddities in case they move on in the next few days.

Who is selling?

Here are few quotes from my sympathetic follower dealers in case you were wondering: “Buy 10.000 Facebook fans”, “Buy followers while you sleep”, and one that is truly enlightening and reads something like: “Are you jealous of your friends’ number of followers? We can fix that.”

Enough said.

What experiences do you have with the Twitter followers, Facebook likes, or Google Plus One business? If you have your own theory, I’d love to hear it too! Use the comments section or find me on Twitter.

Other posts on this topic: Why Twitter Automation is not a matter of set and forget

Other authors on this topic:

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