The Value of Social Media Followers: Does It Matter If They Are Real or Fake?

Feb 5, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

The Value of Social Media Followers: Does It Matter If They Are Real or Fake?

Feb 5, 2017

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

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As creative professionals, we all spend a lot of time and effort on social media to promote our brands and get our work out there. I personally contribute to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and 500px.

However, after a recent spike of ghost account followers and image views on my 500px account, I have been trying to quantify an actual real world business value of social media followers.

Does a huge number of fake social media followers have value? Surprisingly, yes I think so.

Does connecting with real people on social media matter? Probably less than you think – depending on your business.

Social Media Return on Investment (ROI)

A simple return on investment calculation will immediately show that all social media is in general, a complete waste of time for most businesses (ie. social media costs your business more in man-hours than it returns in revenue).

But that hasn’t stopped us all from participating. Social media has become a necessary evil – even if your social media accounts do nothing but waste your time, it’s become normalized that you must at least participate on a few of the major platforms.

I have received a few client leads from my Instagram and 500px accounts, and Facebook can be effective for retail photographers, but overall a huge social media following does not lead to sales or bookings.

500px Ghost Views

Why Fake Social Media Followers Are Good For Your Business

After receiving thousands of followers and image views from ghost accounts on 500px, I started to wonder: are fake social media followers good for business?

The conventional wisdom is no – you need to interact with real people, because only real people will buy something from you or book your services. However, that rarely happens from a social media lead regardless (for me anyway, maybe all my followers are bots!).

The only solid business value that I can think of for a massive number of social media followers is as a statistic when you pitch a potential client.

For example, Photographer A has a modest but respectable 10,000 Instagram followers, and 50,000 500px followers. Photographer B has 800. Photographer A seems to be way more accomplished than Photographer B, and clients know that you will share images from their job and amplify their exposure – so Photographer A gets the gig.

But, in this scenario, it doesn’t matter if most of those followers are fake bot accounts (from a business perspective anyway).

500px Notifications

Why Fake Social Media Followers Are Bad For Your Business

On the other hand, many businesses value that personal day to day interaction with their followers (like us here at DIYP), and that relationship is important to their business.

For example, wedding and portrait photographers who connect with their clients on Facebook or coffee shops who gram photos of their daily specials on Instagram.

In these cases, businesses are actively using their social media accounts as marketing – and a bot is never going to buy anything.

500px Typical Ghost Account

Kill The Social Media Bots!

So far, the big social media networks have been unwilling to really do anything about the proliferation of bots and ghost accounts on their networks.

However, if we have learned anything from recent events in the US, it’s that social media bots aren’t always warm and fuzzy followers and likers – they can also be mobilized into evil squads of automated attack trolls and fake users spreading fake news.

It’s not a stretch to see a time when social media will be nothing more than swarms of bots manipulating the thoughts and views of the minority of human users left (if we’re not already mostly there), and as long as people value likes and followers more than real world interactions, the social media networks don’t have any incentive change things.

If anything – a proliferation of bots and ghost accounts is great for business if you’re a social media network – look at all those new users signing up and being active on your network!

In the meantime, I’m closing in on 30,000 followers and 1,000,000 photo views on 500px – as far as I can tell the vast majority of which are fake – which certainly makes me feel a lot more important than if I had 300 followers and 1000 photo views.

500px Typical Ghost Account 2

What Do You Think?

Can social media networks grow up and terminate bots and ghost accounts?

Should they – or is it better to have thousands of followers and likes even if they’re not from real people?

Do you think that fake social media followers are good or bad for your business?

In a world of “alternative facts” does reality on social media even matter?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

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4 responses to “The Value of Social Media Followers: Does It Matter If They Are Real or Fake?”

  1. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
    Gvido Mūrnieks

    I suggest to watch “Facebook Fraud” video by “Veritasium” on youtube. It relay well explains, how fake likes and follows kill facebook and other social media pages.

    1. JP Danko Avatar
      JP Danko

      Thanks for the suggestion – the whole Veritasium channel is brilliant! https://m.youtube.com/user/1veritasium/videos

  2. Brian Menin Avatar
    Brian Menin

    Making generalizations about the value of social media is a fail. There are photographers and businesses that get a good return on their efforts. Just as there are photographers with very little online presence who still get work, because they’re busy creating, instead of dicking around online. Your results will definitely vary.