How did I do it? Well, it was pretty easily actually. Basically, I spent money. That's right: I bought fake followers throughout June as part of what I dubbed The Great Fake Twitter Follower Experiment.
When I first joined Twitter, and for the first two-plus years of using it, the idea of fake followers never crossed my mind—let alone buying and selling them. Last year I realized they existed. This year I realized they were far more prominent than I could have imagined. And they're dirt cheap.
Not always cheap, though. In my digging, I discovered that people buying followers have a lot of options to choose from. They can spend anywhere from $5 to $5,000 and they can get anywhere from 50 followers to one million followers. The quality also varies widely: from tweet-less accounts with default "egg" profiles and asburdly random usernames to well-crafted, legitimate-looking fakes, and even actual humans (presumably who get some small cut or favour in exchange for following buyers).
Quality is important but in this underground market it's not "you get what you pay for," as I learned last month. Indeed, you can pay a lot of money for followers who are so fake that they're apt to be automatically deleted by Twitter within days of being created, meaning you lose a large portion of your purchase and your follower count fluctuates wildly for weeks. This I call "bleeding" followers. Or you can find high-quality fakes that "stick" to your account for quite cheap. It's all about looking in the right places and trusting the right sellers - not that I advocate buying fake followers.
So here's a breakdown of what happened during my experiment:
• I bought followers in packages ranging from 100 to 20,000. I bought ones that were obviously shady and ones that seemed relatively legitimate. I bought from several different sites and sources. In essence, I wanted as much variety as possible.
• The most followers I lost in one day was roughly 10,000. Virtually all followers from one package were automatically deleted in one go by Twitter for being obvious fakes, causing a massive plunge in my count.
• The most followers I gained in one day was well over 20,000. Multiple packages delivered on the same day, triggering a huge boost to my count.
• I'm currently losing about 150 followers per day—presumably 99% or more of them fake—and will likely continue to lose at least this many daily for the next several months.
• I gained an average of over 5,100 followers per day throughout June. It took me roughly three years to amass this amount organically.
• My highest follower count in June exceeded 150,000. However, it quickly dropped below this checkpoint once I stopped purchasing new packages.
• The lowest cost I paid for a package was 0.025 cents per follower.
• The most I paid was one cent per follower.
• The shadier offerings promise nothing besides followers for cash. The more legitimate services include extra perks, like speedy deliveries, and "warranties" (replacing followers that get deleted). Most warranties last only one month, however; just one promised a lifetime of replaced followers.
• In May, my followers broke down like this: 75% good, 5% inactive, 20% fake (pretty on par with other relatable users). Today, they break down as such: 14% good, 23% inactive, 63% fake.
• Thousands of my followers have usernames like @lsdjfeyr23920 and @wqyinada432668.
So there you have it.
Would I recommend buying fakes to any individual or band? Certainly not. I was proud of my organically grown 7,000 followers. Now I have 150,000 and it only feels like my account is soiled—like any degree of impressiveness was taken away, stripped, tarnished. I already knew this, but amassing such a ridiculous amount of followers only proved it to me further: social media follower counts are absolutely, positively empty. They mean less than nothing. Engagement, in my opinion, is everything.
I still have my original foundation of real community members and I'm grateful for that. Hopefully by next year, the vast majority of my fakes will have been deleted and some semblance of my original account will return. In the meantime, I'll enjoy being the 11,000th most followed Twitter account in the world, however hollow that statistic may be.
UPDATE (July 21): Just three weeks after I bought my last fake, I have already lost a staggering 85,000 followers. I continue to lose hundreds or thousands each and every day.