Should you trust Twitter follower numbers? - Updated

Facebook ANZ account manager Adnan Khan's 30k Twitter followers were 97 percent 'fake' according to Status People

Update 2:05pm: It seems Adnan Khan's Twitter account (@adnankhan) has been reset and he now has only one follower, as pointed out by Twitter user and journalist Juha Saarinen (@juhasaarinen). Khan's account remains protected.

Saarinen adds that Khan received a large boost in followers towards late July, and says Khan went from " [around] 1,800 followers on 21 July to [around] 30,000 on July 23."

Because Khan's account has been reset, Twitter Counter no longer shows this information.

Update 4pm: Last week Louise Mensch, a Tory MP in the UK, was criticised for gaining 40,000 followers in the course of a few days. Mensch took to Twitter to proclaim her innocence, and mentions she was the target of a malicious spam attack like that described by Status People [below in original story].

Original story

The power and importance of social media can be seen by how much influence it has in the role of employment. Employers and recruiters have taken to LinkedIn to look for prospects and often use Facebook to screen them.

But what happens when human nature kicks in and someone games the system?

Bill Rundle, who works at Porter Novelli handling PR for Microsoft New Zealand, has written a blog post where he relates that, as an experiment, he bought 2000 followers from Buyrealfollowers.com. He questions the ethics of inflating Twitter follower numbers in this way because of the level of influence that is perceived with higher follower numbers.

Last week Rundle pointed out a service by social media management software provider Status People, which shows the number of “fake” and “inactive” followers a Twitter user has.

The Status People system takes the most recent 500 followers [originally this article mistakenly stated 10,000 followers] and scans them for their follower to following ratio, and how actively followers post new content. When the number that these accounts are following far exceeds the number of their followers and the activity is low, Status People flags this as a fake account.

Earlier this year Raffi Krikorian, director of applications services at Twitter, told Computerworld that the microblogging service uses a similar method to help it detect and remove spam accounts. Krikorian says Twitter has access to further algorithms and tools for spam detection, but was unable to go into detail about them.

Status People says that apart from Twitter users buying fake followers another possibility is that fake followers can be added maliciously as part of a prank or to discredit the target, a trend it is finding more common with celebrities and political figures.

A quick scan through some of Computerworld’s NZ Top Tech Tweeters list shows the followers of those on the list are mostly legitimate according to Status People, with between 1 percent and 5 percent of followers being classed as fake.

Computerworld has come across a New Zealand Twitter account with 28,590 followers, 94 percent of which are fake according to a test carried out using Status People on Friday.

The account belongs to Adnan Khan (@adnankhan), an account manager for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand. On LinkedIn Khan says his role is to help New Zealand businesses use Facebook as a sales and communication channel.

In Khan’s role at Facebook he has a lot of influence in the social media community. Khan has spoken at business and marketing events on the topic of social media, recently at the Social Media Club in Auckland - which brings together hundreds of Auckland’s prominent marketing and digital media specialists.

Computerworld has sought comment from Khan regarding his Twitter followers. Khan has so far declined to comment, passing queries to the Facebook press team.

Since we contacted him, the Khan Twitter account has been made private, protecting his updates and also preventing people from looking at his followers.

When Computerworld checked Khan’s followers on Friday (before the account was locked), apart from the most recent 20 or so followers - Khan’s followers were mostly similar to those purchased in Bill Rundle’s experiment: with 1:100 Twitter following-follower ratios, bios taken from movie quotes or music lyrics and very few updates.

Here are Status People tests on some New Zealand Twitter accounts:

Vodafone New Zealand - 11 percent fake, 42 percent inactive, 47 percent good

Telecom New Zealand - 11 percent fake, 32 percent inactive 57 percent good

2degreesmobile - 5 percent fake , 29 percent inactive, 66 percent good

Computerworld NZ - 2 percent fake, 11 percent inactive, 87 percent good

Stuff - 10 percent fake, 33 percent inactive, 57 percent good

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