TED talks have been viewed more than one billion times online, reflective of social media’s growing popularity and the increasing desperation of companies to understand how to best leverage it. But that kind of popularity, and the events’ somewhat internet elitist personality, eventually lent itself to lampooning by The Onion.
For all we’ve learned about the power of social media, it is still a deeply misunderstood medium. Popularity is often still measured by “followers” on Twitter or “likes” on Facebook. As is the case with any currency, however, an incentive to exploit the system exists. If Twitter followers carry some intrinsic, perceived value, a market springs up to sell those followers in the form of web-crawling “bots.”
In the case of Mitt Romney’s political campaign this summer, the temptation to increase the perceived reach of the candidate was so great, his staff was rumored to hire those bots. They were caught.
Companies engage in this behavior more frequently than you might guess: up to 46 percent of companies’ followers, if one study is to be believed.
These followers don’t help those companies, though. It embarrassed the Romney campaign. The same can be true of companies, who seem awkwardly insecure, like a neighbor buying a Escalade a week after the Joneses bought a Leaf.
Perhaps more important, bots don’t contribute to the purchasing companies’ business practices or help their social media presence. Bots don’t retweet to human beings because real people aren’t following bots. They don’t provide company feedback or help a hashtag trend on Twitter. And they’ll never choose Coke over Pepsi; in fact, they might follow both.
The bottom line: it’s a waste of money.
Businesses must recognize that social media is fundamentally an organic medium. One can’t buy the affections of followers. Those gains still require hard work and creativity, something too few social media “experts” seem to possess. The rules of business haven’t changed, even if consultants have the opportunity to practice business in pajamas.