Buying Followers: One Agency CEO's Experiment With Promoted Tweets

KBS+ Head Lori Senecal Finds Out if Money Buys Social Media Love

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Can money buy you love? It's a worthy question in this modern era of relationship management. What I wanted to better understand is whether connections are as valuable, relevant and long-lasting when they are bought versus earned.

So I set out on an experiment.

My weapon of choice to explore this question was Twitter's Promoted Accounts. I've been on Twitter just shy of four years now, and am by no means an verified "ad celeb" -- I'm not on it all day long, and I don't have a staggering number of followers. But the ones I do have I interact with and had grown the good old-fashioned way, earning each of my 1500 or so followers one tweet at a time. (The fact that I have only tweeted about 480 times over that period rather emphasizes the slow in my slow and steady approach).

In part, due to this slow build, my followers have been of high quality and quite loyal. It has been a steady slope of growth month over month, with people who seem to have similar interests, and more importantly, a similar sense of humor.

At 6:00pm on a Friday evening, that all changed when I flipped the switch: I launched my personal promoted account campaign.

The experiment was now in full force. In just a few hours, I gained 29 new followers, which is what I would typically add in a month. And by morning, that number had climbed to 52. I was on a roll. A brief 24-hours into the experiment, 102 new accounts were following me. As $75 was processed through my credit card, it looked like my first question was being answered: yes, you can buy love.

So onto the next question: were my new followers relevant and real, or was I being #catfished! As I explored the profiles, the tweets and the longevity of these new followers, they seemed to be real people indeed. No imposters, bots or zombies in sight. Twitter's algorithm was doing a fine job of identifying prospective followers and effectively promoting my account to an appropriate audience.

It was kind of like a blind date. Twitter acting as the dating service that makes the introduction, by placing my account in front of users who otherwise might never discover me. After that, it was all about the chemistry. Whether or not they would choose to follow was most likely based on what I shared and how I went about it. Did my content have a voice? Was it appealing and worthwhile to the pursuer? Did I show good etiquette by engaging in conversations with my followers or was I just a broadcaster, posting one-way communications?

Originally, I had planned to promote my account for an entire week, but by the time I hit the 72-hour mark, I had decided that this experiment would be short-lived – a brief fling spent with promoted accounts over a 3-day weekend. Paying for popularity felt weird and inauthentic, and I was just anxious to not have that commercial checkmark beside my name.

When all was said and done, my account made 45K impressions over the course my mini-campaign. At a follow rate of 0.48%, I gained 217 new followers in 72 hours. Satisfied with my findings, I disabled the service.

Why did I do it and what did I learn? As a marketer, I like to personally explore various platforms and opportunities first hand. After all, you won't know if you don't go, and it's our job to provide expert advice to our clients to help guide their marketing campaigns.

What I learned was that you could buy dates and some of those dates could turn into relationships. But like any relationship, time will tell whether or not there's true staying power, and that has everything to do with the quality of the time spent together. Engaging with your followers on Twitter (or any social network for that matter) is just like a relationship: what you get out of it is directly proportionate to what you put into it – quality, content and conversation – consideration of your partner's interests – honesty and respect. Promoting your account is a good way to get some exposure, but growing and engaging your audience depends on how well you understand your followers, manage your brand and how effectively you create and share your content.

After my whirlwind experience with Promoted Accounts, I'm happy to see my growth rate has returned to its regular, steady pace. It may not be as flashy as getting over 200 new followers in a weekend, but it feels a lot more natural and honest, and that suits me just fine.

Lori Senecal is chairman-CEO of Kirschenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners , an MDC Partners agency, based in New York. She's not promoting it, but she can be found on Twitter at @digitalori.

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