4 Clues Twitter Followers Are Purchased

So I’ve noticed lately a lot of people with extremely huge numbers on Twitter. By huge numbers, we’re talking about tens of thousands. If we were in a grocery store, and these people were in the produce aisle, they would not be organic. Ok, maybe that metaphor isn’t really going to work. What I mean is, they have no relationship with those tens of thousands of followers. Among my friends who are social media managers (SMMs), we say those people “bought” their followers — they literally plunked down some cash so they could get a thousand or ten thousand followers.

How can you tell if someone bought their followers? Here’s what I’ve noticed.

1. Don’t have lists & not on anyone else’s.

If you’ve been on Twitter awhile, you use lists as shortcuts, a way to organize so you can cluster followers together. For example, your list called “locals” might have people in the same city as you, and so on. So, for someone to have, say…10,000 followers and not be listed anywhere? Suspicious.

2. No engagement.

Unless you’re a celebrity superstar or news channel, you need to have some conversations going to get big numbers. If you read a few tweets in the other person’s timeline, and there’s no engagement, and they’re not a celebrity, how did their numbers get so big? Also suspicious.

3. Huge number of followers, very few tweets.

Building a big following organically (read: not paying for them) takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. So 10,000 followers and 200 tweets? Very, very suspicious.

4. Twitter start date is too recent.

If the account is only two weeks old, how could they possibly have 25,000 followers? Even a caffeine addict who never sleeps couldn’t add that many followers in two weeks. Extremely suspicious. Especially if their avatar is the Twitter egg.

We all know that having big numbers makes people look popular on Twitter. And sometimes being popular can impress others. But: so what? Who are they trying to impress with those 100,000 followers who have no real relationship with them?

If you’ve come across someone with huge numbers, would you follow them based on their number of followers? Please leave a comment below! Thanks!


  1. Jody Yarborough says

    Really good insight, Carol! Question, is there spamming in Twitter like there is on the web. What I mean is, I use a really old-school visit counter on one of my sites, just to get a “stroking” that someone is seeing my site. But in truth, I think that some of the hits are just pings of spam that my spam blocker is blocking out. Can this same phenomenon happen in twitterville? Regardless, it is clear you are in the know on this stuff and once I get my blogs up and running and ready for a full launch, I will be calling you to help me launch my twitterific life!! Great post!

    • Hi Jody! Yes, there is spam on Twitter, just like other parts of the Internet. Some of the spam is in direct messages and some comes from accounts that start and stop very quickly–as they get shut down by the Twitter community. Reporting spam is easy in Twitter, and reporting helps everyone to get less spam. When you get started on Twitter, I’d be happy to answer your questions.

      Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it very much!

  2. New to twitter here! Don’t know much at all about it. I’m
    Glad you wrote this article. I find it very helpful. I would follow
    Famous people with thousands or millions of followers but not just
    Anyone. I report people when they follow me if they have pornographic names
    I believe those are spammers.

    • Hi Jennifer, I don’t follow very many celebrities (I do love @YokoOno, though). I don’t report people with pornographic names unless they send me spam. I won’t follow them back, but don’t spam them. If someone who doesn’t follow me sends me a link, then I’ll usually report them as spammers. Sometimes the most legitimate-looking sites can end up being spammers. Thank you for commenting. I appreciate it!

  3. when u are true and ur intentions are pure- u dont ever have to cheat. Interesting.

  4. I always have a look at the follower/following ratio. If someone is “followed” by 125,000 and “follows 123. This is bit too Hollywood for me. Judgmental? Perhaps but it IS my T/L after all :)

    • Hi Arnold, Yes, someone with 125K followers who only follows 123 is a celebrity and there most probably won’t be much engagement. Like you, I probably would not follow that person unless their tweets were valuable. I might consider putting that person on a list if I thought I’d want to check their tweets occasionally without actively following them. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate that!

  5. Well, I’ve been on Twitter for about 2 years, but I think I have only created 2 lists. I’m not that organized. But I am on several hundred other lists, I believe, so I’d say if all else looks real except the list, the person might be legit. But then, I only have about 5,000 followers, not hundreds of thousands so I guess I look real enough!

    • Hi Alexandra! Just your being on several hundred lists makes you legit (even if you don’t use them yourself). And a 10-second glance at your Twitter stream lets anyone know that you’re real. The engagement, joking, banter, all create a fun water cooler experience. I’d follow you even if I didn’t like to work out! So there.

  6. I’ve been seeing a lot more spam on Facebook as well. People that create pages, like other pages, comment and like posts just to – I assume – get clicks on links that they are making a few cents off. Do you think that’s what is happening?

    It is something to be wary of, especially if you are doing Facebook Advertising. I have had clients that throw a lot of money at ads, but then don’t bother with targeting based on demographic, location, or most importantly, interests. They end up posting big numbers – lots of clicks and likes on the page – but the fan base isn’t real. And when they DO start commenting with a bunch of ‘look at my page! look at my page!’ it is a deterrent for legitmate followers to interact with the Page.

    – Danielle Hohmeier, Online Marketing Manager at Atomicdust

    • Hi Danielle,

      That’s the problem with buying followers or fans. They’re not likely to become buyers, let alone behave themselves. It’s difficult to speed up the process of creating legitimate relationships, and yet most startups want to do just that. They want to see big numbers. And unfortunately that can backfire so easily. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!


  7. cAZ mANLEY says

    hi, i was followed by an egghead the other day. The account had something like 2793 followed and 24,682 followers, and here is the surprise 0 tweets!! I blocked them immediately. What’s in it for them – time wasting idiots.

    • Hi Caz, Nearly 25K followers and 0 tweets? Now there’s a pretty good clue that they bought those followers! Good for you for blocking them. You wouldn’t ever want to follow someone like that accidentally, only to come back to an inbox full of spam later! Thank you for dropping in and commenting. I really appreciate it. ~Carol

  8. Alsarcastic says

    I don’t follow celebs. I find them generally boring. I use twitter to engage. If I see someone with a huge disparity between followers and following I’m not going to press the follow button. Simply put, these people are not engaging so I’m not interested.

    • Generally, I’m with you, Alan. However, I might follow Obama during the election and then unfollow afterwards. Also, some accounts offer value or humor–Mashable for social media, for example–and I realize they’ll probably never follow back. I used to put those people on lists, but lately lists have become more cumbersome in Twitter. I’m not big on celebrities, either. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it!

  9. I’ve been on Twitter long enough to make about 8k tweets, and in the probably 2 years its been since I started, I have just under 200 natural followers. There’s probably about 10 that are bots- almost all of them are legitimate follows and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I also don’t follow people just to get follows. If you interest me, I follow, but you have to stay interesting, and having actual interactions helps in that. Twitter is probably my favorite social networking platform, and while I’ not as huge on it as some people are, it can still be a lot of fun and a good source of information providing its not flooded with crap.

    • Hi Deb, Twitter is my favorite social media platform, too, because I’ve met so many awesome people through it. I clean out my Twitter regularly and jettison the bots. Twitter, as you say, can be a lot of fun, and avoiding all the junk is a constant battle. Thanks for caring enough to comment! ~ Carol

  10. Good information Carol! Sometimes it’s difficult to tell who’s real on Twitter. Some tweeps are not good at identifying themselves in their bios or have strange pictures but end up being someone from our industry that I should follow. I like to see website links. We just have to use our best judgement! I try to be transparent but many are not.

    • That’s right, Stacy. We can be transparent ourselves but like you say we’re often guessing as to which account is real, who will or won’t spam us, etc. I look for links to other places on the Internet (Facebook, websites, Pinterest, etc.) to gather clues about being real. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment! You’re the best!

  11. http://tinyurl.com/mancpayne10875 says

    I really Think that post, “4 Clues Twitter Followers Are Purchased –
    Carol Stephen” was in fact spot on! I cannot agree together with u more!
    At last seems like I personally located a blog truly worth reading
    through. Thanks for your effort, Chandra

  12. Thank you for the post Carol. Twitter is my favourite platform too. In the 2 years I’ve been on Twitter, I think I’ve become a good judge on who’s bought Twitter followers, especially when the follower/following numbers doare out by a huge margin. I just don’t follow them and I do report them. :-)

    • Hi Kaye! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. People just don’t realize that buying followers isn’t going to get them anything! I’m curious, but what do you report them for, Kaye? For spam? Thanks again for taking the time! I appreciate it! ~Carol

  13. I’m a writer, and I follow not only writers but all kinds of people. I don’t follow accounts with good looking avatars, high status bio claims and 0 tweets. I’ve found they dm spam. I hardly ever unfollow anyone, unless they unfollow me. I find the patterns of behaviour of following and unfollowing very interesting. A common ploy;some tweeps follow a large number of people who have nothing in common with them, then a little while or a few months later, they’ll unfollow all but a few, and look like they have celebrity status. Lately people have been cleaning up their accounts and unfollowing people who don’t engage with them.
    I feel that I am not there to amuse or entertain people, and I don’t expect them to do the same for me. Twitter is a social media network, and tge only way for a network to function is to have lots of connections.
    Anyway, those are my thoughts. I find twitter and the people from all over the world who are on it, fascinating.

    • Hi Louise,
      That is a common ploy–that of following a huge number and then unfollowing most of them. Maybe most people don’t check that often. It seems like after awhile people would catch on, though. Like you, I find the people on Twitter fascinating once you get to know them.
      My number one rule for following is engagement, but I also follow a few accounts that tweet news or are educational, such as TEDTalks.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment! I really appreciate it.

  14. I used to get reports from something called unfollower who would show me who stopped following me and then I would stop following those people. (makes sense to me). However, now mr. unfollower or whatever his name is wants me to hand over control of my Twitter and other info in order to get the list of those who have unfollowed me. Do you know any other free service where I can find out who has dropped me so I can drop them? Just helps to keep my Twitter cleaned up if I can drop people who have dropped me. Thanks!

    • Hello Julie,

      Yes, Friend or Follow is free, and I believe that JustUnfollow has a free version, too. You could also use Mr. Unfollow (or whatever it’s called) and then revoke access once you’re done, to be safer.

      Thanks for the comment!



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