Social media mystery: the case of the 5000 follower intern

So we were hiring an intern.  Hiring might be a strong word since we're not planning to pay this intern, but I digress.  So I'm reviewing resumes and sometimes if somebody looks promising, I check out his or her Twitter account.  It is at least in part a social media internship, after all.  So one candidate comes to the top of the pile and she has over 5,000 followers on Twitter, no small feat.  Or so I thought.

5,000 followers is neither here nor there by itself, but this person was following only 30 people and had under 100 tweets in just a few months on Twitter.  Reading the tweets, I was not super impressed: almost all were links to various marketing and social media articles, no added commentary, no @ replies, no real value add from information or entertainment.  How do you get 5,000 followers with 100 mediocre tweets in a few months?  I was pretty sure there was only one possible answer: cheating.

A phone screen confirmed, the intern candidate had paid some shadowy service to deliver followers.  It was, she said, an experiment to see if having more followers would make it any easier to get noticed or get her message out on Twitter. Purists - and even semi-purists - can be horrified all they like, but here's the thing: it works.  5,000 followers and 100 tweets over a few months gives you a higher Twitter Grader score than mine with about 1,000 followers and 5,000 tweets over more than four years. Maybe that says more about Tweet Grader than it does about buying followers.

So if you're still in the habit of judging people by the quantity of their following, or using follower quantity as the raw materials of social media scientific inquiry, or to create dubious metrics like TweetGrades, beware, not everything is as it seems.

And the intern?  No decision yet, but I give her points for scientific method.  If she'd done a double-blind study, I'd be willing to double her salary.

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