Influencer or Fauxlebrity? How to spot users with fake followers on Twitter.

Written by: Michael Sim

If you’re like me, you’ve connected with a handful of self-proclaimed professionals on Twitter. You’ve got your gurus, mavens, enthusiasts, and evangelists; spammers are a dime a dozen. But let’s not judge a person by which fluff-adjectives they choose to represent themselves with on social media. Let’s let the data do the talking.

Twitter can be a magical place to share great information and connect with like-minded individuals. Sadly, however, this magic can also be attractive to spammers. And by spammers, I’m referring to affiliate marketers, MLM’s, and those who would simply prefer to hide behind technology rather than embrace it as a means to build meaningful relationships. These individuals either paid for their followers, joined a mass following website, or by other means artificially grew their social followers in order to intentionally deceive others into believing that they are a person of interest or genuine influence. This article is intended to help individuals make wiser decisions when deciding to connect with or do business with an individual on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Now don’t get me wrong, affiliate marketing is a staple for a large number of legitimate businesses. However, it is a fundamentally broken system that is plagued by mass marketers who blindly promote whatever they can in search engine optimized blog posts simply for the purpose of earning affiliate income.

With that being said, there are several ways you can identify if a user has a fake following on Twitter.

Open Networkers

While not always indicative of a spammer, a red flag should go up if the user has a 1:1 follow-to-follower ratio. If someone has 50,000 followers and follows 49,800 – 51,000 (or more) users, there is a strong chance that this person is using a “pump and dump” process to grow their audience. A “pump and dump” process works like this:

1) Follow 1000 users using bulk follow tools
2) Wait 3 days
3) Unfollow the accounts that didn’t follow back using bulk unfollow tools
4) Repeat the process every day religiously

There is an unspoken “golden rule” that between 10-14% of users, if carefully selected, will follow you back when followed first. That’s not influence. That’s math.

While the concept of following people in large amounts, and clearing out the non-followbacks seems like a spammy process, it’s actually one that I recommend that companies implement – only with much stronger criteria and moderation on how it is executed. It can be a great way to put yourself or your brand on the social radar of your target audience. But we’re not talking about brands, we’re talking about influencers.

The reason I’ve listed this as the #1 way to identify someone who is artificially representing themselves as an influencer is simple. First, if you’re doing anything in “bulk”, you are unlikely to be engaging your new followers. And just because you got a new follower doesn’t mean that that person is an advocate. So for many marketers out there using this process, one of the fundamental flaws of this technique is that there is very little time left to build any sort of meaningful relationship with new followers, and thereby convert them into loyal followers. This leads to a large audience that is almost entirely oblivious to your existence. Great job getting followers! Unfortunately, nobody cares that you exist. [insert cricket sounds]

Second, true influencers do not need to leverage these techniques to grow their audience. However, they typically have one common element that helps grow their followers on Twitter. This is typically due to the fact that they are on broadcast media, produce vlogs, are well known bloggers, create video reviews, and so on. Either that, or they come from publicly recognized seats of power and leadership, such a big-brand CEOs and other c-level officers. But for the common influencer, they typically have a wide variety of various multimedia channels and interactive content funneling back to their social media accounts.

If you’re just getting started out, you may not have a presence on YouTube. You may not feel comfortable being on video. You may not be the best writer, and certainly don’t feel like creating content. And to boot, you’re camera shy and shun the idea of posting selfies. For this type of user, implementing a follow-back strategy as mentioned above can be a great way to create the foundation for becoming an influencer. However, to truly take ownership over that name, at some point you need to detach yourself from the follow-back process and embrace digital content as your champion. Then, pray like hell people take you seriously.


The retweet can be a great way to build a relationship with a Twitter user by recognizing them for great content. It helps the user who gets retweeted to amplify the visibility of their content, and also serves as a testimonial to the audience of the person who did the retweeting. However, there are those who abuse the retweet and leverage them to create the illusion of influence.

Many of these users are easily identified by looking at their Twitter stream. Compared to legitimate influencers, spammers and casual Twitter enthusiasts will typically have a disproportionate amount of retweets when compared to true professionals who publish a healthy mix of engaging content.

Empire Avenue & Tsu

Being a member of EA or Tsu doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a spammer. I’m a member on both (although I absolutely refuse to be active on Tsu, here’s why ). However, both of these social “networks” are largely embraced by amateurs who seek to artificially establish themselves as experts over topics that they have very little background in. They also leverage a wide variety of questionable tactics that no legitimate company would ever consider using.

Empire Avenue

Empire Avenue considers itself a “stock market for social media accounts”. As a member, you become a stock that can be traded in the Empire Avenue stock market. You can also earn Empire Avenue’s digital currency, “Eaves”, by earning dividends on other stocks that you invest in, or, by completing missions.

Missions are simple – you can dedicate a certain Eaves “budget” to incentivize other users to take a certain action on your content, such as “visit a Tweet”, “visit a YouTube video”, or “visit a URL”. Basically, you are paying people to view (and hopefully share) your content. The problem with this is that Empire Avenue has very few legitimate users, and is comprised largely of people who are either casual social media users or spam marketers. Any action taken on your content, such as a retweet, is typically broadcasted to a very detached and/or largely irrelevant audience that has very little interest in what you are trying to promote. Spammers will leverage Empire Avenue to artificially boost their retweets in order to convince others that they are influential.

To sum this up, be wary of anyone boldly sharing information that mentions Empire Avenue, claims to be an expert in the Empire Avenue community, or recommends Empire Avenue as a legitimate means to meet ANY sort of marketing goal. If they blog about Empire Avenue strategies, if they’ve created a “how to succeed on Empire Avenue” YouTube video, or if they link to it in their updates – chances are that this professional is going to lead you in the wrong direction and expose your brand to a slew of unwanted users.

Empire Avenue Smoke & Mirrors:

Some individuals have taken things to a far more deceptive level. Instead of simply using Empire Avenue to promote content for the company they work for (with the goal of getting website visitors), they’ll use it to run retweet missions that promote a quoted retweet from a prospective customer’s account (with the hope of gaining a new client). The sales prospect feels honored by the fauxlebrity treatment (an influx of meaningless retweets), and the spammer gets a new client. This is not a victimless crime, mind you, as these marketers typically have very little agency-level experience and lack the proper mindset to properly manage a brand in the social space. This results in very little a/b testing, neglects the development of a proper content strategy, and typically leads to the use of additional black-hat promotion techniques.

Empire Avenue Klout Gaming

Klout currently holds the title as the social media standard for influence. And while Klout is a strong indicator of a user’s influence, it is very easily gamed. Just as I mentioned the way content and social media posts can be promoted in Empire Avenue, so can “+K missions”. I’m proud to say that I fluctuate between a 65 and 71 based on my general activity without having to play the system. Great content, conversation, thought sharing, relationship building; these are what social media is all about. Beware of the people in the 90′s. If you haven’t heard of them, and they aren’t backed by a major brand, congratulations; you’ve got yourself a case of the spam.


Tsu recently hit the market with an interesting proposition. They pay out 90% of their ad revenue proportionately to those who create and share the content on which those ads are displayed. Simply put, if I create an update that receives 1,000,000 views, I will personally receive 90% of the ad revenue that it generates. If someone shared that update, they are partially responsible for creating an ad impression, and they too will receive a cut.

Needless to say that the sheer amount of spammers who have flocked to this site made it feel like the scene in Braveheart where Mel Gibson throws the sword – a stampede of sweaty Scottsmen hellbent on freedom. In this case the Scottsmen are spammers hellbent on making money. To sum this up nicely, you do not want to associate your brand with sweaty freedom-seeking Scottsmen or spammers, unless you own a kilt company.

Read more on my assessment of Tsu, and how I believe it is a bad move for companies to implement into their social strategy.

The Apps Shall Set You Free

If you’re like me, you’re probably looking for a quick fix to tell if someone is misrepresenting their online influence. These three tools do a great job at analyzing and providing a very basic report on the legitimacy of a user’s followers.

  •’s “Fakers”
  •’s “Fake Followers”
  • Other Spam Identifiers

    Other than the methods listed above, there are a wide variety of ways to identify a spammer. This article by @Mashable How to Spot a Twitter Spambot had a few solid points to consider.