It’s well-known by users that the majority of Twitter accounts are automated; that is, they are bots, not humans. Most posts are also automated, but Twitter works to keep these facts hidden from certain users. First, with journos, their follower counts are often very high, but their engagement is low, except when they post key pieces of (dis)information. Journos are often blindsided when they get ratio’d by anons because their followers are bots, and the anon has real humans interacting with him. The writer in question likely doesn’t realize his 500k followers are mostly fake accounts created to make his news seem like it matters, which it’s really just shouting into an echobox.
Automation is a problem far beyond controlling journos, and I’ve documented it in the indy author space for years now. Back in 2016 my brother-in-law and I noticed that most of the author accounts that followed us seemed to only tweet links to books and to retweet links to other select books (never ours). What I realized is that there was a circle of fake accounts operated by “Calumet Editions,” a vanity publisher whose sales package includes an automated Twitter account and access to their “100k+” Twitter network.
If you look at any of their posts, the engagement is abysmal. Just a few likes for most tweets, while the account has follower accounts in double or triple digits, and those likes are from other bot accounts run by Calumet Editions. It’s all smoke and mirrors, pretend marketing designed to sell a package to naive would-be authors who don’t know the newpub or oldpub business. This scam is built on the old belief that follow-for-follow will help you build a network, which new authors follow without really thinking about.
There are other similar advertising accounts. “Booktasters X” is one variant (several accounts with “X” replaced by some other word). They are automated in a simple fashion: they follow every account with “author” or “blogger,” etc., in their bio, then wait for the account to follow back. Periodically, they unfollow all accounts that haven’t followed back, and the cycle continues. I’m re-followed by “Booktasters Authors” about once a month.
These accounts might also, at some point when they reach a large number of mutuals, unfollow everyone to give the account a favorable following/follower ratio, making the account look like it has influence when it, in reality, does not. Again, you can tell by the engagement of the posts themselves. An account with 50k followers that is only getting one like per post isn’t real; it’s been automated into an illusory influencer. If they are clever, they may also retweet whatever post had engagement (often years before) to create the illusion of relevance.
I’ll give you one concrete example:
If you notice, I’m following this account. This is because, at one point, Jesper followed me, and this one didn’t come to my attention until lately. Jesper is a real person with whom I’ve done content, and honestly, he’s a very nice and polite fellow, but his account is now fully automated. It posts all day with zero engagement, and the content it links to is years old at this point.
The idea here is a kind of “investment” mentality. You spend a few years making content, interacting with other authors (including me), then put everything on robot mode, so you don’t have to “work” on social media. Old stuff is reposted, and everything links back to what you sell. It’s a sales funnel with trappings of the parasocial. Jesper sells not just fiction but books directed towards other authors, including a map-making book, and he has at least one Facebook group cultivated toward fantasy writers, so he’s also slid into the category of “Indy author moving into author services.” This is because, as I’ve pointed out in the past, there is more money in selling services to new authors than in writing and selling fiction to consumers.
Now, if you are wondering why I didn’t notice he had unfollowed me, the big reason is that I don’t pay attention to my numbers on Twitter; I follow accounts I like, and I follow back only if I like the account’s content (tweets, usually, not links to outside stuff). Twitter also tends to suppress outside links, and the algorithm is not tuned to favor accounts with large followings as if they should automatically be influencers. Thus, Jesper is technically shadowbanned but likely doesn’t realize it. I normally never see his posts and only noticed and remembered him because of one that happened to land in my feed.
Even so, the optionality favors automation because it requires so little effort. All the work of making content is already done, and it costs so little to run something like Hootsuite that even if you get close to zero engagement, it’s still worth it. The point is to use social media as free advertising. Even if the 43k is not indicative of fans, it might be enough to sell something, somewhere, to somebody. There is no real downside.
There are a few points I want to make here:
- Accounts with a very high following/follower ratios are not going to interact with you; they are likely automated. Don’t bother with them.
- Engagement is what matters, not followers. Followers can be bots or inactive accounts (and most likely are, if you automating following/unfollowing)
- Success on social media requires you to use social media. That means tweeting content directly, not just linking to your podcast from three years ago.
- You should follow accounts you like on any platform. You’ll build more engagement by being a real person with other real people, not just following everyone with “author” in his bio.
With Musk buying Twitter, there is lots of controversy surrounding bots and truly fake accounts, but automation is a factor, too. How much of twitter is automated accounts posting into an echoing void?
Buy my newest book, Alshafaltha, now! Also, check out my only “author services” type of book, The Keys to Prolific Creativity.