Does Lady Gaga really have 20 million followers or are a lot of those fake? I've heard she's got a lot of fakers.
—Stormy S., via Facebook
You speak of a widely circulated report indicating that a whopping 30 percent of Lady Gaga's Twitter monsters are fakes—or, as she might put it, creations. The allegation comes courtesy of a British company called StatusPeople, which claims to have a system for ferreting out bots, inactive users and other not-so-real Twitter followers. (You can see the app—and look up Gaga's current Twitter stats--for yourself here.)
But does that mean that the Lady isn't exactly Gaga for the truth? Well, not so fast.
According to social media marketing experts, an increasing number of celebrities are recruiting fake followers, and they probably don't even know it. (Don't know if this is the situation with Lady Gaga, a request for comment from her camp wasn't immediately returned.)
Instead, members of some celebrities' teams—publicists, managers, record labels, agents—are often purchasing fake followers on their behalf. The reason?
"It's bragging rights, it demonstrates how hot your career is, and those followers are an important tool that can be monetized for marketers," a social media marketing expert who consults with celebrities explains to me. "So, yes, celebrities can profit from fake followers, directly and indirectly."
Directly, as in a celebrity getting paid thousands of dollars to Tweet about a product to their so-called myriad followers. Or indirectly, as in charging more for an endorsement deal based on overall perceived popularity.
"I, in fact, have recently counseled my own celebrity clients against using paid or fake accounts, but they are getting a lot of pressure to have them," my expert adds.
So what are these followers, and where do they come from?
"They can be bots, or they can be a group of ‘zombie' accounts created by a very smart programmer," the social media guru explains. Those zombie accounts can then be ‘ordered' to follow a set of Twitter accounts that make them look like a certain demographic—say, young moms, or teen metal fans.
Those accounts are then sold by brokers—yes, really—in bulk.
"Depending on the quality of the follower, you are probably looking at 50 cents to $2 per follower," the social media marketer dishes. (Many brokers offer followers for much, much less.)
If a third of Gaga's followers really are bots or zombies, she's not alone. StatusPeople's faker score for Justin Bieber claims that 22 percent of his followers, too, are fake.