In the first part of this series, we spoke about how it is possible to achieve instant online fame by buying fake followers. In Part 2, we speak to the people behind the phenomenon of “hyping”.
“We call ourselves Internet Ninjas, and our job is to help boost ratings and numbers,” said the 37-year-old "internet ninja” based in Hong Kong, who declined to be named for legal reasons.
Involved in online social marketing for over ten years, the self-proclaimed online "ninja" revealed to Yahoo! Singapore in a recent phone interview that his job consists of "hyping" up the social media profile of just about anyone who had cash to burn.
“It’s a matter of perspective, and it’s a numbers game – followers aren’t cheap, and if someone is willing to pay, why not?, " he said in Mandarin.
"These fake followers are robots, but they do work – they boost their buyer’s ratings in Google searches, on websites. It’s just paying for good online marketing and promotion,” he said. His clients include small-time celebs in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
“There are up-and-coming singers who don’t have the cash to launch a full-blown media campaign, but have enough to pay us to make them go viral online – they make up the bulk of my customers,” said the ex marketing executive, who has over ten years of experience in marketing and media management.
He admitted he did not disclose to his clients that he would be buying fake followers and fans as part of his “strategy” as he felt some of them may have ethical concerns with it.
“But at the end of the day, if I give them the hype that they want, they don’t question the way I do it,” he said.
In a separate interview conducted over the web last week, a California-based “internet ninja” told Yahoo! Singapore that buying fake followers may not be ethical but it was not illegal.
“We offer a service – it’s called hyping. Many of our clients are already famous but haven’t started out on social media , so we get them working and make sure their followers on Twitter and Facebook match their real-world popularity,” he said.
His website allows interested potential clients to “chat” with him to assess how much they would need to fork out and what their social media needs are before buying a “package” via credit card.
The 22-year-old Ivy League university dropout told Yahoo! Singapore that the business of selling fake followers and packaging his services into "social media marketing" is so lucrative that he intends to go into it full-time.
“Starting from zero is not an option in the world today when impressions are instant – if people see that Britney Spears has only 5,000 followers, they don’t care that she just started, they are just going to say she’s a has-been and not relevant to the Web set,” he said.
The more enterprising of such “internet ninjas” go beyond just offering pay-per-follower options and have even come up with “packages” priced anywhere from US$300 to US$30,000.
They guarantee genuine followers and fans within a specified time period, and start off by using fake followers to “hype” numbers and attract clients.
“Everybody wants to be a star and now you can be -- for the right price,” said the self-proclaimed social media marketing guru.
Does everyone do it?
The phenomenon of “hyping” recently made headlines in the United States.
The New York Times reported that American comedian Dan Nainan openly admitted to buying followers, and cited media reports that 70 per cent of President Obama’s 17 million followers are allegedly fake, as were 71 per cent of Lady Gaga’s nearly 29 million followers.
Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also made headlines after it was discovered that he suddenly amassed over 100,000 new social networking followers in one short weekend.
To counter the “hyping” trend, tools for detecting fake followers are also on the rise. British start-up company Status People recently announced that it had a software tool that divides followers into the fake, the inactive, and the good.
The tool analyzes an account's 100,000 most recent followers.
Here's what Status People's Faker's tool generated for four popular local news sites.
(NB: A day after Yahoo! Singapore interviewed Nicole Chen about her fake follower allegations, our Twitter page experienced a 100 per cent spike of 20,000 followers to 40,000 followers. A quick check of these new followers found that they were face-less, tweet-less followers typical of computer generated fake accounts.)
The article by techsite "The Right Click" quotes search company PeekYou's CEO Michael Hussey as saying that "Twitter has gotten a lot better over the last six months ... I think they're more quickly detecting and deleting lots of spam."
Today, thanks to the millions of fake followers generated, almost every Twitter account has a small percentage of "fake" or "inactive" users.
Unlike Facebook which requires a user to first "accept" a friend invite, anyone can follow you on Twitter -- from a genuine friend to a computer-generated account set up to promote pornography. That freedom has created a market for the sale of Twitter followers.
On Saturday, AFP news reported that Facebook would be cracking down on "insincere likes" on its Fan pages.
A spokesman for the social networking site said that there would be newly improved automated efforts" to "remove those Likes gained by malware, compromised accounts, deceived users or purchased bulk Likes."
And while these self proclaimed social media "ninjas" claim that what they are doing is not illegal, it may be a matter of time before what they do is included under anti-spam laws.
In April, Twitter launched a federal lawsuit against seven companies it is accusing of flooding its timelines with spam messages and irrelevant material.
"You can go on eBay today and type 'twitter followers' or 'buy
twitter followers,' and you can pump up your number," said Hussey.
"Those are great examples of completely spam accounts."
Until then, its free for all in the open market for fake followers, likes, and fans.
“It’s the age of Internet marketing and self-promotion – and where there are no laws, anything goes,” concluded the US-based social media ninja.