Sir Bedevere: What makes you think she’s a witch?
Peasant 3: Well, she turned me into a newt!
Sir Bedevere: A newt?
Peasant 3: [meekly after a long pause] … I got better.
Crowd: [shouts] Burn her anyway!
From the color-me-unsurprised department comes news from Time Magazine’s Techland that 92% of Newt Gingrich’s Twitter Followers Aren’t Real. I’m not making a statement with this post about the politician’s politics, or his character, or even an indictment of social media itself. Mainly because I think far too many people are guilty of the same thing – trying to use inflated social media stats to prove their social worth.
I discussed this with keynote marketing speaker David Dalka this morning, and he shared his thoughts in Twitter Gate – Buy More Twitter Followers Free Instantly – Business Marketing Strategy Implications?, digging into some of the business issues involved surrounding social media and pursuing followers on social networks:
It makes one wonder where all these non-real followers are coming from and more than a few CEOs are likely reading this article and asking the question, “Is all this investment in social media justified and an activity that will grow my business and improve the bottom line or are there wiser investments to be made?”
So where did Newt’s followers come from?
The Techland article points to a report from people search engine PeekYou, which attempted to identify some demographics about Twitter followers for all of the 2012 Republican candidates. The idea was to try to ascertain how many followers might actually be human beings, and how many might be businesses or anonymous accounts or spambots.
The Atlantic, in Did Newt Gingrich Buy His Twitter Followers?,interviewed a former Gingrich staffer, who tells us that approximately 80 percent of Gingrich’s followers are inactive or dummy accounts created by agencies.
Ok, so I get spambots following me on a regular basis all the time. I signed into twitter a couple of days ago and blocked 15 new followers with default avatars, no tweets, little to no followers, and a pattern to the way they were named that included numbers within them. So, why be concerned about how many fake followers Newt Gingrich might have?
In an interview (via Gawker) with the Marietta Daily Journal, Gingrich pointed to the number of followers he had on Twitter as validation for his legitimacy as a candidate for President:
“And it says, ‘now it’s true that Gingrich has 1.3 million followers and (Michele) Bachmann only has 59,000, but she’s getting more new people every week.’ It turned out I have six times as many Twitter followers as all the other candidates combined, but it didn’t count because if it counted I’d still be a candidate; since I can’t be a candidate that can’t count. So we’ve been a little bit like a sailing ship in the middle of a hurricane in which we are sailing straight into the teeth of the media, and that slowed us down.”
Unfortunately, there are agencies that will sell Twitter followers to people who pay for them. You can buy Facebook Fans, Friends, and Likes as well. Want some Google Plus One’s added to your website, you can get 1,000 for $250.
Social media can be a great channel to use to reach out to real people, to build relationships, to engage in conversations and keep people informed of what you’re up to and what you’re thinking as a person, as a business, as a politician.
Actual engagement with others is much more meaningful than how many followers you might have, and there are even some people thinking seriously about how to measure that kind of influence.
Another question that David raised was if there were wiser investments to be made.
A figure that sent me into sticker shock when I came across it last month was that Newt Gingrich supposedly spent $800,000 on his website and a mass email system. A couple of minutes looking around the site reveals that optimizing the site for search engines wasn’t included in that hefty price tag. For example, the site’s use of a 302 redirect from “http://newt.org/” to “http://www.newt.org/” instead of a 301 redirect.
As Google tells us on their help page about 301 redirects, the best approach is to use a permanent (301) redirect rather than a temporary (302) redirect:
301 redirects are particularly useful in the following circumstances:
People access your site through several different URLs. If, for example, your home page can be reached in multiple ways – for instance, http://example.com/home, http://home.example.com, or http://www.example.com – it’s a good idea to pick one of those URLs as your preferred (canonical) destination, and use 301 redirects to send traffic from the other URLs to your preferred URL.
PageRank from any links pointing to “http://newt.org” would be lost rather than being sent to the “http://www.newt.org” version of the homepage because the site uses a 302 redirect, which won’t pass along PageRank, instead of a 301 redirect which will.
Another thing on the Newt Gringrich site that made me cringe was the use of a “revisit” meta element as follows:
<meta name=”Revisit-after” content=”1 Day”>
The revisit meta tag has never been used by any of the major commercial search engines ever. It was developed by the British Columbia directory SearchBC in the mid 90s for use by the directory for businesses within British Columbia only, and was only used for a couple of years. The developer behind the directory set up a meta tag generator on the site to help site owners create meta tags for their sites, and the meta tag generator become more popular than the directory. If you search on Google for [meta tag generator] (without the brackets), you’ll see other meta tag generators, some of which still include that revisit tag.
The purpose behind the revist tag was to tell the SearchBC robot how frequently content might change on one of the sites in the directory, so that it would return and capture new content. It never really worked out well, which is why SearchBC abandoned it.
These days, when I see a revisit tag in the head section of the HTML for a site, it’s a sign that the people developing that site know very little about SEO. The tag does appear in places that you might not expect it, like on one of the Websites of the top Fortune 50 businesses for 2010. I suspect it’s possible that they paid even more than $800.000 for their website.
It’s not a surprise that Newt Gingrich’s website ranks well in search engines for his name. That’s true with many businesses online that focus upon their trademarks. An intelligent search strategy would also explore ranking for terms that don’t include names or trademarks, such as “2012 presidential candidate.”
Given that, I was a little surprised that the word “president” didn’t appear a single time on the home page of his site, as in “Newt for President 2012” or “presidential candidate” or in any other format that might make it more likely that his pages might show up in a searches other than those that include his name.
We don’t know for certain whether or not Newt paid for followers on Twitter, but it doesn’t seem like he paid for help related to optimizing his site for search.
Regardless of my political views, I think that’s a shame.