How bad is the underground Twitter economy? According to security vendor Barracuda Labs, pretty bad.

Barracuda has put together an infographic (see below) that looked at dealers who sell fake Twitter accounts and the various people who have stuffed their Twitter followers with fake users, including one guy running for president. Most of the time these fakes are easy to spot: the abuser (the person paying for the fakers) has a big jump in their followers, and they are mostly comprised of users who have recently joined Twitter. On top of this, the newbies are following no one else and have never Tweeted themselves.

Twitter of course isn’t just sitting around: the company has algorithms to try to catch and terminate these fakes, but like email spammers, it is a tough war to win.

Where do you go to buy your fake followers? On eBay, of course. Right now you can find 20 different sellers, and if you Google the term you can find plenty more people that are willing to take your money and set you up with a long list of phonies. The going rate is $18 per thousand, which is probably why the average abuser has more than 48,000 fake followers.

That is pretty depressing. But perhaps it was bound to happen.

How to Spot Fake Followers

It can be hard to tell the fakes from the real people sometimes, especially if you aren’t looking carefully at what is going on. That
is one problem with Twitter in general: it is hard to parse your Tweet stream as the number of abbreviations and leet-like speak is quite dense. Sometimes you need a secret decoder ring.

The fake follower issue brings up the subject of Twitter analytic tools (see Top Twitter Analytics Tools). There are probably dozens of different tools that you can use to analyze suspect accounts. If you haven’t used any of these before it is worth taking a closer look at a couple of them, they can provide some interesting stats for both your own Twitter usage and to see if your potential followers (and people to follow) are legit.

Tips to Get Real Followers

Other than careful screening, what else should you do if you want to build up your following legitmately?

First off, build them slowly. Don’t try to add batches of them all at once.  The slower your numbers rise, the slower they will decline. 

Second, try to remember that Twitter it isn’t just about you. Retweet and link to other things besides your own content.
(I should do this more, I know.)

Next, try to follow more people. Otherwise, you look like a dilettante. (ditto)

Reuse your tweets. Nothing wrong with sending out the same tweet a few different times over the course of a day or a week. Not everyone is paying attention when you want to inform the world about your latest brain storm.

Finally, if you are looking for a great Twitter marketing book to get more of these practical suggestions, I would recommend The Idiots Guide to Twitter Marketing, co-written by my colleague Esther Schindler.

Here is the Barracuda Labs Infographic: