May 1, 2017
The University of Southern California recently conducted a study that suggests up to 48 million Twitter accounts (about 15 percent of the 319 million monthly active user total) are bots, which are used to identify and cater to particular groups and enhance digital metrics by automatically retweeting or mentioning certain accounts.
While this research seems somewhat shocking, we shouldn’t be overly surprised due to Twitter’s past issues with bots. In 2014, questions were asked about the overwhelming number of bots on Twitter, and the company responded by admitting that there were around 13.6 million bot accounts (less than five percent). However, even at the time, other research indicated that the number of bots was much greater than the amount Twitter indicated.
Though the existence of bots on Twitter isn’t necessarily a surprise, we must consider the new research that reveals a much higher percentage of bots than previously found, as well as the implications of bots on marketing and politics. After the U.S. presidential election, which was unprecedented in its influence by Twitter use, U.K. researchers revealed what they suggest are massive, intertwined Twitter bot networks, some of which contain more than half a million bot accounts. These networks became a pivotal point of reports suggesting Donald Trump succeeded partially due to fake accounts retweeting Trump’s and pro-Trump tweets, amplifying his voice and undermining the shares of pro-Clinton messages. It was found that in bot responses to the third presidential debate, there was a 7:1 ratio of pro-Trump tweets to pro-Clinton shares.
While it’s difficult to determine the precise amount of impact fake bots had on the election, this research does bring a few facts to light: there are more bots on Twitter than previously thought, and their sharing is targeted and biased.
The other issue to address is marketing. It’s simple to increase your retweets and shares on Twitter by adding follow-back bots, and you can also make your own bot that can follow other users who use particular words or phrases in their information or tweets. However, the amount of followers is not necessarily correlated with actual customers; while you can use Twitter bots to boost followers and shares, it’s also important to target actual people and interact with them.
The Battle of the Bots: Marketing Vs. Weaponization
Everyone knows there are bots out there, but do people know that businesses are buying automatic retweets and likes, as well as paying for Twitter followers to add or increase Social Proof to their businesses online reputation?
Regardless of the actual impact of bots on voter and consumer behavior, it’s essential for both Twitter and businesses that use Twitter to get a better handle on the actual percentage of bots on the platform and how they are used. The underestimation of bots on Twitter also illuminates the need for businesses to pursue their own research on the platforms they use for marketing; i.e. understanding where their demographic is most active, and how to effectively reach actual customers. If a business’ key audience is on Twitter, then the organization must find the best way to use the medium, including the use of bots, to influence potential customers.
If you are a business using Twitter for marketing, the following steps can be taken to conduct your own research:
• TweetDesk and Hootsuite can be used to monitor keywords, giving you a clearer picture of how your main selling points are being mentioned on Twitter. These services also allow you to receive alerts when new comments relating to your product are mentioned.
• Followerwonk can help you understand the breakdown of your audience better. Its analysis includes location, engagements stats, ages of users and more.
• Twitter has a service enabling you to remove fake followers so you can get a picture of how many real followers you have. While having a large amount of followers looks nice, it’s essentially meaningless if most of your followers are fake. To get a handle on your legitimate follower count and understand the demographic and engagement stats relevant to your company, you must weed out follow bots in your metric analysis. For more information, click here..
If you are a company using social media for marketing and customer analysis, the main takeaway from recent bot research on Twitter is that social media platforms are more complicated than simple follow and like stats. You must look at how you disperse information, how effective it is on actual customers, and apply your own research and analysis to your marketing strategy.
No doubt every white hat hacker needs to know how to sneak in the back door, but that is just raw talent. The extra zest Elizabeth Kelly brings to the table over and above that, are communication skills, a cool head under pressure, and faultless judgement. In addition, she is heavily into growth hacking. She is also a sudoku fiend. Follow her on Twitter