Is social media and digital advertising drowning in a sea of fakery?

(Note: this article was first posted on my LinkedIn profile on Thursday, May 8th, 2014)

Did you know that:

61.5pc of web traffic is not human.

57pc of online video ads are unviewable.

Or watch Bob Hoffman’s recent keynote speech at Advertising Week Europe:

These are just some of the pointers that have emerged in recent times to suggest that a lot of activity in the world of social media and digital advertising is worthless fakery. Worse still, many people are making money (or measuring their apparent success) on the back of numbers that aren’t a true reflection of reality.

And this is a big problem. Particularly with regard to measurement, evaluation and ROI – because many people may be making decisions about time, money and resources based on data that bears no relation to the truth.

Take Twitter followers for example. Imagine your Tweet is ReTweeted by an account with a high number of followers. You might be tempted to say that this single act has resulted in a certain number of impressions or opportunities to see being created. Set aside issues such as how much Twitter content a real human being can consume in a day on their small mobile device screen (which is where most people consume social content).

What if many of those potential impressions were simply false – because the Twitter followers concerned are fakes?

I’ve found the Fake Follower tool from a fantastic sanity check over the last 12 months. It has been really helpful at showing which accounts have large numbers of fake followers.

In fact, some people argue that high profile, high follower accounts are more prone to gaining fake followers. Take @bbcbreaking for example.



On the surface, it has 9.68 million followers. If your client was featured in a story shared by BBC Breaking News, you might be tempted to add 9.68 million to your reach figure. But run that account through the Fake Follower tool and you find that 44pc are fakes – which equates to roughly 4.25 million accounts. Nearly half of @bbcbreaking’s reach figure isn’t real. Even the apparently “active” Twitter accounts only total around 13pc – or roughly 1.25 million (not a small amount, but a lot less than the headline figure of 9.68 million).

Trying to get a sense of true reach is important. Not least in terms of expectation setting.

Getting a high profile account like BBC Breaking sharing relevant content might lead you to expect a certain number of people reading and engaging with that content. Let’s return to our fictitious piece of coverage. If @bbcbreaking shared a piece that featured your client, you might anticipate tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people clicking that link to go and read the piece.

However, the data doesn’t support this. BBC Twitter accounts all seem to use a branded version of the URL shortener. As a result, anyone can see the click through data for shared BBC links (or any link for that matter – simply append a ‘+” sign at the end of any link and you’ll get taken to the data page for the link).

Here’s a Tweet posted today at 8:59 AM.


By 4pm, it had received 320 Retweets (apparently the second most shared BBC web site story that day at time of writing). So, in theory, this Tweet would have been potentially viewable by the 9.68 million followers of @bbcbreaking as well as the additional shares from the ReTweets. So how many clicks has the story received 7 hours later? 10,000? 100,000? No, 2,484. (Given the half life of a typical Tweet, it is unlikely this Tweet will see much more in the way of engagement or clicks from now on).


Just based on @bbcbreaking’s own follower numbers that means a CTR of 0.02pc. Of course, that figure can be explained if you consider that 44pc of the apparent audience isn’t real – and that even the “real” audience won’t necessarily have even seen the original Tweet.

But this mismatch between surface metric and reality is seen elsewhere. Publishers that buy cheap web traffic to boost their visitor numbers to maintain their CPM ad rates to advertisers. Journalists being renumerated on the basis of page views – leading to writing stories to simply generate traffic (any traffic) to again boost visitor numbers for the purpose of maintaining ad rates. Twitter followers, Facebook fans, YouTube views, web traffic, you name it – all of these things can be cheaply faked and sold to those who stand to gain by artificially inflating the metrics that many people rely on to measure success.

Raw web traffic remains a key metric used by people to judge success. But even that won’t necessarily lead to engagement or action. ChartBeat CEO Tony Haile wrote recently that there is no correlation between traffic and engagement.

“For 20 years, publishers have been chasing pageviews, the metric that counts the number of times people load a web page. The more pageviews a site gets, the more people are reading, the more successful the site. Or so we thought. Chartbeat looked at deep user behaviour across 2 billion visits across the web over the course of a month and found that most people who click don’t read. In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. The stats get a little better if you filter purely for article pages, but even then one in every three visitors spend less than 15 seconds reading articles they land on. The media world is currently in a frenzy about click fraud, they should be even more worried about the large percentage of the audience who aren’t reading what they think they’re reading.”

Getting a handle on true reach and engagement in social media and digital advertising is crucial. Unless you establish baselines of success on reality, you are inevitably going to end up disappointed and/or wasting valuable time, money and effort on the wrong things.

In short – don’t rely solely upon easy to access metrics to measure success. And certainly demand to know exactly how a metric is calculated. Sooner or later, reality has a nasty habit of rearing its head.



Network topology in action with Traackr: CIPR Share This Too

As my fellow CIPR Social Media Panel member Rachel Miller has already ably blogged, Share This Too is due to be published by Wiley at the end of August. 

My contribution to this edition is a chapter on network topology – the study of the structure of networks. And in a very timely and helpful co-incidence, I’ve just recently gained access to a practical example of network toplogy in action with direct relevance to the world of social media and PR.

Many of you will already be familiar with Traackr. For those who aren’t, it is probably best described as an influencer identification tool. It allows you to easily build lists of key influencers relative to a specific topic or issue by looking at the reach, resonance and relevancy of individuals across all the major social platforms, as well as blogs and media outlets.

In the last week, Traackr has announced the availability of a new network analysis function. In simple terms, it now allows you to actually visualise the structure of relationships within your list of influencers.

It also allows you to see people who aren’t already part of your influence list – and yet should be – based upon their relationships with people who you are already targetting.

To provide an example, I’ve created a project in Traackr based around the topic of social media analytics. In order to help Traackr determine who the most relevant influencers might be for your chosen topic, you have to provide a list of keywords that would best match the content and interests of the people you are seeking. The more relevant the keywords you provide, the more accurate the list that Traackr creates.

In the case of social media analytics, I’ve used Google’s Keyword Planner tool to generate an initial seed list which I then plug into Traackr.

Here’s a screen shot of my initial list as ranked by Traackr (go here for more info as to how Traackr decides who to pick).


So now I have my list. By clicking on the network tab, I now generate a visual map of the connections within my Influencer A List – it also shows me which people engage with each other in a meaningful way. Here’s a screen shot:


The larger the circle, the more engaged that person is with others in the list.  You can see who influences who (in the sense of which person gets more resonance and engagement from others – and vice versa).

Here’s an example based on Euler Partner’s Phil Sheldrake. You can get insight into the structure and influence patterns of any individual on the list.


It doesn’t take much to understand how this can have very practical use in PR and social media. By identifying where people sit in the network, you can use this topological information to plan who you should target and how you should target them. Sometimes it might mean going for the people who are most central to the network. Or you might identify people who are important bridges between two sub-groups of influencers.

I’m still exploring the possibilities of the tool. However, it is a great example of how network topology has practical uses in the world of social media and PR. Read more about it when Share This Too is published ;)

The Guardian: Effective Social Media Analytics – featuring Andrew Bruce Smith (+others)

The Guardian ran a nice piece on Effective Social Media Analytics by Danny Bradbury on June 10th 2013. Among the the top notch social media experts featured in the article were Phil Sheldrake, Marshall Sponder and Sharon Flaherty from Oh, and me ;)

I appreciated the opportunity to talk about some of my favourite hobby horses including social media ROI, financial vs non-financial outcomes and how to use Google Analytics to measure the value of social media. All topics that regular readers of this blog will be familiar with.

social media analytics

Crowdbooster: an inexpensive social media measurement tool for those new to social media

One of the most common questions asked on my CIPR Social Media workshops is: can I recommend an inexpensive social media measurement tool?

And by inexpensive, people usually mean either free or under £10 a month.

Which is why Crowdbooster might be worth considering for those who have little or no experience of social media monitoring in a professional context.

Crowdbooster has been around for some time. It has been free until now, but is introducing a tiered pricing policy from March 2013. At an entry price of $9 a month to measure one Twitter account plus one Facebook page, this for me fits the definition of inexpensive.

The reason for highlighting Crowdbooster is its recently updated user interface which makes it a good choice for the beginner who wants something simple and easy to work with.

The tool comprises three parts: Analyze, Publish, Engage


The analysis section allows you to get an understanding of how your Tweets have performed along four dimensions: impressions, retweets, @ mentions and time.

What’s nice about Crowdbooster is that it provides a single visual display that clearly shows all of these elements in one view.

Here’s a snapshot of my Twitter activity over the last 24 hours (the tool will also provide similar for Facebook pages too). But you can specify any timeframe you like.


Clicking on a bubble will display the details of the relevant Tweet at the bottom of the screen.


The publish element allows you to Tweet or post to Facebook. It also allows you to schedule in advance when your posts go out.

Although not as flexible as Autoscheduling in Hootsuite or Sprout Social, for those just starting out, it will probably be more than enough to give them a taste of how to plan for message distribution.


Finally, the Engage element provides a rudimentary list of the people who Retweet you the most as well as your followers who in turn have the highest follower counts.

As with most tools these days, you can export the data in CSV format so you can perform your own analysis in a spreadsheet.

Hootsuite and Sprout Social obviously provide a lot more – but for those just starting out and want to test the water for little outlay, Crowdbooster is certainly worth a look.


Little or no experience of social media?

Click here for more details of my next CIPR Introduction to Social Media workshop which runs on 5th February 2013.


Social Media ROI: your questions for M&S, Nokia, Giff Gaff and Bazaarvoice – #SocialBrands

How do M&S, Nokia, Giff Gaff and Bazaarvoice measure social media ROI? What tools do they use to measure social media value?

I’ll be putting these questions and more to senior representatives of all of these businesses at the Social Brands conference being held in London on Thursday February 7th 2013.

I’m moderating a panel with Lou Jones, Head of Online and Digital Marketing at M&S, Craig Hepburn, Global Director, Digital & Social Media at Nokia, Vincent Boon, Chief of Community at Giff Gaff, and Richard Anderson, VP Client Services at Bazaarvoice.

It should prove to be a lively discussion.

Feel free to leave your questions in the comment section below or Tweet me: @andismit.

Social Brands 2013


The conference overall has a very meaty line up of big brands and senior digital figures.

According to the organisers: “Social Brands is the only social media event bringing together those across marketing, communications, PR, brand, customer service and beyond. Join 150+ of your peers and hear from brands who are leading in the social space, driving long-term engagement and tying buzz to business results. Promising insight, inspiration and new ideas, this year’s agenda is packed with thought provoking speakers, invigorating debate and invaluable networking opportunities.”

And there is more info on Lanyrd too. Look forward to your questions!

Escherman becomes a HootSuite Pro Solution Partner in the UK


I’ve long extolled the virtues of Hootsuite as a social media management platform for PR and communications teams (*).

We’ve helped a number of individuals and teams get properly set up on Hootsuite.

As a result of getting more immersed in Hootsuite, I became a Hootsuite Certified Professional earlier this year. And I’ve continued to try and ensure we’ve kept fully up to speed with all the many capabilities of the platform.

It is therefore very gratifying to announce we have now been signed up as an official Hootsuite Solution Partner in the UK.

How nice you say. What’s the benefit of that?

In short, we now have access to a range of additional tools and resources so we can offer even more value to any team or organisation who wants to get the best out of Hootsuite.

Don’t forget, if you haven’t tried Hootsuite before, you can always sign up for a free 30 day trial – just click here.

And always happy to discuss how we can help people implement Hootsuite effectively.

(*) For those unfamiliar with it, HootSuite is a social media management system for businesses and organisations to collaboratively execute campaigns across multiple social networks from one secure, web-based dashboard. Key social network integrations include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, plus a suite of social content apps for YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Yammer, Tumblr and more.

Earlier this year HootSuite hit 4 million users, including 79 of the Fortune 100 companies. Along with HootSuite’s web platform, 20% of users access the dashboard through their mobiles including iPhone, Android, Blackberry and iPad. HootSuite also offers localized versions of their dashboard in six languages – English, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese.

There are many benefits to HootSuite Pro

Engage: Optimise your audience engagement by creating search streams, scheduling messages and monitoring all of your social network profiles from one customizable web and mobile dashboard.

Collaborate: Invite clients and colleagues to participate in your social media management. Assign messages for follow up and share streams, helping you increase efficiency.

Analyze: Measure your efforts using over 40 social analytics modules to build and share custom reports. Or select from one of our pre-made templates for quick and easy reporting.

Secure: Share access with team members without compromising security. The team permission levels and advanced sharing options ensure you remain in control of your valuable social profiles and accounts.

Sign up for a 30-day free trial of HootSuite Pro now.


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