When GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told the Marietta Daily that he had "six times as many Twitter followers as all the other candidates combined," it sparked a Web offensive to discredit his claim. According to CBS News, when Gawker ran a story with Gingrich’s remarks on Monday, August 1, an anonymous, former aide contended that the Gingrich campaign paid "agencies" to pull in many of the 1.3 million people who follow Gingrich's Twitter feed.
PeekYou, a New York-based Internet search firm, compiled a “Followers Report” on all of the GOP 2012 candidates and confirmed the Gawker claim. Michael Hussey, CEO and founder of PeekYou, said “that out of Newt’s 1.3 million followers only 8% (2% less than claimed in recent media reports), are identified by our algorithm as humans, meaning Newt’s follower count is really closer to 106,055."
Jennifer L. Jacobson, director of public relations & social media for Retrevo, says that these days, the pressure is on—to be the best, do the most and to have it all, and while this pressure is nothing new, it's just easier than ever for these kinds of campaigns to be discovered and brought to the public eye.
While hiring an agency to "bloat" someone's Twitter following with empty accounts is nothing new, says Jacobson, those who do it should be aware of its potential to backfire. “The problem with flooding your following with fake accounts is that it goes against the very nature of social media, which shouldn't be as much about having the highest numbers, as it should about engaging your target audience,” says Jacobson. “If it is discovered that your company, organization, or in this case, an individual, has such a high ratio of ‘ghost followers’ to ‘real followers’ this can bring into question everything they say in the social space going forward. Once you've lost the trust of the ‘real people’ who are following you, it's hard—if not impossible—to recover.”