I lost thousands of Twitter followers overnight, why?
by Simon Tapson
Why have I lost thousands of Twitter followers overnight? I’ve seen this question posed on countless blogs, support forums and daily over Twitter. As we have now been at the receiving end of it I thought I’d attempt to shed some light.
We spent some time sorting through our followers and filtering out the accounts that were inactive, spammy or unrelated to our offering in order to streamline our social media and give an honest representation of our social engagement.
After countless hours of work we were happy that our followership was genuine and we could draw a line under social cleanliness.
Upon arriving at work on Friday, July 19th 2013, I noticed that our followers had fallen from about 23 thousand to just more than 21 thousand. This, coupled with another sudden fall of 300 earlier in the week seemed suspiciously outside of the realm of normal follower fluctuation.
In order to confirm that the loss of followers was due to systematic account suspension performed by Twitter (more on this later) I signed up to who.unfollowed.me. This service would allow us to analyse which accounts had unfollowed us over a period of time, unfortunately as it does not track unfollows retrospectively I would have to wait to see if there was a further dropoff.
On the morning of Monday 29th of July our follower numbers fell from 21 thousand to just under 4 thousand. You can imagine, as we depend upon our twitter followership in order to engage with our users, answer questions and be involved in discussion this caused us considerable concern.
We immediately checked our who.unfollowed.me account to find that, as suspected, the followers that we had lost were almost exclusively suspended accounts.
Twitter frequently checks for accounts that have been created to manipulate follower figures, very old inactive accounts and spam accounts used to retweet in order to bolster engagement statistics.
The telltale signs to look out for are those accounts that have never tweeted, have few followers and tend to follow a huge number of active users.
Learning that the followers we had lost were not genuine users was a relief but as we only had access to a small subset of those accounts (who.unfollowed.me seemed incapable of recording the huge number of followers lost over such a short period of time) we contacted Twitter to confirm this was the case.
A representative at Twitter assured us that almost all of the lost followers were in fact false accounts and our capacity to engage with our genuine followers should not be affected. Upon checking Wildfire, as advised by Twitter, we discovered that just before the acquisition we had a large jump in followers, not usually indicative of organic growth.
It eventually turned out that previous management had fallen foul of outsourcing social media development to an external marketing agency who had used these fake accounts to falsify growth.
Now, while our Twitter popularity appears to have been harmed the reality is that Twitter have saved us a great deal of work in rooting out these worthless accounts leaving us with you, our core audience.
While we are an edge case, and there are a number of other reasons that one might lose followers, such a dramatic loss is characteristic of a programatic cleansing and is not something that should cause concern.
If you have had a similar experience and have some advice to offer, please leave a message in the comments below.