Fake Twitter followers for sale? What about fake email responses?

Tongues are wagging in the marketing world about the New York Times’s shocking expose about how easy it is to buy fake Twitter followers, and how most of the followers you buy turn out to be “bots” or fake accounts, and not real people.

Me, I was not surprised.  Not only because I work in digital media and knew about this practice.  But also because I see the same problem in the world of email.  I just wish the Times article had mentioned that, too.

Bots are a big problem in email marketing today.  When you order up a prospecting campaign from an email service provider, chances are that the large part of the campaign is being sent to fake bot accounts.

Here’s how it works.  The marketing email will contain at least one link to the marketer’s website or landing page.  At campaign time, the link will be input at a traffic buying site—the kind used for digital ad fraud. From there, bots with various IPs and proxies kick into action, sending traffic to the campaign’s landing page. They even replicate cadence similar to a campaign response curve.  More clicks on the first day, fewer the next, and so on.

“What?” you are saying.  You mean the marketer is paying for an email campaign that was sent to a machine?  Yes.  It’s sheer fraud.

How do providers get away with this?  Well, they guarantee a certain open rate and click-through rate.  Ten percent is common.  This proposition represents irresistible catnip to many marketers.

And the funny thing is that the providers guarantee response rates irrespective of the quality of the creative and the strength of the offer.  Makes no sense.

Now, it should be clear to any marketer that if the bulk of the clicks come through bots, then the conversion rates will be terrible.  So, I can only assume that the marketers ordering up these campaigns are not keeping an eye on conversions. They must be being judged on clicks and opens.  Or maybe they don’t care.

These fraudulent providers often work quietly, behind the scenes, for a reputable agency or data provider.  So the marketer is shielded from the dirty dealings underneath the hood.  But all parties involved—the providers, their partners and the marketers themselves—should be ashamed of themselves.  And the FCC should be on their case.

I call on marketers everywhere to shun this practice.  It’s wasting your money.  And it’s given honest, transparent providers like me a bad name.  Please, if you hear a guarantee that sounds too good to be true, it very likely is.  Walk the other way, fast.  And give me a call.

About the author

At fourteen, Ajay made his first foray into the entrepreneurial world, publishing one of the first wrestling newsletters on the web. Armed with rudimentary SEO skills and a sharp pen, the newsletter grew to over 50,000 subscribers by the time the publication was sold in 2002 when Ajay was a college freshman. Most importantly, Ajay realized the ease with which communication could be carried out via e-mail. A decade later, after an eclectic mix of degrees in Financial Economics, Creative Writing,...

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