A while ago I wrote about a research by Italian entrepreneur and contract university professor Marco Camisano Calzlari claiming that a substantial percentage of Twitter followers for some large corporation would be “bots”. There was quite some debate at the time about how founded his results were: looking at the metrics described in his paper, I also raised doubts about how valid his method was.
A few days ago he decided to apply the same method to establish how many of the followers of an emerging star of the Italian political scene and former comedian Beppe Grillo would be fake followers. As reported by The Guardian,his results suggests that about 54% of the over 600,000 followers of Beppe Grillo could be bots.
This caused an uproar among Grillo’s (real) followers and, according to Camisani Calzolari, he received threats to him and his family that led him to remove his presence from several social. Clearly while the response on Grillo’s blog had been rather moderate, comments by his supporters were way more excited.
The whole story is quite unfortunate and I hope it will return to the much smaller proportion it deserves. Despite the evident flaws in Camisani Calzolari’s method, it is clear that similar results would emerge irrespective of the politician or corporation it is applied to. The drama – or rather comedy – unfolding is confusing the real issue though, which is the reliability and trustworthiness of the number of followers as an indication of a business,’ product’s or person’s success.
Although with a questionable approach and an excessive attention to early press exposure, Camisani Calzolari is touching an exposed nerve for anybody who makes his or her living out of social media strategies. As the economy gets tougher and people’s patience with politicians gets smaller, business and political leaders have to figure out how much it is really worth investing on social media.