When the Herd Instinct Backfires


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Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope. ~ Aristotle

When it comes to social media and the herd instinct, I don’t think it’s only the young who are easily deceived.

Our brains’ conformity responses go a long way in explaining why we become followers – in fashion, in business and in our personal lives. Yet that follower mentality only explains so much. Yes, we will tend to conform to the opinions and behaviors of those we believe to be experts, those viewed as leaders and the overall herd.

But I have more questions. Not necessarily answers, but lots of questions about conformity and the behaviors and the social media herd.

For example:

Why do we often blindly accept the validity of that self-appointed expert, gooroo or leader?

Why are some self-proclaimed “leaders” willing to do whatever it takes to be viewed as a gooroo – even if they have little or no experience, evidence of leadership or expertise?

We see it all the time in social media. Someone promotes themselves as a gooroo, shows us their big volume of Followers, gets a few supporters to confirm their position et voila – we have a gooroo expert as the herd follows along.

Why Don’t We Dig Deeper?

Having been the victim of a few social media conpeople myself, I’m embarrassed to say that my conformity brain was led astray right along with the rest of the herd. Which got me wondering….

Why don’t we check those references, those big numbers, the backgrounds of the people we are trusting? We all KNOW that social media is full of phonies and fakers. So why don’t we question more?

This one has me stumped. I know – conformity brain is a partial answer. But since we conform to others’ beliefs and opinions, somewhere along the line there were a few initial followers who succumbed to the bogus claims. Where did they come from and why did they follow?

I had an eye opening experience last week that helped answer this last question.

The Fakes are Among Us

Up until about a month ago I had no clue that someone could actually BUY followers, e.g., Fake Followers, on Twitter. I must live under a rock, because when I heard about this on a Twitter chat – a bunch of my friends had to explain about the practice. I had NO IDEA that anyone could, much less would, do something so obviously out of integrity. I am so gullible sometimes…

As soon as I learned the details I got righteous. It’s cheating, it’s dishonorable and if you’ll lie about Followers that pretty much tells you about the overall integrity of the person, now doesn’t it?

For a few weeks after I initially heard about it – the Buy Followers discussion was a hot topic wherever my stream took me. Wow, this is serious behavior! I was pretty happy to see some of my fave social media leaders come out loudly with the admonishment – Never Ever Buy Followers.

Well, last week I learned about a tool that lets you find who has Fake Followers. Wow. Now we can “out” those phony gooroos! If we choose to out them. We do have to decide that we want to ask the question about our gooroos and the experts we so adore. We have to take the initiative to check on their truth. If you decide to step up and ask…..

Seeing the Truth

I started playing with the tool by putting my own account into the search box. I was appalled to find that 1% of my followers were Fake. Wow – how did that happen?

But then – I put in a few other twitter handles from folks I suspected as being somewhat less than honorable. Within a few minutes I saw the truth… 55% Fakes to 85% Fakes. Suddenly my 1% wasn’t such a big deal.

I entered some of the folks who I believed were honorable. About half of them came back with the same 1-2% Fakes as I have – which seems to be a norm.

But a large number of the people I have trusted returned results that gave me pause.

  • Anywhere from 50-60% of their Followers were FAKE.
  • Another 20-30% were INACTIVE.
  • That left 10% or less of these supposedly honorable people’s Followers to be real Active accounts.

I’m not going to name names, that’s not my purpose here. But what makes it worse is that a few of these same peeps with FAKE everywhere were the same supposed leaders who were telling their audiences NOT to buy FAKE Followers. Me thinks they protest too much…..

The Bottom Line

My purpose with this post isn’t to out the Fakers – as much as I want that to happen in my righteous indignation brain. Yes, I still struggle with righteous indignation….

My purpose is two fold.

1) Whether you’re a business or an individual, falsifying in the form of Fake Followers isn’t smart. In fact, it’s out of integrity and downright false advertising. If you do it, sooner or later your audience will find out the truth. Especially given the number of tools being created to find out the truth about your claims. WARNING FAKERS: We are all beginning to see the truth about social media and it’s innate downside wrt gooroos and phonies. Be prepared to be outed.

My bet is you won’t like the repercussions when you are found out. So instead of taking the low integrity approach to creating an audience – do it the honest way. With real live engagement and conversations that are relevant to your audiences.

2) I’d like to suggest a bit of a brain shift to protect us all from these less than honest folks who would brand themselves GOOROO for the world to follow.

We know our brains are motivated to conform. Unless we step in front of that motivation, we’ll continue to be manipulated by those who are willing to go outside the lines of integrity for personal gain.

We can SHIFT our conforming selves. In the case of social media and self-proclaimed gooroos, leaders and more – we now have tools to see the truth. We can collect data about what truly is real.

But to do that – we have to step in front of our brain’s inclination to conform and Follow.

How? Start with this…instead of blindly following the herd, simply ask a question. “Is this person/entity/business for real?” Then – go use the tools available and dig a little deeper – the tools may not out all the phonies but they will show you truth about one aspect of this gooroo’s integrity. Let’s face it – if you’ll cheat by buying Followers – you’ll cheat at a lot of things.

What do you think about the cheaters?

And here’s another question – do you think anyone will “out” these false gooroos? Publicly? Will the social media herd turn against this behavior and stand up for what’s honorable and true?

I don’t. I think even if we become aware, we won’t step out publicly. Look at me – writing this post without naming names…. Conformity brain is STRONG. That’s the downside of the herd….


The tool I used last week can be found here… http://fakers.statuspeople.com/

As a funny little sidenote… within 24 hours of my Tweeting about Fake Followers during one Tweet chat, I had four different accounts who sell Fake Followers contact me wanting to know if I wanted ~3K followers in 24 hours.

I declined in the form of reporting them as SPAM. Wonder if Twitter even cares???

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Rebel Brown
Rebel Brown consistently challenges the status quo to deliver optimum solutions and high velocity growth for her clients. She combines the strategic expertise and tactical savvy of a global Corporate Strategy, Launch and Turnaround Expert, along with the leadership and motivational skills needed to get the job done.


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