Rumor has it that 80% of Newt Gingrich's Twitter followers were purchased and as a result are fake and/or useless. This may be an exaggeration, but the evidence is clear that a sizable chunk of his 1.3 million Twitter followers are fake, inactive, or for-hire followers. Why does this matter?
From a campaign's point of view, there are three basic values, in descending order, to be gleaned from Twitter followers:
Follower retweets and #FF's (Friend Follow) hashtag are perhaps Twitter's greatest values to campaigns. Why? Because we trust our peers more than we trust candidates and campaigns. When people we follow retweet candidates, they validate the candidate's message. This increases the sense of a growing bandwagon for a candidate and drives others into the spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann 1993). That is good for a campaign.
Being able to deliver your message directly to your followers is also valuable to your campaign. Unfiltered by the media, Twitter lets candidates speak on their own terms. With a lot of followers (and a few good hashtags), a candidate can speak to a very large congregation from a very big pulpit.
Many campaigns mistakenly think clicks back to their website are their most important success metric. They want people on their site so they can harvest contact information and contributions. Historically, this is the key to winning elections.
But most people will never click on your link nor give you money. And after all, what are you collecting money for, anyway, if not to give your campaign a bigger bullhorn. But your followers already have big bullhorns and all you really need to do is to get them to use them on your behalf. So by fixating on click-throughs, campaigns minimize the value of their most important followers... THAT YOU HAVE SO MANY MORE BULLHORNS THAN DONORS.
Think about it. Barrack Obama amassed a list 13 million email address in 2008. But 62 million or so people voted for him and maybe another 50 million didn't vote at all. But, if all the campaign ever focused on were the 13 million, it would have neglected tens of millions of voters and would have lost the election. All successful campaign strategies seek to grow the reach and influence of its message and, ultimately, its vote tally.
Which brings us back to Newt and his fake followers. These inactive, fake, and for hire accounts will provide none of the values detailed here. They won't share the message. They won't be influenced by the message. And they won't click through and contribute cash.
This is why I have dubbed these worthless Twitter followers newts. A newt is useless to a campaign. So always check when you see people using the #newt or #newts hashtag on Twitter. What are they really talking about?
In the final analysis, to get the greatest value out of Twitter, maximize your influential followers and minimize your newts.