It used to be that Twitter followers were worth something, or at least people thought they were worth something, which is the same thing. It was only about a year ago when Jason Calacanis was offering $250,000 to buy a spot on Twitter’s Suggested User List, which would have guaranteed him perhaps a million followers before Twitter ended up revamping the SUL to be less monolithic. He never got on the list, but if his offer would have come to roughly $0.25 per follower.
Today, you can “buy” followers on eBay for less than a penny each. Some of the Buy-It-Now listings include 5,000 followers for $20 (which comes to 0.4 penny/follower), $5,500 for $40 (0.7 penny/follower), $1,100 for $10 (0.9 penny/follower). You are not actually buying followers outright (Twitter doesn’t allow people to transfer their followers), but rather services which “guarantee” getting your account up to the promised number of followers through “proven and safe methods.” Some even only count reciprocal followers (followers who follow back).
How do they do this? Well, there are automated bots, of course. But another method we’ve heard about anecdotally uses cheap labor in China to create Twitter Follower farms (similar to the gold farms that grew around online games like World of Warcraft). Online laborers in China essentially create thousands of Twitter accounts which can then follow other accounts. Yes, people are actually paying for this worthless service. The sellers on eBay may very well use different methods. But the fact that these types of followers are worthless shows in the plummeting rate for Twitter followers from a quarter each a year ago to less than a penny now.
So are Twitter followers simply worthless as many people have suspected all along? I think you have to distinguish between real followers and fake followers (maybe Twitter could start a Verified Follower service), and how engaged those followers are. Do they retweet a lot and engage in conversation, or never tune in at all? Follower counts don’t tell you that. Just as all Website visitors are not worth the same, neither are all Twitter followers. But you can’t buy real followers. They come to you.