Like many real estate brokers, Ben Fisher used to acquire followers at something close to a snail's pace. Since creating his account in March of 2010, only 300 users had chosen to follow the Park City, Utah-based broker.
But after using an innovative marketing service, Fisher's followers skyrocketed by close to 90 followers within the span of a week.
"That's a pretty huge increase," he said. "I got a lot of thanks for favorites and all sorts of messages and stuff. It seemed to increase engagement."
Chalk up the explosion in Fisher's followers to Followgen. Only six months old, the company bags engagement numbers for its users that appear to soar above those associated with Twitter's advertising products.
Followgen works by engaging users in a way that none of Twitter's paid ad products do. The service targets Twitter users by "favoriting" their tweets. Any user may favorite tweets by clicking the "favorite" widget beneath a tweet. That tags the tweet with a star, and sends a notification to the author of the tweet.
But Followgen enables users to automatically favorite hundreds, even thousands, of tweets. Operating a Followgen user's Twitter handle, the service assigns favorites to tweets whose contents meet certain criteria set by the Followgen user. That criteria includes keywords or phrases, location, content, time period, device and sentiment.
Twitter ad products offer some of the same targeting options. But they don't allow users to drill down to as granular a level as Followgen in some categories, and they don't use favorites to reach users.
Followgen outperforms Twitter ad products because it creates a "one-to-one interaction" between marketer and targeted users, said the company's 25-year-old founder, Myles Recny. While Twitter's ad products expose a marketer's tweets, handle or manufactured trend to users, Followgen, on behalf of a user, directly interacts with others by favoriting their tweets. That increases the likelihood of eliciting a response, according to Recny.
Followgen's service conveys to targeted users, "Hey, I like that piece of content that you shared," Recny said. "It's not just promoted tweets hovering at the top of your stream, sort of disconnected from you."
Indeed, the service seems to offer significantly higher return on investment than Twitter's ad products.
Targeting the terms "real estate," "luxury" and "Park City," Fisher gained 86 followers in a week from over 4,000 targeted favorites that Followgen doled out for him. He used a week-long trial version of Followgen's "shuttle" product, which costs $29 a month.
If he extended his campaign by paying for "shuttle," and he maintained the conversion rate of his week-long campaign, he would have ended up paying $29 for 334 followers ,or about $.08 per follower, over a span of four weeks.
There don't appear to be any figures available that capture average ROIs for Twitter ad products, but anecdotally, their bang for your buck seems to pale in comparison to what Followgen did for Fisher.
A Bloomberg Businessweek story that ran last summer, for example, referenced two business owners who used Twitter's self-service advertising, and both reported spending what works out to be more than $5 in advertising credit to acquire just one follower. That's about 60 times as much per follower as what Fisher paid using Followgen.
While Followgen delivers impressive results, some might dismiss the service as a dubious provider of heavily camouflaged advertising. Followgen provides no indication to targeted users that they are being tagged through an automated system. And people targeted by favorites cannot determine from a Followgen user's profile that the user is using Followgen (you can't see a log of the tweets a handle favorites).
But before writing off Followgen, it may be worth remembering that many, if not most, people join Twitter to advance an agenda, whether personal or business-related.
Many of these users behave in hyper-extroverted and exhibitionist ways as a result. Sometimes that means following and mentioning handles like there's no tomorrow. Favoriting is no different. People and brands do it all the time to reel in followers.
Followgen simply automates the process. Just like users who attempt to generate leads through individual actions, it advances an agenda without explicitly announcing that it is doing so.
The only difference is that Followgen executes the strategy on a scale that self-promoting Realtors or loan officers, who may invest significant time following or favoriting others to attract attention, could only dream of.
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