Social Media Shenanigans

Image crafting in social media is commonplace and we’re all guilty of it to a certain degree.  Profile photos are carefully selected and bios publicize who we are and what we stand for.  Husband, father, triathlete, senior executive, follower of Christ, and so on.   For professional triathletes, public image and social media presence are important as companies consider whether or not to invest resources into a particular athlete.  For many age groupers, social media is a medium through which they can keep track of their friends, triathlon news and their favorite pros.  Others are insufferable douchebags that have to be stopped.

As @TheRealStarky, I drew attention to the pervasive posting of workouts on Twitter.  Why?  First of all, it’s bragging – every time.  Second, it’s completely mundane and irrelevant to everyone aside from the mother or the braggart.  Your mom and your coach (who you pay) are the only two human beings that could possibly give a shit about your training.  Sharing mundane details about your life is for the lonely, the attention seeking and the narcissistic.

Another bad behavior related to online image crafting is the purchase of bots or fake followers in order to make oneself appear more popular.  This came to light last April after Slowtwitch ran an article listing the pro triathletes in order of number of followers.  Chris McCormack was top of the list, but then called out two days later when an application indicated that 68% of his followers were fake.  Buy fake followers, look more impressive to potential sponsors, make more money.  Brilliant, mate!

How are others manipulating their follower numbers? It’s called the “follow back” and I’ll explain how it works.  When someone new follows you, you get an alert.  If you’re an age grouper and professional triathlete Matt Russell just followed you, you might think it’s pretty cool, even though you’ve never heard of him before.  After all, he’s “Ranked 3rd in the US for 2013 at the Ironman distance” according to his twitter bio.  Some of you noticed that he followed you and you followed him back.

News flash: Matt Russell doesn’t give a shit about you.  He is using you to follow him back so that he looks more impressive to sponsors.  Matt follows 24.7k people and he has 22.8k followers.  It’s impressive.  I applaud his work ethic.  If you assume that 1 in 4 people actually follow him back and if you assume that it takes 5 seconds to follow a new twitter account, Matt spent 110 hours of his life following people and 80 hours unfollowing accounts that didn’t follow him back.  Furthermore, this took him over 450 days to pull off.  Why?  Because twitter will shut your account down if you follow/unfollow more than a few hundred people a day.  They call it SPAM.  Ladies and gentlemen, I just taught you how to get 20,000 followers on twitter.  All you need is years of focus and dedication.

Which brings me to my grand fucking finale.  Today, I exposed an individual who is doing something far more sinister and manipulative than Matt Russell.  If I recall correctly, this “elite age-grouper” had a 1:1 follower to following ratio just a few months ago – around 7,000 each.  This is unnecessary blatant image crafting, but not a major crime.  However, last week I noticed that the number of people he was following was down significantly.  Then, I paid attention a few days in a row and noticed that he was unfollowing a couple of hundred people every day – just under the SPAM limit.  This individual used you to boost his numbers and now that he’s “twitter famous”, he is going to discard you without you noticing.  Say what you will about Matt Russell, but at least he’s loyal. Stabbing your followers in the back in the dark of night just to improve your ratio is just plain ugly.

Conclusion: You are not your last race, you’re not how many followers you have on Twitter. You are not the bike you ride. You’re not the words in your bio. You are not your fucking khakis. You are the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.  Don’t waste our time with this manipulative bullshit just to boost your numbers and your ego.  My guess is that it won’t make you feel any better about yourself anyway.  Sponsors: don’t be fucking idiots when you evaluate the social media impact of your athletes.  Age groupers: you are only being followed for a follow back.

Confession: When I first launched my account, I followed a couple of hundred people a day until I was following about 1000 people.  I know about the limits because my account was frozen in the first few days after I followed too many people in a given day.  From there, I wrote some jokes, got a metric fuck ton of re-tweets and the world took notice.  I’m now the biggest celebrity in the sport and my clothing line is the fastest growing and most trusted in triathlon.  But what about the people I used in order to get attention?  Unless they broke one of my rules, I follow every last one of them.  Unfortunately, many do break the rules and some refused to unfollow @GotChocoMilk, so I’m down to just 650 right now.

That is all I have time for today.  I have a company to run.

photo credit: MACCA Ironman Hawaii 2010 via photopin (license)

About the Author

Ben Hobbs
Ben Hobbs is Publisher of TRS Triathlon and host of TRS Radio.