Empty Followers: Pumping and Dumping

It stopped making sense when Tay Zonday followed me on Twitter. (Yes, Tay Zonday of Chocolate Rain fame.) Why did he follow me? What fascinated Tay Zonday about my Twitter feed, which is mostly local news in Southwestern Ontario?

The answer is: nothing. Tay Zonday was just the latest in a long line of irrelevant and random followers I have seen recently on Twitter. I suspected that, like him, he wasn’t looking to keep up with my feed, but rather, looking to entice me to follow-back.


This strategy is known as Pumping and Dumping. Essentially, it involves indiscriminately following a large number of accounts, with the hope of them following you back, and then unfollowing them. The goal is to boost your ratio of followers to following, to help your account appear more powerful and influential on Twitter.

As David Ryan Polgar explained in his article, The Ethics of Twitter Pump-N-Dumps, “the greater the gap between how many accounts one follows and how many they are followed by, the greater the power level of that account.” Moving beyond the ethical concerns pumping and dumping, which are well covered by Polgar, this strategy ignores the fact that any followers gained are essentially empty followers.

The success of the strategy, on the surface, cannot be denied; Tay Zonday gained 25,000 followers in 15 days. These are not quality followers, as they have no genuine interest in the account in question and have simply followed Tay as a result of being followed by him.

These followers are not as valuable or as engaged as ones gained through genuine interaction and enjoyment of the content an account is sharing. They will be a disengaged audience, with little value or interest in seeing or engaging with the content of the account.

Interestingly, a large proportion of the accounts I have seen engaging in this tactic are verified accounts. Less than a year ago Twitter announced open applications for verification which represented a marked change from tradition. In the past, Twitter was the mysterious gatekeeper of verification, selecting those who they thought were worthy of the blue checkmark. Now, anyone can apply.

With verified accounts engaging in contentious strategies to boost their follower accounts, it brings into question the wisdom in opening up verification and its future relevance on Twitter. If everyone is verified, nobody is.

The takeaway here is to avoid the temptation of pumping and dumping on Twitter. While it can help to boost your total followers, they are not necessarily the followers you want. Stick to the best practices of social media — share relevant, high-quality content with your audience and trust that they will follow.

UPDATE: As of June 29, Tay Zonday’s account appears to be on the dump portion of the strategy. His “following” count has dropped from 612k on June 10th to 525k.

Other suspected pump and dumping accounts: