Will the real social media thought leaders please stand up?

I repeat: Will the real social media thought leaders please stand up?

While we play the waiting game, I’ve become increasingly astounded at the perceived power of social proof on social media, and specifically in the Twittersphere. In this case, social proof refers to the amount of followers someone has on Twitter. The logic goes that the more followers someone has, the more influence and thought leadership everyday people will associate with that person.

I’m all for creating relationships and building a following using social media; in fact, Twitter is perhaps the most effective of all social media for doing so because it’s an inherently open platform.

However, when I see people who are self-proclaimed “pioneers” or “influencers” with 350,000 followers, yet most of their tweets only have a few “favorites” and retweets, the numbers just don’t add up. And we’re not just talking about a few people; there are thousands of people whose Twitter accounts reflect this reality.

But that’s not all. Many of these same people are also following hundreds of thousands of people. How in the world can anyone actually follow upwards of 100,000 people? How is that even remotely possible? I don’t care how long you’ve been on Twitter; those numbers simply don’t make sense.

Perhaps I’m more in tune to this because I work in the social media industry. Perhaps I’m one of the few who looks at actual tweet engagement (“favorites” and retweets) after I see how many people are following any given “thought leader.”

So I’ll let you in on a little secret that is extremely well-known in the social media industry: Anyone can buy social media followers in the masses. We’re not talking about traditional advertising on social media; we’re talking about “farms” that can produce thousands of followers within a few days. See for yourself.

I’m not going to lie; I’ve done it too. I bought the majority of my 5,000-plus followers on Twitter. And then I realized how ridiculous and nonsensical it is: the notion that someone can set up a blog, buy hundreds of thousands of followers with a few bucks, and call themselves a “thought leader” as if it means anything of real value.

Real value is connecting with real people. Real value is real experience. Real value is real results, real impact, real change.

Will the real social media thought leaders please stand up?

Josh Hoffman (better known as Social Media Josh) is an international social media consultant, instructor and speaker, as well as the creator of The Social Media Freelancer. Connect with Josh on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and sign up to receive his weekly column.