From Italy via Australia, a study suggests that as many as half of corporate Twitter followers are “robots.” According to this report in, Professor of Digital Languages at the University of Milan, Marco Camisani Calzolari analysed 39 companies including Dell, Coca Cola, Vodafone and Ikea and found that up to 46 percent of users following them did not actually exist. The researcher used a random sample of 10,000 followers for each company then analysed their behaviour using software and algorithms to work out who was human. I have no way of evaluating whether the algorithms in question are solid, and the results would have come as no surprise to most of the attendees at the recent AMEC Summit, where many research experts were beginning to discuss Facebook friends and Twitter followers with the same sort of contempt they have traditionally reserved for AVEs. I became convinced that metrics involving the number of friends and followers were mostly bogus when a corporate communications professional in one of my LinkedIn groups suggested that all the members of the group “friend” each other’s’ Facebook pages. If everyone had responded, every company would have been able to brag about 250 new friends—and not a single one of them would have added any business value. And yet, I see more and more such metrics in our SABRE Awards competition, sitting alongside the more traditional media measures—clip counts and opportunities-to-see and reach (and yes, AVE)—and just as inadequate as a measure of real impact. The rise of digital and social media have presented the public relations industry with an opportunity, to develop new metrics that track something real: the impact of PR activities on levels of engagement and quality of relationships. It is possible—and relatively cost-effective—to track how PR campaigns increase the number of brand advocates, reduce the number of brand critics, and translate into higher levels of trust and credibility. The volume of friends and followers created is sometimes a helpful intermediary step on the way to demonstrating success, but in and of itself it is not a meaningful metric.