Fighting The Rise Of The Twitter Machines

Much like telemarketers (who are actually in sales and not marketing) have given marketing a bad name, spammers have given Twitter marketers a bad name. Therefore, to not encourage them, I have a rule against following them back when I see them pop up as new followers on TweetDeck. However, some spammers (and their automated bretheren the spambots) have gotten very sneaky. Spammers have programmed their bots to closely resemble human tweeters. And, much like telemarketers damage the reputation of the entire profession so do Twitter spammers.

But, fear not, there are subtle differences. You too, human Twitter user (and especially Twitter marketers and businesses) can rage against the machines!  Sorry, I’m 36.  I had to throw some reference to Tom Morello’s band in here, right?

And, in the process, avoid looking like spambots to the people you actually want to engage in conversation (or legitimate inbound marketing with).

First of all, to get them out of the way, I have to state the obvious red flags that an account is a spam account:

1) The account has zero tweets, almost zero followers, lots of followings: Oh look, this person is interested in following me. It’s a basic human emotion to want to be liked. Especially by someone who expects nothing out of the relationship themselves (like you reading their tweets). It’s a lie! As soon as these accounts get a significant number of followers, which eventually they do since some people follow back anyone who follows them, they quickly spit out advertising links. Or worse, phishing or virus links, then go dormant. There’s a reason they have few followers. Most people are onto them.

  • How not to look like this: Have content before you try to recruit followers. If people don’t know what you’re going to offer them, they are not going to follow you.

2) The avatars are really good looking, scantily clad women with lots of links in their posts: This one is the oldest trick in the book since “sex sells.” These “women” are actually machines and the links are usually to the same one or two company pages.

  • How not to look like this: Even if you’re an attractive woman, Twitter is supposed to be about the user’s mind. No need to break out the bikini shot. Well, unless you’re a fan of this blog and then you can e-mail them to me.

Anyhow. With those out of the way,  it’s onto the more insidious ones:

3) The posts from a Twitter account are all links and seem to have no rhyme or reason: Many bots have taken to being “newsbots” inbetween sending out malicious links or company propaganda. Most real Twitter marketers and legitimate businesses tweet stories about their area of expertise inbetween marketing pieces – to provide added value.

  • How not to look like this: Carefully curate your content. Don’t post links that don’t add to your brand and the experiences people can have while using your products.

4) The posts from a Twitter account don’t have a human tone: Most human Twitter users do things like retweet other users. They definitely respond to other users on a regular basis. Occasionally they’ll take a break from posting links and talk about their day. Spambots are not programmed to do any of these things (usually). Also, a new one that I’ve started to see recently is leaving off the end of news stories so they don’t have a link at the end. Twitter’s spam purges have gotten smart to the fact that a real user will often have a completely textual post. If you see a lot of the start of news stories with no links, it’s a dead giveaway.

  • How not to look like this: Don’t fall asleep at the switch. It’s easy to think you’re generating content just posting other people’s stuff off of blogs, but you’re not. While aggregators can be useful, people are not going to want to follow more than a few. Even if you just post links, write introductions to them to give them a more personal tone.

5) The links that account posts are to content published more than a week ago: Twitter is all about immediacy.  While the occasional meme is revived and passed around, in general most links posted on Twitter will be from the past few days. Spambots, however, are constantly looking for content. The more they post, the more they get exposed to more people. They go for quantity over quality. So many of the links that they post are to stories that are ancient (in internet terms).

  • How not to look like this: Keep current. You don’t have to post a link to every story you see. If you missed the boat on a fresh story, most readers won’t hold it against you. In fact, most will thank you for not posting it again since they probably saw it a bunch already.  If you really feel the need to post it somewhere, post it to Facebook. Ancient stories never die there.

6) The “business” account doesn’t try to be selling you anything: This one is counterintuitive. Most businesses label themselves as such. If an account doesn’t seem to ever talk about its own products, something might be amiss.

  • How not to look like this: People know you’re a business and are on Twitter to hype a product. If you’re doing everything right and not stuffing advertising down people’s throats they won’t care. If you never say anything about your product, on the other hand, people get suspicious about what your true Twitter intentions are.

It must be said that Twitter does an excellent job of purging spammers. If you’ve ever noticed your numbers drop by three or four followers overnight, chances are Twitter deleted these accounts for spammy behavior. However, new spam accounts are being created every day so it’s important to be vigilant, to not follow them back (or even to report them if you’re into that kind of thing), and – most importantly – not to act like one yourself.

Now I have accidentally followed a spam account or two in my day so these six things to look for to detect a spam account isn’t perfect. But I think it’s a good start in winning to war against those who would destroy my reputation.


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