In May of 2012 Businessweek published an article in which Mark Risher, CEO of Imperium, an anti-spam software company, asserted that 40% of new accounts on social media networks are created by spammers. While this number seems outrageously high, some bloggers have noted that it may, indeed, be a conservative estimate.
Whether that number is accurate or not, even the most casual user of social networks has likely run across spam in a social media context. As email spam filters have become more effective, black-hat marketers and spambots have taken to the social web, injecting comment threads with disingenuous links and hijacking Facebook likes, or ‘likejacking,’ a practice that attempts to persuade an unwitting user into liking the spam.
So what’s an honest white-hat marketer to do in a landscape populated by spammers and likejackers? How can one effectively market on social networks and build communities around our services in a way that doesn’t resemble the pill-and-porn pushers?
We here at CorporatePA often turn to the guidelines social networks themselves post as a way to stay on the honest end of the spectrum. For example, Twitter is quite explicit about its policies regarding spam and username squatting (a technique that involves snatching up unused usernames in the likelihood that the names can be sold). In fact, the micro-blogging network provides a pretty handy list of how they determine whether a user account is spam or not.
You might be a spammer…
- If you have followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time – this looks very suspicious. In fact, Twitter has imposed follow limits, one can now only follow 2,000 users as a maximum per account. Any Twitter account also has a daily limit of 1,000 new followers-which is the total number of followers that can be added to any account in one day. These limits were deemed as necessary to prevent abuse by spammers.
- If you repeatedly follow and unfollow people, whether to build followers or to garner more attention for your profile – this is also known as “pump and dump”. Suspicious Twitter users will use this tactic, which can also be done in an automated fashion, to build up and then quickly reduce their Twitter followers as a way to circumvent the rules.
- If you have a small number of followers compared to the amount of people you are following – this gives the impression that the account is one that may be used for phishing purposes. Phishing is done by masquerading as a legitimate or trustworthy entity with the goal of illegally acquiring user names, passwords or credit card information.
- If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates – this is almost always seen as spam. It looks like a spambot is trying to sell or promote something and besides, many of those of us on Twitter send messages and photos that are personal in nature and a constant stream of messages that contain links that promote items, products, or services for sale is very suspicious and possibly an account that will be suspended.
If you post misleading links – this is considered to be spam because the tweets are probably being sent with the help of a random link generator. These random link generators will, once the link has been clicked, re-direct the viewer to another site that is trying to dupe the viewer into purchasing something or it may also initiate a virus.
- If a large number of people are blocking you – this account holder has a reputation for being a troublemaker in the Twitter-verse and soon to be suspended as well.
- A large number of spam complaints that have been filed against you – nothing good can come of this.
- If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account – duplicate content is always seen as problematic. Repetitive content gives the appearance of an automated tool or bot sending out information. If the content were being generated by a human it would/should be done in a way that at least looks like it is not just the exact same words repeating again and again.
If you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using # or (hashtag) – a way for a person to use Twitter in an opportunistic way that will have the consequence of the account being suspended.
- If you post multiple unrelated updates to a trending or popular topic – this tactic is used by those who are trying to be part of a trending topic without any regard whatsoever for what or how a particular topic is trending. Another example of using Twitter in a way that is sure to result in an account being banned.
- If you send large numbers of duplicate @replies or mentions – this is risking suspension of one’s Twitter account because those receiving these types of messages are the ones who will be blocking this user and complaining about these annoying messages and therefore, this is an account that will soon be in suspension.
- If you send large numbers of unsolicited @replies or mentions in an attempt to spam a service or link – this is not a good practice because it is not only irritating to the receivers of these messages it also implies that whomever sends these type of irritating messages does not really have anything of true value to say.
- If you add a large number of unrelated users to lists in an attempt to spam a service or link – just choosing to add users indiscriminately to lists in order to then send them information is definitely frowned upon and seen as an attempt to be a spammer.
- If you repeatedly post other users’ Tweets as your own – some of us in the Twitterverse consider it an art to craft our succinct message, with a sense of stylistic flair, in 140 characters or less. Imitation is known to be the most sincerest form of flattery BUT stealing is bad. Take the time to either give credit to the Tweet creator for their panache in using 140 characters or try stepping up one’s own creative game by showing off a bit of original genius.
- If you have attempted to “sell” followers, particularly through tactics considered aggressive following or follower churn – Churning is the term used to describe following a bunch of users, waiting a few hours, and then unfollowing those that don’t follow back. This gimmick is mostly done in an automated fashion, is easily detectable, and will result in Twitter account suspension once discovered.
Creating or purchasing accounts in order to gain followers – social media accounts with large numbers of followers can be big business BUT Twitter accounts of celebrities and politicians with large numbers of followers have been shown to have lots of fake followers in attendance. You don’t want to be outed as having fake followers, it already happened, with major embarrassment to: Mitt Romney, Lady Gaga, President Barack Obama. Twitter is definitely aware of the fake follower phenom and will use this as a reason to close some accounts.
- Using or promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers (such as follower trains, sites promising “more followers fast,” or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account) – some of these sites that allow one to purchase followers claim to be “legitimate” however the buying of followers goes against the best rules of Twitter and can lead to the account being suspended.
- If you create false or misleading Points of Interest – this is considered spam because it is a misrepresentation of information with an intent to be deceptive. Deception is definitely a reason for Twitter to suspend an account.
- If you create Points of Interest to namesquat or spam – Namesquatting, also known as cybersquatting refers to using a domain name in bad faith with the intention of profiting from a name that actually belongs to someone else. This practice has actually been outlawed by the United States, with a federal statute, and will, without question, be just cause for an account to be suspended by Twitter.
It’s an interesting list from the point of view of a marketer, and while at first glance it’s a list of “don’ts,” implicit in it is a list of things we can do as marketers to organically grow great communities for our clients.
One big point that strikes us here at CorporatePA is this: allow your follower-base to grow slowly and organically. Follow users who tweet about your brand, and post great content in order to attract more followers. Be wary of the list of users you follow becoming too much larger than your list of followers; this discourages other users from following you, as it gives the impression that you are indiscriminate and unimportant.
It’s best to mix it up in your updates as well. Simply tweeting links to your client’s site isn’t enough; a good social media marketer knows that, in order to build a great community, you have to monitor and comment on issues in your subject area, and not all of these tweets are going to point to your site. A personal touch helps. If you can take something in your topic and give it a human face, inject it with feeling, warmth or humor, you’ll find that your followers respond better than they would if you were just tweeting the link to your latest blog post all the time.
For those looking for a ‘do’ list on ways to effectively develop communities and manage your social media marketing, an unlikely source of good tips can be found on The Boy Scouts website. The Boy Scouts have long stood as a kind of shorthand for everything honest and honorable in American society (controversy over their LGBT policies aside), so it makes sense they would offer good advice for anyone looking for a way to manage their social media organically and honestly. Here are some highlights:
- Create an open and honest dialogue with your audience of followers and tell them a little about yourself. By posting your content consistently and on a regular schedule, you will enable your community to engage with you and this in turn will provide you the opportunity to be participatory in the conversation with them.
- Learn to develop a thick skin when interacting through social media. There will always be participants who will choose to be negative, if this is the case, don’t be offended easily and always try to state your opinions affirmatively without getting into useless confrontations. Since negative conversations may be happening already, have a voice in the conversation and try not to delete negative comments, unless they violate the terms laid out in the Boy Scouts of America Social Media Guidelines.
- Respond to negative or inaccurate only if a response is warranted. Most of the negatives comments will not even merit a response, however, others will need to be taken seriously and challenged. When responding, remember to factor in the number of followers and the severity of the conversations when deciding how best to temper your response.
- Be cool, collected and thoughtful in your responses, especially when disagreeing with others, as it is best to remain both appropriate to the topic and relevant to the subject matter. If the situation takes an antagonistic tone, avoid getting overly defensive and be creative in disengaging yourself from the conversation without ending the dialogue abruptly.
- Build trust with your audience by remaining transparent and open. Share information, as well as any challenges that present themselves or opportunities regarding business endeavors in an effort to be a supportive and nurturing voice in your community.
- Rob Tarkoff: Social Media — It’s Not Just Another Channel (huffingtonpost.com)
- Are your Twitter followers real? (telegraph.co.uk)
- Setting Social Media Goals in 2013 (themorningsocial.com)
- The Meaning of Quality: Content Writing and Google Guidelines (corporatepa.com)
- Meet Me In The Tweet Seats (rocknycliveandrecorded.com)