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Archives: July 2009

Did Twitter Just Do Another Spammer Purge?

Last night at around 9pm, I happened to glance up at my follower number on Twitter and noticed that it had suddenly (and instantly) dropped by around 30 people.

This morning, I received my daily follow/unfollow stats email from SocialToo, and spotted this curious trend:

Did Twitter Just Do Another Spammer Purge?

(this image is too large to fit on here – click to open in a separate tab)

39 spammers, all in a row. All of these accounts have now been suspended.

Which leads me to suspect that Twitter did another purge last night, following the one we saw last Friday.

Is this going to be a weekly event? I hope so. Assuming, that is, that they keep getting it right.

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So You Want To Get Retweeted? Sharpen Your Pencil

Some basic steps:

  1. Find unique and interesting content. If you’re amongst the first to break a story, it’s going to be noticed (and picked up) by others. Constantly track and scan the social bookmarking sites and major news feeds. Configure iGoogle so this is something you can do in less than a minute.
  2. Craft the tweet with care. Sell the story. Your prose should be as good as you can possibly make it. More often than not the existing headline will be sufficient to explain the content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) put a little spin on it. You have to make people want to click on that link. If it’s ambiguous most will be cautious, and if you lie or try to trick others, the majority won’t click on anything you say again. A little spit and polish goes a long way. Humour works brilliantly. Memorise your retweet number.
  3. Use to shorten your link and track the data. For your own website, add the Tweetmeme button.
  4. If you’re trying to get your own stuff retweeted, follow the same guidelines as above, but adopt a fair ratio of submitting your personal content against everything else. For example, tweet out only one of your blog posts to every nine or so you do for external links. Tip: there’s nothing wrong with re-submitting your stuff several days, weeks or months later, as long as it remains relevant and useful. Remember that at any given time, only a small percentage of your network will be logged on to Twitter and/or even notice your latest update in their timeline. But bombarding your network with just your content multiple times per day wins few friends.
  5. Be consistent. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Twitter Jack of all trades or focus entirely on one niche, but few react well to those who continuously do 180s.

If you get into the habit of being interesting and remarkable, it’s amazing how quickly you’ll grab the attention of others. The best way to do this on Twitter is by sharing great content, and thanks to the ripple effect provided by the retweet mechanism, your great submission has the potential to reach everybody. Literally.

Twitter’s Redesign Rewards Newcomers And Leavers, Ignores Everybody Else

Twitter have redesigned their home page. Take a look.

Or have they? If you were already logged in to the network, it just looked the same as it always did. You have to be logged out to see the change. Which means that Twitter’s very pleasant, streaming trends page is only a feature for people who aren’t connected to the service – for example, absolute newcomers, which is clearly who this move is targeted at.

Twitter's Redesign Rewards Newcomers And Leavers, Ignores Everybody Else

For the rest of us, to access this cool new page we need to log off. There doesn’t appear to be any other way to reach it.

This is broken.

Because once you’ve logged in, you’re stuck with the same old boring, feature-free page you always had. Talk about a bait and switch.

Sure, the intro page wouldn’t work for your actual Twitter stream because it takes up too much of the screen, but it would have been nice to see a little continuation here. After all, the core userbase – you know, the 20-25 million you should really be trying to keep happy – aren’t likely to be too impressed if all you’ve done is change the cover of the book for everybody else.

What’s In A Name?

Usernames on Twitter, and the URL this gives you ( are becoming almost as important as regular domain names. And finding one that is meaningful, aesthetically-pleasing and available can be quite a maddening process. (Aspiring rock stars will also have experienced this frustration when trying to find a band name that isn’t taken but doesn’t suck.)

When picking a username, there are a few things you need to consider:

  1. If you’re already known to a large audience under a given name, that’s your best option on Twitter.
  2. For individuals, certainly those who operate in a professional capacity, your best option is always your real, full name – i.e., sheabennett. And even if you don’t want to use that as your primary account (I use Sheamus), it pays to register it anyway to prevent identity theft. If your real name is taken, try a combination of your initials against your first, middle and surname.
  3. If you’re a brand, it needs to be your brand name, or as close to it as possible without looking like it’s been forced.
  4. When making a final decision, consider how is it going to look on your business card? Do you want @PeterWilson, or @ladyzman69?
  5. It needs to be as short as possible. Why? Retweets. If your long username makes it awkward for people to retweet you without doing some major edit work then your retweet rate will suffer accordingly. I would propose that your username should be no longer than 12 characters if possible. (See this article for more on the importance of your number.)
  6. Avoid gimmicky names. While ‘ilovemakinbacon’ might be funny to you now, in six months time when you’ve decided Twitter is a fantastic opportunity for you to bring new clients to your business, it might not seem quite as amusing.
  7. That said, if your business is gimmicky, and your primary interest in Twitter is brand-promotion, then a gimmicky name can often pay off.
  8. Don’t stress about rich keywords in your username. The search mechanisms for tracking people down via their username are poor and people are less and less impressed by words like ‘expert’ and ‘guru’ in titles (especially when coupled with SEO, search or social media).
  9. Be mindful to avoid accidental euphemisms and double-meanings.
  10. Underscores should only be used if nothing else is available.

Celebrities naturally can get away with pretty much anything. For the rest of us, it does require a little thought, especially if we’re looking to build a relevant and targeted audience.

Of course, it all depends on your expectations. If you’re 100 per cent confident that Twitter is never going to be anything more to you than a place to hang and chat with friends, then your username really isn’t all that important. Otherwise, think about the future – where might you be in six months or a year, and what part could Twitter play in that period of your life? And how may your choice of username impact on that?

The network continues to grow in popularity at a rapid rate. Twitter’s quite ridiculous policy of allowing anybody to change their username at any time* means these tips are applicable to everybody. In six months, almost all the good usernames will be gone, much like almost all the good .com domain names are taken now. If you regret your username, and feel that it doesn’t best represent who you are, act today.

To change your username – and while there are no limits, for the benefit of your network this isn’t something I advise you do more than once, so make it stick – click on ‘settings’, enter your new name in the box, and Twitter will tell you if it’s available. And then be smart and let people know. While there are many valid reasons why changing your username makes sense, without making an announcement you might find it’s alarmingly easy to disappear.

* It’s so ridiculous, that I would expect this option to have been phased out by the end of 2009.

CHART OF THE DAY: Twitter Pulls The Plug On Spammers; I Lose 7% Of My Network

Good news: Twitter has finally taken heed of millions of irritated users and hit the off switch on thousands of spam accounts.

The impact on my own network was pretty sizeable – all-told, I’ve lost 246 followers overnight.

CHART OF THE DAY: Twitter Pulls The Plug On Spammers; I Lose 7% Of My Network

Not all of these were spammers. I’ve been optimising my network all week. I’ve also been unfollowing a lot of folk I never actually followed in the first place, including another fifty or so yesterday. All of them, of course, auto-unfollowed me back.

So, I can only assume that as many as 200 people who were following me were spammers – or at least, were classified by Twitter as such. I guess we’ll never know how many legitimate accounts have now been tarred with the wrong brush.

(I actually got off pretty easy; Mark lost about 13 per cent of his team.)

What’s Your Twitter Tipping Point?

Stephanie Jonasson asked me:


Stephanie has about 50 people who follow her. I replied that she was doing the right things, but that she needed more followers. If she continued to engage as she had, once she had built her network, once she’d passed her tipping point, the conversations would come.

The tipping point on Twitter is the moment when your network reaches critical mass. Suddenly, you have all the attention you can handle. Your questions are being answered, your content is being re-tweeted, and your @replies column is a mile long.

The tipping point is different for all of us, and very much depends on who you are, and the things that you do. Celebrities tip on social networks almost immediately – particularly if they’re verified by another famous person. Brands expedite their tip point by throwing millions of dollars at it.

For the rest of us, it takes some work. It pays to remember the ‘five Bs’:

  1. Be yourself – you’re building a reputation here. Yours
  2. Be interesting – look for and share relevant and unique content and links
  3. Be consistent – don’t be a crazy comedian one day and a manic depressive the next
  4. Be useful – don’t just ask questions: answer them
  5. Be grateful – when somebody has helped you out, publically thank them

Your tipping point isn’t a predictable number. It just happens, all of a sudden. It’s right there, for everybody, but you have to put in the effort. Engage with others and they will engage with you. Maybe you could start with Stephanie?

A Visual Example Of Twitter’s Spammer Problem

My last nine followers:

A Visual Example Of Twitter's Spammer Problem

They all arrived at once. All come with great names like ‘Giggles Shepard’ and ‘Danger Lehman’. All are following 500+ while being followed by less than a tenth of that.

Good times.

Are You Crippled By Unfollow Fear?

Completely by accident, the theme on Twittercism this week has been about network optimisation. You can read previous posts on this topic here and here.

Often when I speak to Twitter folk (and this includes clients) about cutting down on the huge amounts of people they’re following to improve the relevancy and value of their network, I get this response:

“I don’t like to unfollow people in case they unfollow me.”

These people suffer from unfollow fear. I find this attitude slightly baffling. Why do we choose to unfollow people? Because for various reasons they’re not right for us. If they then choose to unfollow us back, doesn’t that actually confirm our actions?

If you can only get ten thousand people to follow you because you’re following eleven thousand, something isn’t right. Your network isn’t relevant, it doesn’t have much value and it certainly isn’t optimised.

Let’s say you’re following ten thousand people, and the same number are following you. One day you wake up and decide to put an end to the madness, and unfollow everybody on your list. What’s the worst thing that can happen? That you’ll lose everybody who was following you?


All this tells us is that these individuals were using auto-follow and unfollow tools and likely weren’t paying any attention to you at all, excluding the occasional lip service. Most people don’t even realise when somebody has unfollowed them. If you drop somebody and they immediately drop you, it’s because they’re using a script. And good riddance, because the two of you never made a valid connection, and never will.

The reality is, if you follow ten thousand and drop 95 per cent of them, you’re not going to lose 9,500 followers. You’ll probably lose just a few thousand, tops, and the ones that leave didn’t care anyway.

But the followers that are left? The ones that continue to hang around? That’s a different story. That’s where you’ll find your relevance. They followed you because you looked interesting and they stayed with you because you are.

Conspiracy Theory Of The Day: @Twitter Is Intentionally Making Me Follow People I Don’t Like

I wrote about this problem a couple of weeks ago – there’s a real issue on Twitter right now with finding out that you’re suddenly following people you either long unfollowed or that you’ve never followed.

It’s getting infuriating. Tonight, I scrolled through my timeline and found several users on each page that I didn’t recognise and I know that I’d never followed.

Worse, when you try to remove them, it doesn’t ‘take’ straight away. You have to keep clicking on the ‘remove’ button, literally five or more times, until eventually you’ll get the blessed, “You are no longer following…” message. At last, they’re gone.

And I know it hasn’t worked until this point, as I keep refreshing my Twitter profile in the background, and my follow count doesn’t go down until the message appears. Nor do the unwelcome tweets stop appearing in my updates.

It’s enough to make a guy paranoid. It’s easy to get caught up in ridiculous conspiracy theories, and this is likely to be nothing more than a silly (if extremely irritating) bug. As Susan observed, the recent changes Twitter made to the GUI on our following/followers pages have possibly had a negative impact on the mechanism.

But… none of this would be quite as bad if I was being forced to follow people with genuine wisdom and interesting things to say. Or, you know, babes. But it’s always the multi-level marketers, social media/SEO ‘gurus’, real estate brokers, right-wing lunatics, Twitter-train clowns and the other mass-followers who poison the network. Always.

You know, the sort of people I’ve heavily criticised in the past.

If somebody out there is just playing silly buggers, there’ll be hell to pay.

Taking Responsibility

I get enquiries for help and assistance on various Twitter-related bugs and issues on a daily basis, and where I can I’m happy to provide guidance.

Lately the most common request has been from users looking to stop something from populating their Twitter timeline with automated tweets. After the Mikeyy exploit, I wrote about steps you can take to ensure your Twitter account remains secure, but these kinds of attacks on Twitter are rare. The reality is that most of the auto-tweeting bots on Twitter are not operating in a malicious way. Sure, they’re undesirable and not something any of us really want to see, but they haven’t figured out your password and they haven’t hacked your account. They’ve been authorised, and the person who gave them permission was you.

You may not want to believe it, you may swear blind that you’ve never, ever signed up for anything, but whether you want to accept it or not nine times out of ten these things happen because you’ve put your Twitter John Hancock on somebody else’s dotted line. And most of the time it’s some kind of internet marketer scam.

Fortunately, Twitter allocates us a fairly easy way to monitor and disable these nuisances.

  1. Log on to Twitter
  2. Go to Settings
  3. Click on Connections

This area lists all the external applications and tools to which you’ve granted access to your account. For me, this includes stuff like CoTweet, Seesmic, MrTweet, TweetMeme and WeFollow.

Twitter Connections

If there’s anything in there you don’t immediately recognise and/or trust, click on the ‘Revoke Access’ link, and you’re away.

I recommend having an inspection of your Twitter connections on a regular basis – at least once per week. Most of the time the auto-tweeters can be found in here. Sometimes, they won’t, and on those occasions please give me a shout and we’ll try to figure it out. Otherwise, if we take a little responsibility, we can all play our part in keeping Twitter auto-tweet free.