Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Twitter Gaming & How It's Costing Everyone

Warning: This is a bit of a rant.

I am getting sick and tired of the gaming for numbers I am seeing on Twitter. Before it was people that would follow as many as Twitter limits allow...

Twitter allows you to follow up to 2000 people. At that point, you can only follow 10% more than are following you.

... that was one thing. It didn't put a lot of "stress" on the system and wasn't a huge manipulation tactic.

The more recent trend is one that I personally find disturbing - and I'm not the only one. I'll explain what the trend is and then share why I think it is costing everyone.

Some people have figured out an "easy" way to game the system. Basically it is to bulk unfollow existing followers and then bulk follow new ones. Presumably the people doing this believe that a couple of things will happen: a. new people they follow will be "impressed" and a good percentage will follow back and b. that the people they unfollow won't notice they have been unfollowed.

Why is this a bad thing? Let me count the ways...

1. I have no idea how many people are doing this across Twitter. However, between myself and a few others I've communicated with who have noticed the same shenanigans, we've found at least 30 reasonably high profile people (high profile meaning a considerable follower base). But let's say that there are 500 people doing this and are unfollowing/refollowing in batch an average of 5,000 followers at a time. Yes, Twitter can handle a lot but how much of a drain is this putting on system resources? Keep in mind, it's not just the resources needed for the follows/unfollows but the follow emails that go out, people going to look at follower pages, and so on.

2. It's misleading to Twitter users. You look at one of these profiles and say to yourself - oh they follow back every one that follows them. For the most part, people engaging in this behavior try to keep the numbers balanced. There are also some that have been gaming Twitter who - after reaching a certain magical threshold number of followers - have made a big stink about how hard it was to keep up with all the people they were following so they were no longer going to follow everyone. The other aspect of this is that it gives false "social proof" of these Twitter users when looking at their follower count alone.

3. At least a few of these people are using their Twitter high follower counts to add credibility to whatever it is that they do. I don't know how you feel, but to me this is tantamount to faking testimonials.

4. Twitter is a fantastic networking tool and a great way to meet people you may not have otherwise. It's a superb way to stay in touch with others. But one thing that is crucial to Twitter's continued growth is the authenticity of it's users. Gaming the system in this way diminishes authenticity.

5. People are getting hurt by the unfollowing. I've had a few people tell me they were upset that so and so unfollowed them - especially since they had had communication etc. I've had it happen to me as well. It's hard not to take it personally in some cases.

6. Then let's not forget the time being wasted with this. Let's say the numbers above hold up. That would be 2,500,000 bulk follows a day. How long does it take to check out a new follower? 30 seconds? That works out to 20,833 hours a day being lost to gaming. Let's lowball the productivity of each person impacted to $20 per hour. Over $400,000 a day. Still think it's not an issue?

What isn't surprising to me is that these people have been smart enough to find out some way to game the system yet they don't realize that literally everything they do on Twitter is tracked somewhere or is trackable. You can get an instant snapshot through various sites like to see who is gaming. You can backup someone's following/follower list and compare it on a day to day basis. There are sites like that show trends of how many followers/following any individual has had.

Here are some takeaways you can derive from this:

1. Don't hold much credence in a Twitter user's follower count. You may be shocked to learn who some of the people engaging in this behavior are.

2. Follower count really doesn't matter. Some of the sharpest people I know on Twitter have fewer than 1,000 followers.

3. If you are gaming the system now or are considering doing it & you are in business for the long haul, consider the potential damage to your reputation that can be done if/when you get called out on it. People are getting called out now. Your actions are being recorded. Is it really worth sacrificing your reputation in the long haul?

If I sound bitter in any way about this, I'm not and have no reason to be. I have close to 12,000 followers at the time of writing this. All but 30-40 were gained in just over 2 months time by using Twitter in an ethical and responsible manner. I tweet on a variety of subjects, I engage in conversations, I retweet, I try and help others when I see I can and I share worthwhile/ entertaining links I come across. I make an attempt to answer DM's. I have a very busy life yet I can handle this without resorting to tactics. I've made several dozen incredible contacts - both of a business and personal nature. The time I've spent on Twitter has been more than worthwhile when I consider just the new business I've gained. I know that I'm building a solid network with what I'm doing.

Follow me on Twitter


Anonymous said...

Very well written and as you say a worthwhile subject for thoe who prefer to keep Twitter a place of mutual respect and integrity. Am not sure what people get out of gaming the system other than maybe a feeling of of awkward fulfilment thinking they have fooled the masses??

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Sharon. =)

Sasha Kane

Stuart said...

If you're claiming to be able to show businesses how to build "A Celebrity Like Following Online" you can't be gaming the system to do that. A real business on Twitter couldn't do the bulk follow / unfollow trick to build up their profile without damaging their brand's reputation.

ZuDfunck said...


Elizabeth K. Barone said...

Well said! I especially agree with your last point. I think that it's unfair to use the people you're meeting (to me, Twittering with other people is like walking around a room and shaking hands). You wouldn't shake someone's hand, say it's nice to meet them, and then kick them in the gut and use them as a step stool. Twitter gaming is the equivalent of this kind of behavior. It annoys me to no end when I get random follows (or friend requests on other websites) that don't even try to interact with me and then expect me to help promote them.

I'm glad there are others out there who feel the same.

Justin Parks said...

Here Here and well said! I have followed a few "unknown" twitter celebrities only to find out that they are plain bloody annoying and cant comprehend why anyone would follow them in the first place to be honest.

This situation will be sorted out in the end.

That being said, the lack of "responsibility" or indeed "accountability" on Twitter by said users leaves it wide open for us to endure this type of practice in the interim.

Rosyblue said...

Excellent post!!! Loved it, in fact!!! I don't agree on the reasons for the unfollowing especially when these individuals started following a ton of people in the first place. I do try to connect with everyone as much as I can. This is why I take my time following back. I read tweets, bios and sites (if possible) to ensure that both of us will have a connection. I don't like to unfollow someone later. I do try to be fair. Thanks, Sharon!

Anonymous said...

You should be careful in judging people by using FriendorFollow. I have a significant number of followers that I have not followed back. I mean a lot.

That is not my fault. And that is not gaming.

Likewise, I have followed many people whom I have found through searches that said something of particular interest. Whether they follow me back or not really doesn't hurt my feelings.

SharonTucci said...

To the last anonymous poster: I'm not sure how many people you are following that are not following you back. However, in these cases, it involves several thousand. If you actually follow "thousands" more than follow you, then I think you are a pretty unusual case compared to the norm.

Chris said...

I think you're overly concerned about this.

For instance, it's an issue for Twitter, not you, as far as being a "strain on their resources" - doesn't anything you do use resources? Making 100 valuable tweets uses resources. Is that bad, too?

Isn't it really each person's business (alone) who they follow or not?

Tip: if someone unfollows you, don't take it personally. It could have been accidental. It is not the same as if they sent you hate mail!

What's really annoying is when people want to impose their view of how to use Twitter on the rest of us - bad idea.

wbw_Jeff said...

Funny...when I get a new follower who has an equal number of follows vs followers...I feel as if I have to follow back or they will boot me within a few days. Which I usually let them do.

DeAnna Troupe said...

I totally agree with you on this topic. I get tired of people trying to game twitter. Twitter works wonderfully well if you just work within the system. I don't think this post was a rant at all. :)

Mormanity said...

I suggest that once you hit that 2000 limit, that you be allowed to follow people who are following you, and that there should be some limits to bulk operations, then. Limiting the number of unfollows per day to, say, 50.

I'm at that 2000 follower limit now and have had to go back to some early follows and find ones that I probably shouldn't have followed in the first place - typically organizations or products, not personalities - to free up resources to follow some really interesting people that come along. I would be much happier if I could follow people who are already following me without the need to unfollow others.

@dinaharding said...

Well, thank you, Sharon. 'Twitter Gaming': Unbelievable. Now I know for sure what is going on; as I had my suspicions just this week. I had a good number of Tweeples follow me first, who had very similar interests and/or background, and so I chose to follow them back. In a very short period of time, they were no longer following me.

For this reason, I believe there's nothing wrong with purging your system using Friend-Or-Follow, as I've recently done over the last week. This is how I've confirmed my suspicions of the exact abusers you speak of in this article who, in fact, I know first sought me out to follow, and then unfollowed shortly thereafter in hopes to increase their 'followers' numbers.

As far as other reasons for 'unfollowing', my view is that if a person is not 'active' on Twitter, if their posts are fairly old, if they use inappropriate language, or are simply too negative & use derogatory remarks, I will remove them.

For all new followers, I try to take the time to reach each person's Bio, check out their recent posts, & sometimes even check out their website to understand the person better. For the most part, if I've assessed that they're not a spam risk & if there is something remotely interesting about them, then I will follow them back. That is how relationships get started. My belief is that relationships are a 2-way street and should be mutually interactive & beneficial; the numbers should be about having 'quality' connections, and NOT 'quantity'.

Thanks for this post, Sharon :)
Sincerely, Dina Harding

Kevin Elliott said...

I must admit, I had a great chuckle with this article! Sharron, I feel the same way about most of this. I even thought about writing an article about the evil techniques that exist to rig twitter, but thankfully, you did all the heavy lifting for me! :)

Thanks again!

Sheree Motiska said...

You're right, these people are getting called out and I'm glad. I just did some checking in my own account because something funny was going on.

In an attempt to be nice, I was automatically following all new followers. I will never do this again. What was happening was that they were following and unfollowing and following again sometimes.

Other ones were completely ignoring @ replies saying nice things about them as well as RTs and simply being Twitter snobs. I am a very generous (very addicted) user and it makes me mad that these people used me because I actively welcome people and get their name seen (when I can, I do).

I built mine without any help from software or weird services that promote spam.

The good news?

I just yesterday posted an anti TweepMe message and warned everyone that it's a spammers playground and would not help anyone else. It's another TweeterGetter.

Well, a bunch of my followers RTed the post and were happy to be part of keeping Twitter clean.


Cheryl said...

What a great post! Thanks for enlightening me. I've recently noticed that some people were following and unfollowing me repeatedly. It was really bizarre and I didn't understand what was going on. But now I do.

I always check every follower--read his or her profile, and, if they seem to share similar interests, I also visit their website.

Of course, everyone is free to do what he wants, but I don't think that this type of gaming behavior serves anyone in the long run.

MP said...

I've recently called a couple of people out for this behavior by sending a message-'sorry to discover you're a serial follow/unfollower'.
Let's find a more clever way to say that and create a #hashtag to include in the messages we send to these folks.

I wish they wouldn't waste my time if they're not really looking to connect.

Libdrone said...

Honestly, I've never really been into reciprocal following. For the first few years I was on Twitter I only followed people who interested me, and made my priority "does this account's tweets add value to my stream?" I get e-mails any time someone follows me and also subscribe to a service that e-mails me any time someone unfollows me.

I still only follow back if the profile and the recent tweets a new follower has sent interest me. And I usually only unfollow if someone offends me or if I find them spammish. And Tweet Grader seems to agree with you that number of followers is not all that important. Last I checked my score there was 94 and I had less than 500 followers at the time.