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.

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