Twitter 101 Advice for Companies: “Don’t spam people”

It’s no secret that one of the keys to Twitter monetizing their service is charging businesses for a premium service.  Earlier today, Twitter took a step in that direction by launching Twitter 101.  Twitter 101 is primarily targeted to businesses who are new to Twitter.  It includes tips for getting started on Twitter, tips on Twitter lingo, best practices, and several case studies.

The Best Practices section contains specific guidelines about Twitter Spam:

Don’t spam people. Twitter’s following model means that you have to respect the interests and desires of other people here or they’ll unfollow you. The most common way to run afoul of that understanding—and to thus look like a spammer—is to send unsolicited @messages or DMs, particularly when you include a promotional link.

Of course, if you run an account that focuses explicitly on sharing exclusive coupon codes or sale information, you’re probably just fine posting promos. But tread carefully, and consider explaining in your bio or background how the account works.

Tip: You can test the waters by sending just a few promos to start, and then continuing only if people show interest.

To make sure you’re not spamming folks, we also suggest you avoid the following:

  • Posting duplicate updates to an account: Posting the same update over and over throughout the day is considered spammy and a possible violation of our terms of service.
  • Cross-posting duplicate updates to multiple accounts: If you post the same update to multiple accounts, you could violate our terms of service.
  • Following churn: Following and unfollowing the same people repeatedly, as well as following and unfollowing those who don’t follow back, are both violations of our terms of service.

Tip: Think you’ve encountered a spammer? Let us know, and we’ll look into the account. You can alert us to spam profiles by sending a direct message to @spam! In addition, you can block the spammer by heading to their account page, and on the right side, clicking the block link (they won’t know you’ve blocked them).

Some people are skeptical about Twitter 101.  Robert Scoble posted this comment on TechCrunch:

I thought that Twitter was so simple that it doesn’t need an instruction manual. Is this why Twitter is going to beat Facebook? Yikes.

On the other hand, today I saw and it lets you get paid on Twitter. Now THAT is something that will get businesses excited!

I’d rather Twitter do what Apple is doing: focus on featuring the best uses of Twitter (in a directory/store) and stop with trying to make a guide. Is there a guide like this for the iPhone? No.

Twitter has a control problem: they seem to want to reward people for certain behaviors (ala the Suggested User List, which has mostly brands and celebrities on it) while trying to get the rest of us to “behave” and “Twitter properly.” That isn’t the attitude of a mature platform.

Oh, and why aren’t they fixing search instead of doing this lame stuff? Search isn’t indexing old tweets and is full of spam and noise. Fix that stuff and businesses will figure out the model on their own.

I’m less skeptical.  Some businesses don’t get Twitter right away and I’m in favor of any efforts that point businesses in the right direction.

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Poll Results: Twitter Moderation of Trending Topics

A couple of weeks ago I posted a poll asking the question: Should Twitter moderate Trending Tropics to prevent it from being spammed?

The results are in and as of today, over 75% of the respondants are in favor of Twitter moderating Trending Topics. 16% say No and 8% aren’t sure.

I was expecting more of an equal split on this.  On the one hand, people recognize that Twitter needs to take a stance against obvious spam attacks againt Trending Topics (such as the recent attack “allegedely” by 4chan).  But at the same time, some critics are claiming that legitimate Twitter users are getting caught up in Twitter’s anti-spam dragnet.  Twitter recently admitted to accidentally suspending accounts as a result of a spam clean-up effort.  And there have been recent accusations that Twitter is overdoing their anti-spam efforts and filtering out legitimate tweets from Twitter search results.

My opinion?  I don’t think Twitter can afford to sit back and do nothing.  Louis Gray sent this tweet out after a recent attack against Trending Topics: “One need only see the top trending topic on Twitter now to recognize at times, the inmates run the asylum. Embarrassing.”. Twitter can’t afford to be embarrassed like this.  With that said, Twitter needs to refine their anti-spam algorithms and cut down on the false positives.  This raises a question.  Why do we have dozens of developers creating nearly identical Twitter clients but no major third party services attacking the problem of Twitter Spam?  Who is going to create the Akismet for micro-blogging?

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New Poll: Should Twitter moderate Trending Tropics to prevent it from being spammed?

For the second time in a month, offensive terms have made it on to Twitter Trending Topics. In both cases, Twitter didn’t remove the offensive terms until after they spent some time at the top of Trending Topics. This time, the attack appears to have been carried out by the infamous 4chan group. ReadWriteWeb asks a legitimate question: Maybe Twitter Trends Shouldn’t Be Entirely Automated?

From the ReadWriteWeb post:

“At the end of the day, we agree with Twitter’s decision to pull the obviously forced hashtag from the trends section just as they did the last time a bunch of folks thought they would have some fun by tweeting other offensive words and phrases. But these incidents have made us wonder: has Twitter trends outlived its ability to function properly as an entirely algorithm-based service? Given how many people rely on Twitter trends to track hot topics and breaking news, the section will be under constant attack from those who want to use the algorithm for their own purposes…and not necessarily good ones.

In some cases, like the latest 4chan move, the term-made-trend will be a somewhat offensive, but ultimately harmless prank. In other cases, the trends will be courtesy of some marketer pushing their hashtag up through the ranks thanks to their latest “tweet-to-win” contest. But do either of these cases represent an organic news-based trend that deserves the spotlight? Perhaps not.”

If Twitter takes this approach, there’s no doubt that they will take heat for filtering out terms that are in a gray area.  In fact, those accusations have already started.

So what do you think? I’ve set up a new TwtPoll asking: Should Twitter moderate Trending Tropics to prevent it from being spammed? Click here to take the poll or view the results.


  • OK, It’s been several hours and there are only 8 votes!  If you have an opinion about this please take the pollClick here to share the poll with your Twitter followers.
  • 8:12 pm PST:  We’re up to 22 votes on the poll.

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Incredibly Useful Firefox Script for Twitter Followers Page

Twitter recently made improvements to the Following and Followers pages.  Mashable has a good rundown of the enhancements.   It’s a big improvement over the old version of this page, but I still thought that some information was missing, specifically: the Bio, URL, and Followers/Following stats.

Luckily, there’s a very useful Firefox script that adds this information.  This script has been available for a while but it was just recently updated to work with the recent changes to the Followers page.

Here are the Before and After screenshots:



Get the Firefox extension here. And you can follow the developer (Al Nevarez) on Twitter: @imusicmash.

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#Hashtag Contests: Clever Marketing or Twitter Spam?

SquareSpace did it last month and Moonfruit is doing it this month. These companies are both using Twitter to market their product by having people tweet something with their company name in the hashtag (#squarespace, #moonfruit). The incentive? For SquareSpace it was the chance to win a free iPhone (sort of) over a thirty day period and for Moonfruit it’s the chance to win a MacBook Pro over the next ten days. Whatever you think of this marketing approach, you can’t argue with the result. #moonfruit is one of the top trending topics today.

@TEDChris has a great post today analyzing this marketing tactic and questioning if it’s really worth polluting your Twitter stream when the chances of winning are so small.

- Would you post an ad for a random company through your friends’ doors in return for for a 1 in 200,000 chance of winning a computer? (If you did that every single day your whole life, chances are still overwhelming that you’d never win… …and even more overwhelming that you’d end up with no friends .)

- Assuming each tweet gets seen on average by 20 people, Moonfruit are buying media “impressions” here at a CPM rate of less than 50 cents… equivalent to ‘junk’ space online, and easily low enough to tempt in a lot of other companies.

- Bottom line… our words and connections are being bought on the cheap! And unless the Twitterverse wises up, we’ll end up getting deluged with hashtag spam.

One Fine Jay compares these types of contests to beautiful highways getting ruined by too many billboards.

Just as the plethora of billboards ruined the skylines of Route 66 and other great highways of the past, advertising today in its most blatant forms has invaded any mental domain imaginable. Nowhere is safe, definitely not Twitter. It’s no surprise that online marketing and advertising would pounce on a free medium to promote their wares.

He goes on to describe how these types of contests put us in the difficult position of deciding whether or not to unfollow people who clutter their twitter-stream with these meaningless hashtags.

… Hashtag contests are turning the people I following into spammers.

This, too, is different from a lottery. Games of chance where participants pay to play are usually regulated. Free raffles are usually not. Take note that I am not yet ready to call shenanigans on this, but instead of paid participation, people offer up their time. In a world of free content all vying for our attention, our time remains the most valuable asset we are all too willing to give up.

Moonfruit’s campaign and the clones it will spawn will lead to a general degradation in the aesthetic of the Twitter stream. To a user, we have but two choices: bear through it, or unfollow someone. Getting spammed three messages at a time by half of my users is a painful thing to sit through, because I’d rather not block or unfollow these people. They are still worth following, and it is this good will that I and others extend to the people we follow that companies capitalize on whenever they do these awful contests.

Kev from Outside Lines says:

Here’s an idea for “Twitter promotion done right” – make a great product, and release it with a clever launch. If it’s smart, everyone talk about it. Get to the top of the trending topics legitimately, not by dangling carrots in front of keyboard-equiped imbeciles who don’t know better.

July 6th Update:
Moonfruit claims that Twitter has censored the #Moonfruit hashtag from Trending Topics.

Coverage elsewhere:

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Using Trendrr to Track Twitter Spam

Yesterday I started to use Trendrr to track mentions of “twitter spam” and @spam on Twitter.  Here are two real-time charts showing the number of mentions per hour.  As of the writing of this blog post, @spam is mentioned between 10 and 50 times per hour.  “twitter spam” is mentioned up to 120 times per hour.

I first heard about Trendrr on Fred Wilson’s excellent A VC blog. You can track up to ten phrases for free. Pro accounts range from $49 / month (30 phrases) to $999 / month (unlimited phrases and full reporting). You can follow Trendrr on Twitter here: @Trendrr.

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The Month of Twitter Bugs (#MoTB) Has Started

Last month, Aviv Raff (@avivra ) announced that July 2009 would be the Month of Twitter Bugs. From his June 15th blog post:

I’ve decided to declare July 2009 as “Month of Twitter Bugs” (MoTB). I’m doing so in order to raise the awareness of the Twitter API issue I recently blogged about. MoTB could have been easily converted to any other “Month of Web2.0 service bugs”, and I hope that Twitter and other Web2.0 API providers will work closely with their API consumers to develop more secure products.
Each day I will publish a new vulnerability in a 3rd party Twitter service on the web site. As those vulnerabilities can be exploited to create a Twitter worm, I’m going to give the 3rd party service provider and Twitter at-least 24 hours heads-up before I publish the vulnerability.

Today (July 1st), Aviv published the first vulnerability: MoTB #01: Multiple vulnerabilities in service.  The good news?  The vulnerabilities were fixed in just three hours.  It’ll be interesting to see what Aviv comes up with over the next 30 days.  You can follow the progress on the TwitPwn blog or follow Aviv’s #MoTB tweets.

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Here Comes the #MichaelJackson Spam

It was just a matter of time before spammers capitalize on the sad death of Michael Jackson. is tracking down accounts that are trying to profit from the death of a pop icon.

This guy is sending out misleading tweets that lead to a Zazzle site that peddles awful MJ RIP products.

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Twitter Temporarily Removes Trending Topics

Twitter has figured out a way to get rid of Trending Topics spam.  Remove it completely from the sidebar. The Search box and saved searches were removed as well.  According to the Twitter Status blog, this is a temporary thing.  Twitter has a history of pulling features and not bringing them back (remember Track?). Hopefully that won’t be the case with this. Of course, you can still see the Trending Topics on the Twitter Search page.

The topics that are trending right now are a reflection of how people are feeling on this very, very sad day.


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Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter Account Leads to Malware Site (Video)

SophosLabs produced this video describing how Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter account led many of his followers to a malware site. (via WSJ Bits)

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