Ignore the Twinfomercials: Quality over Quantity

These days Twitter is everyone’s darling. As with any service that becomes popular, scam artists are coming out of the woodwork, trying to game the system. Worse, they are doing more now than just gaming the system, they are trying to sucker in unsuspecting new Twitter users too.

What does a scammer look like? Many send out what I call “Twinfomercials” (Twitter + infomercials), enticing you to use their system to “gain 19,500 followers in 30 days” or follow their 8 simple steps to “Master Making Money On Twitter”. These kinds of “systems” appeal to people who see Twitter as more of a broadcast forum than a conversation and trust network. I know of 5 distinct “systems” so far that game Twitter’s follower counts (no, I won’t tell you what they are, as I won’t support their use that way).

19500spam

Why are these Twinfomercials terrible? They create an erosion in the Twitter ecosystem, the same ecosystem that has been thriving and increasing Twitter’s popularity over the last few months. They also skew the focus of Twitter from who you or your company is interacting with into the realm of a numbers game. As I said earlier this evening: 500,000 followers who are just names on a page don’t matter as much as 5 you really interact with.

Twitter is at its finest when it is allowed to work organically. Twitter by it’s design fosters trust, connection, conversation, connection and shared knowledge. By taking the focus off of listening and interacting with people in a genuine way and bringing value to people who listen to you and instead focusing on amassing mass amounts of followers in a short period of time, you are not getting value from being on Twitter, or giving value, for that matter. Twitter is not just another ad channel.

Luckily, tools exist to help the new Twitter user figure out which people are genuine and which people are scammers. One of these tools is Twitterholic. This one shows you how long someone has been on Twitter. In the case of the “early adopters” (people who have been using Twitter since the time it first got started), you can see varying amounts of follower numbers that have been earned organically over time, shown next to their bio and – most important for helping figure this out – the length of time on Twitter.

If you look under my name, for example, you see that I have been on Twitter since May 2007 (Twitter was launched officially at SXSW in March 2007). You can see I was a fairly early adopter. You can see how much I tweet (a lot). You can see how many people I listen to (following), which is about 4,000 right now, and how many listen and talk to me (followers), which is about 4100 or so. With rare exceptions of organic follower growth, like celebrities, who tend to gain followers at astronomical rates once discovered, the longer someone has been on, the more chance there is that they are “the genuine article”.

Length of time on Twitter is only one way to find out who to trust. You can also use a tool like TwitterGraph or Wordle to see how many of the user’s tweets are interactive (@replies). The people who interact with the people in their Twitter stream are far more genuine that the people or businesses who just blast links or ads or the RSS to their blog without ever stopping to listen or talk to any of those followers they scammed so hard to get.

The most important way to find trustworthy people for your Twitter trust network is to listen to the people in your Twitter stream. You probably got invited to Twitter by someone you know. A friend, a family member, a colleague or a consultant. Even if you then did not join until later, after you heard about it on The Price Is Right or CNN, you still know those people who have been on Twitter a while. Look at who they trust, and why. Follow their lead. Build your trust network.

If everyone ignores the Twinfomercials and scammers, tries to listen more, to add value to their Twitter stream for people who listen to them, and interacts more, Twitter will continue to be an effective trust network and communication tool well into the future.