I am fascinated by something I am seeing on Twitter, where I have recently changed my following strategy. Until a week or so ago, I basically wouldn’t follow anyone unless they were a close friend. I called it my “house rule”, that is, that I wouldn’t follow someone unless I knew them well enough to invite them into my house.
Now I am consciously and experimentally following completely random people, upwards of 50-75/day, by letting the digital zeitgeist point me towards them. I find someone who is an interesting Twitterer and then scour the list of who they follow to see if I can find others who are also worth following. A click of the “Follow” button and blamo, I’ve added someone else to those I am following.
When I constrained myself to following friends, I never got a single auto-DM (a direct message to me from their Twitter account sent by a ‘bot of some sort) and was blissfully ignorant of what others were complaining about. By spreading my net wider and having almost random follows I now understand what people have been kvetching about vis-a-vis the corruption of basic Twitter functionality.
What am I seeing? Here’s a typical message (and yes, the names are not changed to protect the innocent. After all, there’s no implied confidentiality for someone who doesn’t know me sending me a DM marketing message that I did not solicit, is there?)
“Thanks for the Follow! Would You Like to Know How To Dramatically Increase Your Followers? http://bit.ly/LNb7x”
(I’m not going to make those clickable links, you can explore these on your own)
Now before I go further, let me say that I have two motivations for spreading my net wider: I would like to gain more followers and I have now verified experimentally that a meaningful percentage of people who you follow will indeed follow you back.
More importantly, I am very aware that there’s a resource location problem with me having an incredibly narrow set of people I follow: I never stumble across new and serendipitous information or ideas.
It’s a classic computer and information science problem, actually, and one I’ve been chewing on for many years in my various projects, including my time years ago as a research scientist at HP Labs.
If the above were the only marketing DM I’d seen, that would be one thing. I’d think “okay, it’s cool to explore ways to monetize Twitter this way”, but what’s amazing is that I am seeing about 4-5% of the people I follow have a marketing auto-DM that they’re sending me.
Here are a few more:
“Thanks for the follow! Increase your Twitter following and make some extra $$! http://bit.ly/4pSb5”
“Thanks for the follow! Check out my free traffic secrets unleashed ebook at my site! http://linkbee.com/unleash”
“Hello and Welcome! Thank you for the follow and I am likewise Free biz report @ http://b2cmarketing.biz”
“Interested or New to Internet Marketing? Take a Look at this IM and Social Media Training Power Blog – http://bit.ly/1ZlvdP – love feedback!”
“Thanks for the follow! Earn $$$ With The Fastest Growing Site. http://bit.ly/x1yrP”
There are more, plenty of ’em, but I have to wonder, are they all pimping the same Twitter ebook at the end of the day? 🙂
More seriously, is following someone an implied relationship wherein they can reasonably respond by pushing out some aggressive marketing material my way? Am I at fault for either a) following them or b) being surprised that they would push these marketing tweets out to me?
I believe this is a core dilemma of the social media age: what kind of relationship is implied when I follow you on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, subscribe to your RSS feed, or even bump into you on a location-aware iPhone app?