Why Gaming Twitter is Stupid (and Pointless)

Taking advantage of Twitter is easy. Within a week, I could build a Twitter account with at least a couple thousand followers — possibly over 5,000. Within a month or two, that account could have 20,000+ followers. For free (or for relatively cheap). Without all that much effort. I’ve done this on a few accounts to test, and this blog’s Twitter account (not @jaremy) was initially created using one of these methods. I did it because I wanted to see how difficult it was, and how useful it was. Spoiler: it is neither difficult nor very useful.

Over the past year, I’ve had a number of people come up to me and ask me “how can I gain a ton of followers quickly?” and “how can I get my message out to people immediately?”, always looking for the quick route to success. My answer is always the same – build a core network, and gain trust, not followers. Unfortunately, people always want a shortcut. So here’s a quick list of why taking a Twitter shortcut by gaming the system is not only borderline unethical, but pointless and a waste of time.

What Gaming Twitter Means
When I say “gaming Twitter”, I mean adding massive amounts of followers by using automatic following tools and keyword targeting. I also mean gaming the Twitter lists function to get added on dozens (even hundreds) of Twitter lists. Within thirty minutes after creating your Twitter account, you can follow hundreds of users who will follow you back automatically, and you can set up following for keywords using services like Twollow and Twollo. Using a service like Twibes, you can be automatically added to tons of lists.

For less than $10/month (or, free with a little additional effort), you can be well on your way to a follower list of 50,000 people and added to hundreds of lists. You’ll greatly surpass tons of the people you know who worked for months or years to build up their following simply by taking advantage of a flawed system. Ain’t life grand?

Problem #1: Followers Aren’t Listeners
The first, most obvious flaw is this: sure, you have 50,000 followers, but how many are actually listening? Use yourself as an example: you’re following 50,000 people – how many are you listening to? Probably none. Because you’ve just created an account to game the system, and you don’t actually care about the people you’re following – you just want them to care about what you’re saying. Considering you’ve built up a follow list of people who just because they auto-follow, how many of those folks do you think are *actually* reading your posts or are interested in your product? Well, you could do some analysis to find out. I did my own experiment last June on the importance of making friends, not followers.

Even without putting together the numbers, it’s pretty obvious though – the VAST majority of your followers are likely to be bots, people just like you, or people who have too many followers to read what you’re saying anyway. Most of the people you want listening to you are using filters, and guess what? You’re being filtered out.

Problem #2: It’s a Trust Thing
Personally, I lump in people who game Twitter with people who email spam and people who put flyers on my car windshield. They’re taking advantage of an easily-manipulated system. In this situation, rather than using social media as it was meant to be used (to empower users), Twitter abusers take advantage of the public and use goodwill to shove their message down an unsuspecting consumer’s throat. If I’m following you and I realize this is what you’re doing, I immediately lose trust and respect for you, and I will most likely never become your customer. Assuming your end goal is finding customers (not followers), you’ve got a problem.

If you think the power of Twitter is having one account that has thousands of followers, who will read your posts, you’re dead wrong. The power of Twitter is in its viral nature. It’s having your tweet spread like wildfire across a multitude of different communities. The power of tweeting an update to thousands of followers pales in comparison to the power of having that update retweeted across dozens of accounts, reaching potentially hundreds of thousands of followers. The first will get you dozens of clicks, the second will get you hundreds to thousands of clicks. And what you want is clicks, not followers.

Problem #3: You’re Obvious
It’s pretty easy to tell when someone’s gaming Twitter. Nothing says abusing the system like a following of over 10,000 and less than 100 tweets. Or having 90% of the lists you’re on say “Twibes”.* For those of you Xbox LIVE gamers, that’s like having a gamerscore of 10,000 but having played Avatar: The Last Airbender, King Kong and Madden 2005, 2006 and 2007.** Anyone who know anything about gamerscore knows you’re just trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Plus, any good analytics package like Twitalyzer or Klout will quickly show you what your influence really is.
*I had the misfortune of using Twibes, and now the lists I’m proud to be a part of are drowned by tons of Twibes lists. If only I could take it all back…
**Sorry for the Xbox LIVE reference. It’s what happens when you work there for a year. You get indoctrinated :)

Again, once people figure out that you’re gaming the system, you’ll lose all credibility. Sure, you can game the system and have it be a part of your legitimate following/userbase, but what little gains you make from it pale in comparison to the potential of losing all trust. At least in my opinion.

Problem #4: You’re missing the point
Good marketing and use of social networking is about building relationships. Relationships with your customers. Relationships with friends. Relationships with other marketers. If you’ve built up a good relationship with people who legitimately care about what you do and what your product represents, you will succeed far, far beyond what you do by gaming a flawed system.

If you end up burning your bridges by engaging in suspicious behavior, you’ll do more harm to yourself and your brand than you know. If you spend a few months organically building connections, networking with others and building TRUST, you’ll be much happier than if you try to take the shortcut. Shortcuts are always appealing, but shortcuts have a tendency to get you burned.

Truth be told, on my main account, I don’t have a lot of followers. I don’t have 10,000, or even 1,000. I have just over 500. But I take pride that I’ve never had to engage in any suspicious practices to create my twitter network. I take pride in the fact that many of the people who follow me filter me in and are truly listening. I take pride that I’ve never had to “auto-follow” to build those connections. And lastly, I take pride in the fact that when I create or write something worthwhile, those people will spread the word. Those 500 small connections has done much more for me than 50,000 mindless followers ever would. And that means a lot to me.