Victim of Success

I’ve never been a big fan of that phrase, because in nearly every case where it is used the pluses outweigh the minuses. But often success means growth, growth means popularity, and popularity means uqibquity; and that something special isn’t so special when everyone is doing it.

This rant is about Twitter. I don’t talk much about Social Media stuff here unless there is a lesson to be gleaned outside the bleeding edge. For those of you who don’t know about Twitter, it is a microblogging service that is becoming increasingly popular for its ease of use, its ability to work on multiple platforms, and its flexibility. You create an account, and you can choose whose updates to follow. You can track their updates on the web, in a special program, through instant messenger, or as a text message. You can send direct messages that will reach your “friends” in whichever manner is convenient for them at that particular moment.

I like Twitter for a number of reasons. I track some pretty smart people, and it’s useful for hearing what they’re talking about. I can ask questions of my “hive-mind”, and usually get a number of insightful answers within moments. I track PR and marketing professionals, web developers, Red Cross friends, and Birmingham area locals. I monitor the timeline for keywords, and have found instances of real people reporting “breaking news” on Twitter, long before the cable news networks ever acknowledge a thing. I’ve been a big fan of the service, and have used it to connect with many neat and interesting people (some of whom are going out of their way to help a friendly stranger in his job search!) I also helped develop strategies the American Red Cross will soon employ, using Twitter to connect with evacuees during the next big event.

The Alltop Effect

Apparently, I’ve done so well connecting with others, I made a list. Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop site has a list of Top Twitterers, and I made it somehow. It’s not based on volume or popularity — someone just liked my content there to include me among the sixty or so names in the aggregator. I am truly honored.

Since being on the Alltop Twitter list, I have been getting anywhere from 6-12 new followers every day. These are people who haven’t engaged with me anywhere else, and they didn’t find me by following conversations I’ve had with others. These are relatively new users, who have just signed up and apparently start by adding everyone from the Alltop list. I make it a habit of checking the profiles and websites of those who follow me just to get a sense of who they are and what they’re about.

In the last week or two, the “new follows” have taken a decidedly darker turn.

I’m getting Twitter Spam from people who are creating profiles just for the attention. They have nothing to say (and in more than a few cases haven’t posted a single update.) They know that the moment they “follow” me, I’ll get a notification email and at the very least will check them out. But hey, I’m still somewhat conscientious about this. There are many Twitter users who are either so desperate to be followed that they automatically follow back, or they have rigged their account to automatically follow back.

A Changing Dynamic

Twitter changes with you over time. The more you use it, the more value you find in different strategies for using it. As your Twitterverse gets larger, some of those strategies and techniques don’t scale, and you have to use the tool in different ways. This is nothing new to the PR and Marketing types with whom I regularly correspond. They’ve been seeking clever ways to use Twitter within their campaigns. Jason Falls did a great job with his work for the Robby Gordon team. Dell Computers has several customerservice people on Twitter who find complaints and address them before the hapless (and soon-to-be-happy) customer knows what hit him. These successes are dependent upon understanding the culture of Twitter and of the many many ecosystems within it.

I firmly believe these successes are fueling the TwitterSpam artists. They know the culture is trusting, and they know they can follow 3,000 people and get 700 to follow back. They know they can pump out links and advertisements – and to be honest, I’m even getting concerned about the safety of some of the sites they have in their profiles. There are documented cases of websites that launch malicious code through your browser. I’m thinking twice about even checking the sites listed on Twitter profiles, because the Culture of Trust is too big a target for hackers, and the cost is zero.

Some of the diehard Twitter purists have been advocating an attitude of “you-follow-me-I-follow-you.” They like to see users whose follow/followed ratio approaches 1. Others have made the argument that you should follow as many people as you can, and expand your universe to as many opinions as possible. I think that’s just outright silly, and it doesn’t scale for me. I still want to be able to see what people I am truly connected with are doing, and I can’t with so much noise in my follow-stream.

Bittertweet Lessons

This article isn’t about Twitter, though. It’s about how success has a dark side. Twitter doesn’t have a business model and as far as I know isn’t actively courting a buyer. What it does have is enough of a dedicated user base and a powerful platform that spammers can’t ignore it. It’s like making enough money that you can finally afford your first brand new car — one so nice you now have to get an alarm for it.

I don’t just blame Twitter, nor the people who are seeking to game the system. I’m partly to blame. I invested enough time and attention on those in the community that my name made a list. I should expect to be targeted – and that’s the price that goes along with all that good. All the people I have met and connected with, and all of the wonderful ways we’ll end up helping each other down the road. (Rob, Mack, Jason, CK, Daniel, Shannon, Shashi, Mike, Connie, and the many many others who I’ve had the privilege to speak with.) SxDS wouldn’t be anything without Twitter.

Now, while trying to figure out how to wrap up this article, the following e-mail arrived:

Hi, Ike Pigott.

googlecashreviews (googlecashrevie) is now following your updates on Twitter.

Check out googlecashreviews’s profile here:

You may follow googlecashreviews as well by clicking on the “follow” button.

Life generates irony far more twisted than the brain of a fiction writer.

[tags]Ike Pigott, Occam’s RazR, Twitter, Spam, microblogging, social media[/tags]

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  1. Good thoughts. I think that the sort of spammy behavior you describe (it’s been hitting my inbox in bunches, too) *should* lead people away from the nonsense that you (1) must follow everyone who follows you or (2) must follow as many people as you can.

    It’s a communication medium. We use it for our own purposes. To expect it to work only as we conceive it is misguided. I *wish* that the spammers would leave us good Twitterfolk alone, but I know it’s unrealistic to expect that they will.

    Tweet you later. 😉

  2. Ike, it’s been great getting to know you and many others. Twitter is currently my primary networking tool. I love that other tools exist to help monitor conversations.

    My current follow policy is to follow anyone within my local network and potentially anyone else who sends me an ‘@’ reply. It works for me so far.

    As always, your use of social media may vary, and that’s okay

  3. Hi Ike,

    I believe Twitter had to acquire a certain critical mass before observant posts like yours would clock any sort of muster. From today’s perspective, the post carries a big stick. But, say, six months ago? Would it’ve?

    Imagine you’d written something like this half a year ago — it wouldn’t have registered on the radar screens of most Twitteratti. The experience of using and working with Twitter had to go through several iterations and we all had to iron out our collective tweeting kinks before we knew that it would eventually be colonized by those with ill-er rupute (egs. spammers, sexologists, and other assorted wankers).

    I, for one, still sit happily on the bright side of the Twitter fence.

    I’ve met **so many** great people whom I otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to. I can’t tell you how this has benefitted…in fact, I’ll be having some face-to-face meetings with several as a result of this, which has been just fantastic. (Maybe we Europeans are a little more trusting of internpersonal relationships in this respect?).

    Living here in the middle of Europe, sometimes breathing in the coal-dust inflected air of my former Bloc country, I’d have to say this is a massive boon.

    Otherwise a country like the Czech Republic would be tremendously isolated, and that’s indeed counterproductive for any nation, especially one claiming to be a member of the Free World and the EU, more specifically.

    To be sure, I’m still firmly in the tweeting camp — like anything else (and which Tim Ferriss so masterfully talks about), you’ve got to learn how to prioritize and parcel out the chaff of your day (Ike’s blog is the complete opposite of that).

    Lookit, I don’t read all the tweets in my window — though I reply to all replies! Sometimes you snag a nugget or a big fish, sometimes not.

    Luck of the draw, but at least Twitter keeps you in the game.

    Thanks for another spot-on insight, Ike. You do this kind of “do” so drippingly well.

    –Your bud ADM in Prague

  4. Thanks Adam…

    I believe if you look back, there were people a year ago writing and worrying about when Twitter would fall from grace, when the Spammers booted it out of Eden. The question was going to be when, and how.

    The more important lesson to be gleaned though is the “why”. What was the moment of critical mass that made Twitter a sudden spam target? Was there a hacker-strategy meeting where it came up? Was it an article about increasing Twitter use? Was there a tutorial that outlined the steps necessary to game the system? Was there suddenly a large enough user-base to make the ROI too tempting to ignore?

    I don’t know. And I fear that too many of the analysts and early-adopters are too quick to jump on to the next thing once Eden is lost. They run to the next garden, and never do the autopsy on the previous location.

    (ASIDE: While in mid-comment, “buyvitamins” is now following me on Twitter.)

    It would be useful to do a comparative longitudinal study to see if there are any common threads to the hijacking of social networks. Let’s see what is part of the natural life-cycle, and separate them from the “asteroids”, the freakish impacts that no one could control nor foresee.

    I’m glad you’re seeing value in the tool, even as your use has evolved. Pre-Twitter, I did the same as a frequent commenter on other people’s sites. I count many in this space as good friends, many I have met in person. (and that’s one-on-one in person, not in the sense of a conference or Tweetup.) I’ve shared ideas, learned a lot, and gained experience by lending a hand on projects. I’ve gotten great referrals. I hope Twitter ends up doing the same for you.

  5. Great essay. I too have noticed an upswing in Twitter activity in the last 90 days (and this is a good thing). Fortunately, I have not experienced the TwitterSpam that you describe. Twitter has become a great tool to stay connected with a group of people across the country with similar interests. Have you followed anything that @twittermethis is doing? Testing out some marketing models?


  1. susancellura says:

    @ikepigott – great post Ike!! I’ve wondered where followers were coming from myself –