Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Twitter Bots Kill Reputation

Twitter is clearly a fascinating phenomenon. It allows for evolutionary human traits, idiosyncrasies, absurdities, etc. to be clearly and easily displayed in 140 characters or less.

In fact, it's much more than just those 140 characters that make up a Twitter persona. The other main qualities any Twitter user has are the number of people that user follows and the number of people that follow the user. The prior describes overall engagement; the latter signifies overall popularity.

Companies have grasped these concepts rather quickly and now strive to make their Twitter personas followed by thousands of adoring fans. But what many of these fair-minded companies have realized is that it's usually pretty difficult to quickly manufacture followers. So various Twitter-"marketing" companies have sprouted touting the ability to miraculously provide thousands of fans in only a few days - for a small fee of course.

As we all know, when something valuable comes for only a small fee then things are usually not as they appear. These thousands of new fans are often bots - fake Twitter personalities created for the sole purpose of boosting the follower equation, for making it seem, at first glance, that someone or something is very popular.

(Un)fortunately, these types of shenanigans are usually quite transparent. The bots are not very good about posting realistic pictures in their profiles or communicating in natural ways - i.e. they can be spotted from a mile away. This doesn't really hurt the "marketing" companies that provide these fake masses, but instead damages the reputation of those seemingly honest companies that have these strange supporters.

So today, when I realized that a company that I've been following for months and that I felt was quite honest had gained over 35,000 fans in a week, something smelled fishy. And when I dug a little deeper I found a lot of fish - in the form of a reputation-killing digital mob. How sad.
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