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Avoiding the curse of the Twitter wanker

Written by David Harry   
Wednesday, 22 July 2009 08:18

A tale of two Twits

(the following is a guest post from James Duthie)

As an online marketer who enjoys dabbling in social media, last week was definitely not a good one in the land down under (Australia). In an industry that is still trying to establish itself as legitimate and credible (much like SEO had to), a scandal involving media celebrities, fake Twitter accounts and public slander was never going to be good for the collective reputation.

And as entertaining as the story is, it serves as a sobering reminder of the challenge many social media marketers face in shifting traditional marketing attitudes that have existed for decades. But let’s start with the story first…


Attack of the Twankers

It revolves around two of Australia’s highest profile media celebrities – Kyle Sandilands & Jackie O. The pair are long time radio personalities, hosting one of Australia’s most popular radio segments. In the last few years they have also made the transition across to television, hosting a series of Big Brother together, and Kyle also served as a judge on Australian Idol for a number of years. More recently, they’ve made the foray into social media channels such as Twitter, where you can find them at @kyleandjackieo.

Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O


As mainstream media personalities, it was no surprise to see them amass a sizable audience. But suspicion arose recently at the speed of their growth as they passed over a quarter of a million followers. To put that in context, our national leader (@KevinRuddPM) has just 187,000 followers at the time of writing. Delta Goodrem, a popular local musician, has just over 20,000 followers (surely people would be more likely to follow a musician than the DJ’s who play them…). Heck… Hugh Jackman only has a little over 400,000 followers and the whole world is in love with him. So how on earth did Kyle & Jackie O manage to amass such a following without a global fan base…?

The question piqued the interest of a local industry punter named Leon Hill. And he smelt a rat. Indeed, it wasn’t long before labels such as ‘Twitter wankers’ were being thrown around for apparent fan fraud. And looking at the pure facts, it’s hard to discredit the claim, despite the subsequent protestations of Kyle & Jackie O:

  • Most of their new fans are faceless & nameless entities
  • Most are brand new to Twitter and have no updates
  • Curiously… most of the new faceless followers have precisely 20 friends
  • The fan growth rate is astonishing. Sit on their profile page for one minute and then refresh it. You’re likely to see a bunch of new faceless followers. Within 24 hours I witnessed an increase of over 5,000 followers.


You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes my friends

From my perspective the clues look mighty suspicious. It certainly smells like a bot. The only question is whether the origin of the bot is from within Kyle & Jackie O’s publicity machine. Leon Hill certainly thought so, branding them as Twitter wankers as a result. Which might seem like fair game, until a little research was done into Leon’s own background.

Leon is the chief executive of uSocial, a start up that sells social media marketing services. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, plenty of legitimate marketers play in the social realm. But it’s the specific tactics that Hill employs that placed questions over his own credibility. Firstly, there’s the fact that he openly gloats about gaming Digg via sock puppet accounts and more disturbingly, Hill recently added a service in which clients can ‘buy Twitter followers’. Yes… buy followers! From the page:

“The more followers you have, the more money you will inevitably make marketing your products and services to them… While all followers won't be responsive customers, many will -- with our own accounts we find that each follower we have is worth about $0.10 to us every month

Don't be a Twitter spammer

Hill provides a recommendation based service, looking to match clients with Tweeters who may be interested in their product/service/industry. Again, there’s nothing particularly shady about that tactic in itself. Indeed, many organisations already employ it internally. Rather, it’s the view that Twitter followers are a commodity waiting to be monetized that sucks. Makes the claim of Twitter wankers seem a little hypocritical no…?


A deepening image problem

Of course, in the short-term this type of story creates a great discredit to the emerging social media marketing industry. Headlines touting fake and paid followers hardly inspire confidence from corporate clients. However, looking beyond the immediate credibility crisis, there are longer term issues to consider. In particular, the challenge of shifting marketing mindsets that have been ingrained since the emergence of mass media is immense.

Most marketers approach social media with a mass marketing mentality, which isn’t surprising given it’s all they’ve known. There’s no question Kyle & Jackie O did. But the question is why? Where’s the commercial benefit? In radio, audience size equals advertising dollars. But that simply ain’t the case in Twitter. I’d like to think it’s about connecting with their audience to build loyalty and advocacy. But the fact is they talk at their audience rather than with them. So it’s hard to believe that the motivation is anything other than ego…

And then there’s the Leon Hill approach, which is closer to the attitude most corporate marketers bring to the table. It’s the belief that social media is a broadcast channel waiting to be exploited. I’ve made my feelings of direct Twitter monetisation public in the past, so I won’t continue with that rant now. But the fact is that for most businesses a direct response approach isn’t the best use of the medium. It works for Dell because their tech savvy audience also happens to be heavy Twitter adopters.

Furthermore, they also sell a product that is extremely important to their audience’s lifestyle. Most businesses fail to meet either of these criteria. So trying to replicate Dell’s direct response formula is prone to failure.

Best uses of Twitter

At the end of the day, there are a plethora of Twitter techniques that can derive a commercial benefit (most of which translate to other social tools). However, many of them relate to longer term business goals such as customer engagement and retention, rather than immediate sales. Jeff Quipp wrote a fantastic list outlining 33 ways Twitter can be used (from both a business and personal context).

The great challenge now for the social media marketing industry is to expand the traditional mindset of the modern marketer to move past the initial sale to consider longer term objectives.

James Duthie

About the author; James Duthie is a long time friend of the FireHorse who works and a web strategist with Next Digital. If you’d like to get more be sure to follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his internet marketing blog (Online Marketing Banter).

I’d like to thank James for once more taking the time and riding along with us!!


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