Followbots


Like everything else online, the bots have invaded Twitter. Most of the time these are harmless but there are some spammy ones out there too. There seem to be two kinds of spam on twitter: the spam accounts that follow you hoping you’ll follow back, and the spam accounts that mention you in a tweet along with a link to their web site. Luckily, Twitter has a very easy way of dealing with either one – you can simply block the account and report it as spam, all in one simple click. I have no idea what happens after that but I don’t really care; once I’ve done that on a spam account, I never see tweets from it again.

There are thousands of bots out there scanning the millions of public tweets that stream by every minute looking for keywords. Say you have a business selling spatulas. You have a twitter account for your business, where you announce sales and new products and have discussions about current issues in the spatula industry. You obviously want to get as many followers as you can, and one way to do that is to follow as many people as you can. But who to follow? You can follow your friends and tell them to mention you in tweets and hope to get some followers that way, but that’s generally slow. An easier and more effective way is to set up a bot.

You’d create a bot to look for the word “spatula” in any tweets, and automatically follow the account that tweeted it. Once you do, there are basically three possibilities: 1. They mindlessly follow everyone who follows them, and so they follow you back. 2. They are interested in spatulas and follow you back. 3. They are not interested in spatulas and just included the word “spatula” in a one-off tweet (and really, who hasn’t?), and do not follow you back. Oh well.  This is a fine idea, and seems to work well for many businesses. I’ve got lots of followers who are obviously doing this (including at least three in the past week), since they are very specific business-related accounts that have nothing to do what I generally tweet about, but are related to a particular word or phrase that I used. Here are some of the more fun ones:

  • pronunciation – I posted a link to an article I wrote on how to pronounce a bunch of lacrosse players’ names, and a couple of hours later, I’m being followed by “a simple resource for everything related to pronunciation”.
  • fire suppression – I mentioned that a former lacrosse player now works in the “fire suppression” industry. I was shortly followed by a company that makes fire suppression equipment.
  • motorcycle helmet – A friend rides a motorcycle and I happened to use the phrase “motorcycle helmet” in a tweet. I’m soon followed by a motorcycle helmet store in California. I don’t ride a bike myself, and live several thousand miles away, so they are unlikely to get any business from me.
  • wind power – this was a while ago so I don’t remember the details, but I mentioned something about wind power and was subsequently followed by a company that specialized in wind power solutions. They must have gotten bored with me since they don’t follow me anymore.
  • homeopathy – I tweeted something about homeopathy (the word “bullshit” was likely included), and was followed by a couple of homeopathic practitioners. I think they immediately realized their mistake and unfollowed. I’m pretty sure the same thing has happened with “chiropractor” and “acupuncture”.
  • iPad – mention iPad in a tweet, and people wanting to “give” you or sell you iPads will come flying out of the woodwork.
  • domain name – I asked a friend in the business about how to acquire a no-longer-used domain name and was followed by a company that sells cheap domain names.
  • crossover – This is the funniest one. The National Lacrosse League has a new rule called the “crossover” rule. With the new rule, four teams from the East division and four teams from the West division make the playoffs unless the fifth place team in the West has a better record than the fourth place team in the East (there are only four teams in the East). In that case, the fifth place Western team “crosses over” into the Eastern division for the playoffs, taking the place of the fourth place Eastern team. I mentioned the new crossover rule in a couple of tweets, and was followed within minutes by at least three car dealerships. Only one still follows me.
  • perl – I mentioned perl in a tweet a couple of years ago and was instantly followed by an account for a perl blog. Oddly, one of the writers on that blog is named Graeme.

Last week, I started an experiment. I tweeted that I love spatulas to see if I would get followed by @spatulacentral, Your ultimate source for spatula news and information! No such luck.

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