This afternoon I was intrigued by an odd tweet containing my Twitter handle (@sandrafathi). The tweet was about Sears CampusReady now available on Facebook. And I wondered why my name was included. I clicked on the sender and discovered that the past 600 some odd tweets used the same message and included random names on the end in an effort to get folks to notice, and maybe retweet (resend) the message to their followers. Ah, hey, that’s spam! That’s breaking of the Twitter unwritten user code. Tweeple don’t like that. I was mad – that Sears, or Sears’s hired reps, are trying to trick me into paying attention to them and duping me into thinking this message was meant for me.
So then I ran a search for Sears CampusReady and found at least three other Twitter handles using the same spammy tactics on behalf of Sears. That really irked me. It’s hard to believe that a reputable, well-established brand could make such a stupid mistake. It’s tainted my opinion of the company, and I am sure some others will feel the same way. Where is the marketing leadership? What’s the PR team saying? Who is advising them on social media to advocate using the medium to trick people into clicking on their site? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but what I do know is that too many companies are getting bad advice or no advice when it comes to social media. So here are a few quick rules about ‘what not to do on Twitter’ if you don’t want to piss off your potential customers:
1. Hashtag Hijacking - Many people view trending topics on Twitter as an opportunity to use a megaphone to interrupt a conversation. So, when they see that lots of folks are talking about #U2 for instance, they write their own tweet, like “Buy this amazing pooper scooper #U2″ so that everyone following the hashtag will notice. Now, if you are at a cocktail party chatting with friends about the game last night and someone walked into the room and yelled ‘buy this pooper scooper!’ you might look up momentarily and notice, but you’d think the person was a real jerk and certainly not look at his product.
2. False Mentions - This is the tactic that I mentioned above. If I include someone’s username in my tweet to get their attention, it will show up in their ‘mentions’ and get their attention. This is like an “Ah! Made you look!” approach to marketing. Don’t try to trick people into thinking the tweet is about them, or some other subject they care about, and shove an unrelated message into their inbox.
3. Misleading Links – Don’t set people up to click on a link, view a picture, or watch a video by giving them a false lead. It’s annoying enough for the people that write “Check this, it’s AMAZING!” and insert a link and you have no idea what you are going to get – but more annoying is when you think you are going to see a picture of a sleeping kitten and it turns out to be another type of kitty.
4. Mass Follow – This tactic is usually used by folks that want to get a lot of followers in the hopes that most Twitter users will auto-follow almost anyone that follows them. And, many people do have their Twitter accounts set to auto-follow. But, since I can see everyone who follows you and you can see everyone who follows me, it doesn’t bode well for a brand to follow or be followed by a person advocating illegal activity. You should monitor who you follow and who follows you. It’s about quality not quantity. (And oh, Sears, since I’ve been out of college for about 20 years, I’m not your target audience.)
5. Falsifying Tweets - Now there are quite a few folks who have ‘ghost twitterers’ and I find it perfectly acceptable if there is full disclosure. I mean, how can Britney tweet when she’s on stage or getting her nails done, so if her manager needs to step in, so be it. But, we all know that. However, if you are a company spokesperson, executive or PR rep, don’t have someone else tweet in your name. I want to believe that I’m having a conversation with a real person, not a scripted, edited, speech writer version of you. It’s okay to get help getting started, but if you want to really build a following and credibility on Twitter, we want the real you.
6. Twitterns - So many people have said to me ‘we have to find an intern or someone under 20 to tweet for us’. Are you nuts? Just because someone knows how to pick up the phone doesn’t mean they should speak on behalf of your CEO. Knowing how to use a tool doesn’t mean that the person has good judgement, understands your company messages, can provide strategic counsel and will represent you well to the public. Make sure that whoever is sitting in the driver’s seat of your Twitter presence has had extensive training on your company as well as the tool – and that you feel confident in their ability to speak to your customers, competitors, prospects, members of the media and everyone else that they are going to meet in Twitterville.
If you have any tips/dos/don’ts that you’d like to share, please add them in the comments. And Twitterers, be careful out there. Let’s not let the few bad tweets spoil the bunch.
Update 8/14/09 1:11pm ET:
I spoke with Erin McDaniel, Community, Engagement Manager at Sears Holdings Corporation. She was very forthcoming about Sears’ social media practices and explained that Sears did not condone these practices. According to Erin, Sears uses a company called Social Spark and participates in ‘pay per post’ programs for bloggers who disclose that they are posting sponsored material.[Note: I did not speak/verify with Social Spark] In fact, the Sears CampusReady program is currently featured on the Social Spark front page. Erin says that Sears does not pay per click for posts/Tweets and some folks that may or may not have been part of the Social Spark network may have assumed that they would receive compensation on a pay-per-click basis for sending traffic to the Sears CampusReady Facebook Page. She assured me that this behavior was not sanctioned by Sears and they have contacted any parties to attempt to stop it. (You can see Erin’s direct comment posted below.)
This incident illustrates how easily a brand can by hijacked online and how important it is to be monitoring and participating in order to react quickly and prevent a crisis. However, it also brings up the controversy around pay-per-posts that many bloggers are still debating.