Why I’m Decimating My Twitter Account

Last year, my friend and co-author, Kyle Lacy, pissed off thousands of people when he blew up his entire Twitter account, unfollowed nearly everyone he was following, and then slowly started following back the essential people.

I never noticed.

My Twitter was so full of junk and noise that I never noticed that he re-followed me. (He did! I checked. Shut up.)

Kyle’s problem, he told me, was that he was following so many people — close to 60,000 — who weren’t saying anything useful, it was clogging up his Twitter feed. He also admitted — reluctantly — that he hadn’t properly used Twitter lists to keep track of different groups of people.

So his only option was the nuclear one.

Thousands of people unfollowed him, upset that he unfollowed them, and he’s only following 1,500+ people right now. But he’s got a better handle on his Twitter feed than he’s had since he joined in 2008. He had over 50,000 followers, and he’s now down to 36,000+.

I’ve been thinking about Kyle’s nuclear option lately, especially as I’ve been looking at my general Twitter feed each morning, and it’s filled with noise, chatter, and completely useless garbage.

It’s motivational quotes, reminders to download a new ebook, more motivational quotes, invitations to webinars, articles about how high achievers who are not me achieve greatness, a #hashtag #filled #tweet, the latest Mashable article, and more motivational quotes.

The signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter is terrible. It’s like trying to find a radio station in the middle of the desert. There’s a lot of static, but no music.

It’s gotten worse as Twitter changed its algorithm, expanding on their “While You Were Away” feature. They want you to see the tweets they think you will appreciate.

I don’t. These new tweets are all terrible. All of them. (Except for @VeryLonelyLuke. That guy’s hilarious.)

So how can I reduce the noise? How can I restore some semblance of usefulness to my general Twitter stream?

Checking under the hood: I think I see your problem

I plugged my Twitter account into ManageFlitter to see if I could figure out the problem.

The problem was a whole bunch of people with between 50,0000 – 1 million followers, evenly split between people who were following me and not following me. There were about 3,000 people out of the 14,000 people I was following.

I even hid verified accounts from the mix, so I wasn’t including celebrities or news organizations.

What I was left with were the self-published authors and social media “experts” who yo-yo follow others to artificially inflate their accounts.

Filthy rotten spammers” (FRS), as I like to call them.

FRSes will follow thousands of people, get a few thousand follow-backs, then unfollow everyone, and start all over. They do this to get past Twitter’s follower limit and grow their accounts by leaps and bounds.

You can easily spot an FRS: they have 50,000+ followers and have written a surprisingly small number of tweets.

This is how you can spot a Filthy Rotten Spammer on Twitter.

This is how you can spot a Filthy Rotten Spammer on Twitter.

The worst are the ones with more than 100,000 followers, and 150,000 tweets. These are the people who spend a few hours every day retweeting all the crap they find in their own Twitter feeds.

Seriously, some of these people send nearly 100 tweets in a day! When I checked their stream, it was retweet after retweet, with the occasional “You’re welcome!” sent to someone who thanked them for the RT. As if the FRS had done them a huge favor.

Pruning and trimming: Seeing some progress

With ManageFlitter’s help, I started unfollowing the people in the 50K-1M range who weren’t following me back.

I realized I had followed those people because they followed me first. I could tell, because as I moused over each name on ManageFlitter, their bio popped up, and I could see they weren’t someone I would normally reach out to first.

(Trust me, I don’t eagerly follow people offering yoga and vegetarian-eating tips unless we’re already friends.)

I unfollowed nearly 1200 people in an hour. I could have gone faster, but I did want to make sure I wasn’t unfollowing people I actually found interesting.

However, this wasn’t all the FRSes. I checked my Twitter feed again, and there was still a lot of crap in my stream. It was better, but not great.

I showed all the people who were following me, sorted by number of followers in descending order, and excluded all the verified accounts. This hid accounts for CNN, the New York Times, and Alyssa Milano er, I mean, Colts punter Pat McAfee. (Alyssa Milano loves baseball. Shut up.)

You can use these filters on ManageFlitter to hide people you may actually want to keep.

You can use these filters on ManageFlitter to hide people you may actually want to keep.

With this new list, I found another 500 or so people I could eliminate. Problem is, I hit ManageFlitter’s 1700-unfollowers-in-a-day limit, and have to wait for 24 hours to finish the job.

For $12/month, I get unlimited following, plus all kinds of other features, including creating white lists of high-value accounts, integrate and manage my Twitter lists, and various analytics capabilities. But I’m going finish this experiment first before I commit to it.

Initial results: Prognosis good

After my initial pruning, which took about 90 minutes, I could already see a difference in my Twitter stream. I rediscovered some old Twitter accounts that I hadn’t seen in months, including Doug Bursch, Cathy Day, and a few others.

While I’m not exploding my Twitter feed like Kyle did last year, I am going after large chunks of it and pruning off a lot of deadwood in the hopes that my network will yield a whole lot more signal than noise.

While Twitter will no longer be the conversational tool that it once was — thanks a lot, marketers and filthy rotten spammers! — it will at least be a whole lot more useful to me than it was just a few days ago.

How to Spot (and Block) Twitter Follow Spammers

Twitter is becoming a cesspool of uselessness, churning with marketers who think it’s free advertising, and people who post motivational quotes that couldn’t persuade someone with OCD to wash his hands. And I won’t even mention the people who promise to get you 5,000 “followers” for $29. (They’re the “floaters.”)

Now we’re being hit with wave after wave of Follower Junkies who artificially inflate their numbers without providing anything of value.

Follower Junkies will yo-yo follow people to boost their follower count into the tens of thousands, bumping up against Twitter’s policy of only allowing users to follow 1,000 people per day, but never going over the line. So they stay under Twitter’s radar and continue to spread their infestation.

Beating the Twitter Follower Limit

When someone new joins Twitter, they’re only allowed to follow 2,000 people. This is the Twitter Follower Limit. You can’t follow more than 2,000 people until a certain number of people are following you back. (You also can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day). Once you reach a magical unspecified ratio, you can follow more people. (Some people speculate that the ratio is roughly 10% more than your follower count. Once you get 2,000 followers, you can follow 2,200 people. 2,200 followers, you can follow 2,420 people. This is speculation, but that’s the principle behind the magical ratio.)

So a yo-yo follower will follow 2,000 people, wait for them to follow back, unfollow them, and then follow a new batch of people. The more followers they get, the more people they can yo-yo follow, and on and on and on, until they’ve got more followers than God, but their tweets are about as complex and substantial as a high school prom.

Suspicious Twitter follower count

Fewer than 800 tweets but almost 4,000 followers? I don’t think so. Also, check the followING count — if you’re not a celebrity, it shouldn’t be that unbalanced. This is someone in the midst of a yo-yo drop.

How to Spot a Twitter Follow Spammer

You can spot a yo-yo follower because they have fewer than 3,000 tweets, but 10,000 or more followers. Or they are following a mere fraction of their followers, but they’re not celebrities. Their following numbers look like the Matterhorn.

Here’s an example: Spammer #1 is following 76,800+ people, and has 88,700+ followers. Are they interesting? Most of their Twitter stream seems to be a steady drip of one-way communication, with the #leadership hashtag on Every. Single. Tweet. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)

To check the Twitter shenanigans, I used TwitterCounter.com’s graphing capability. You can examine as much as 3 months’ worth of data with a free account. This is from April 4 through June 18.

May 27, 2014 - Following 88,162 people

May 27, 2014 – Following 88,162 people

 

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

This is someone who is — technically — following Twitter’s rules. The slow climb after May 29 is still within the “you can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day” rule, but they dumped nearly 12,500 people on May 27 and 28 so they could slime their numbers up some more.

This wouldn’t be so bad — hell, I just dropped 4,000 followers over several days by clearing out people who hadn’t tweeted in 30 days or more — except this person is on a yo-yo upswing, which is why their follower count keeps rising.

Here’s another example: Spammer #2 is following 7,986 people and has 12,800+ followers, but has only written 3,852 tweets. They’re all one liners that first-time comedians would be embarrassed to use, with absolutely no interactions or retweets. Just constant one liners. I’ve had better conversations with my television.

May 16, 2014 - Following 6,996 people.

May 16, 2014 – Following 6,996 people.

 

May 21, 5 days later - Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

May 21, 5 days later – Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

Again, this stayed within Twitter’s rule of “following no more than 1,000 people per day,” but you can see the effect it had on this person’s follower numbers. As they followed more people, their follower numbers rocketed too.

What about their output? How much are they tweeting? Spammer #2 is averaging 3 or 4 tweets a day, but peaked out at a big ol’ 5 for two days in the middle of May; Spammer #1 has “written” 57,700+ tweets, averaging 47 tweets per day of #AutomatedLeadershipQuote after #AutomatedLeadershipQuote.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what they’re tweeting. I won’t even speak to whether their tweets are interesting or not (They’re not. So much Not Interesting in one place. I haven’t seen this much Not Interesting since high school algebra.) What matters is that while they’re following the letter of Twitter’s rule, they’re doing everything they can to work around it and look like they’re important and/or interesting.

Except they’re not. They’re frauds. They didn’t earn those numbers, they cheated. You can’t buy value, you can’t buy your reputation. But you can apparently click your way to a false sense of accomplishment.

The Solution? Drop the Spam Hammer

I vet every single person who follows me before I follow them back. I check out their Twitter profile, and if necessary, look at their Twitter feed. If someone has a too-high-to-be-real follower count, especially if their tweets number in the very low 4 figures (or fewer), I spam-block them. If they have a high follower count, but their tweets are inane, nothing but retweets, or a one-sided conversation with no responses to anyone, I spam-block them.

I do it without hesitation, without remorse, and without pity. And I giggle with schadenfreudic delight every time I do it. I even unblocked one guy just so I could hit the Report For Spam button again.

Twitter is not going to get any better. It’s going to become the AOL of short form communication one of these days. Already, networks like App.net are coming online, ready to fill in the gap after Rome Twitter collapses. But we can extend its lifespan and its usefulness by getting rid of these Follower Junkies who are cluttering up the network for the real users who want to actually benefit from it.

No Bullshit Social Media Interview with Peter Clayton of Total Picture Radio

I had the chance to be interviewed by Peter Clayton, producer/host of TotalPicture Radio, for his Online Strategy Channel podcast about No Bullshit Social Media. I met Peter, and spoke with him for several minutes at BlogWorld New York in June. It was at a party Pearson threw for its authors. So I was there, my No Bullshit Social Media co-author Jason Falls was there, as was our favorite editor, Katherine Bull, as were several other authors and potential authors.

I tell you, I felt like a real writer that night, boy. When people walk around handing you drinks and little deep-fried tacos while you talk about books in a New York bar, that’s when you truly feel like a writer.

(We also got to hear a young lady, one of the waitresses, sing opera that night. She was awesome.)

During our interview, Peter and I chatted about why businesses are afraid of using social media, why they need to consider social media marketing as one of their best options for it, and how companies need to rethink their attitudes toward not only social media, but how they need to change their entire mindset to be ready for the 21st century.

Peter was kind enough to share the mp3 of our interview, which you can listen to here. (Sorry, no opera.)

The No Bullshit Social Media conversation with Erik Deckers

One important issue Peter and I discussed is that if you trust your employees to answer your phones, give sales and marketing presentations, receive and count your money (and not steal it), and to pay the people who work for you, but you don’t trust your employees to use social media without being struck stupid and unproductive, then you don’t have an employee problem. You have a management problem.

We also talked about how we can monitor social media marketing efforts, and determine their ROI, even while marketers are still struggling with how to accurately measure the results from billboards, TV commercials, and newspaper ads.

Why I Don’t Like Pinterest

I don’t like Pinterest.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a cool site, and I like the community it’s building, and the sharing that’s going on. I also like the back end SEO that’s happening, and what it’s doing for web traffic.

But I just don’t like it.

I’m a words guy. You know, these things you’re reading right now. They give me context. I get meaning from words that I don’t get from pictures. They express ideas and educate me. Pictures can’t do that nearly as well as words. And Pinterest, as a collection of photos, doesn’t always give me the context and meaning that I need in order to understand why you thought that particular photo was important.

As I’ve said before, a word is worth a thousand pictures. A picture of a baby has a different context and meaning for me than it does for you. Pin a picture of a baby on your board, and there could be any number of reasons why you did it. It’s your child, it’s your niece or nephew, it’s you as a baby. Whatever. Right now, it’s a picture of a baby, and I have no idea why you think it’s interesting.

“But you can read the description and board title to figure out the context,” you’re saying.

That’s right, I can read the description and title — made up of words — to figure out the context. Without your words, that’s just a picture of a baby.

Why did you think this was interesting? Where did you see this? What’s the story behind it? Is that you when you were 14 months old? Is that your nephew about to dump a bowl of cereal on the floor?

You have 500 characters to explain this all to me, but most comments I read are usually “too funny,” “WANT!”, or “that’s a deal breaker, ladies!” so I have no idea what was so interesting about the chicken sleeping in the kayak converted into a hammock.

Basically, if you’re not putting words with your photos, I have no idea what’s so important about what you just pinned, so I don’t click it, follow it, look at it, or pay a lick of attention to it.

It would be nice if Pinterest could include the websites where the photos were pinned from, or let you highlight important text to include with your pin. It would be great if people would put more than one or two words describing the photo. It’s not that hard, is it? Answer the question, “I like this because it _________” and tell everyone why that particular item caught your eye.

(For the record, writing “grapes” under a picture of grapes is not helpful. I can see they’re grapes.)

Like I said, it’s not that I think Pinterest is a bad thing. It’s a cool site, and I use it occasionally to share pictures of stuff I want (making it the most expensive Christmas list manager ever created), interesting ideas I’ve found, or funny photos and captions that made me laugh.

But as someone who thinks in words more than pictures, I need Pinterest and its users to give me a little context about what I’m seeing. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of pictures of food, clothes, and last night’s Oscars fashion.

You Don’t Get Social Media ROI Yet? C’mon, Man!

I was feeling good about social media ROI, and how/whether people understand it. I figured, at least my people — marketers — get it. They understand how to measure social media, or at least the principles behind it.

Apparently not.

eMarketer dashed those hopes to the ground with their December 20, 2011 article When Will Social Media Measurement Mature?.

Marketers know that counting fans, “likes” and followers is not the best way to measure success in social media marketing. Yet these metrics are often the top benchmarks for performance. It’s not surprising, then, that marketers consider calculating return on investment to be the biggest challenge of using social media, and that a majority of them believe they cannot measure social media campaigns effectively.

How to Calculate Social Media ROI

Calculating the ROI of anything is easy. Subtract how much you spent from how much you made, and that’s your answer. If you spent $10,000 on a social media marketing campaign, and you made $50,000, your social media ROI is $40,000.

Simple, right?

$50,000 – $10,000 = $40,000.

So how do you know whether sales are coming from your social media efforts?

I’m not going to delve into the step-by-step process, but I’ll give you the tools and concepts you’re going to need to get started.

  1. Set up Google Analytics, and install the code on every page on your website. If you have a blog, it only needs to be part of the code. If it’s on a website with pre-built pages, it needs to be on every page.
  2. Set up a Bitly account. Bitly is a URL shortener that also lets you do some basic analytics on the number of people that have clicked your link.
  3. Create a Google Analytics tracking campaign for any and all major links you’re sending out. This is how you’re going to measure a particular blog post, tweet, Facebook status update, etc. If it’s just a basic link to the website, a campaign code is optional. But if it’s a blog post about a particular marketing campaign, set up the Google Analytics campaign.
  4. Put a hyperlinked call to action in your blog posts that take people directly to a sales page or order page. Make sure that the hyperlink is given a unique campaign code.

Here’s what will happen:

  • You’ll send out a link to a blog post via Twitter, Facebook, etc. Let’s say that 10,000 people see that link on your various accounts.
  • 1,000 people visit your page and read that blog post, all within a 6-hour span.
  • Of that 1,000 people, 100 people actually make a purchase with a total of $10,000 in sales.
  • Those 100 people also fill out their contact information, which gets placed into your CRM.

By looking at these numbers, you can determine a number of things.

  • 1,000 visitors out of 10,000 social media followers, fans, and friends means you have a 10% click-through rate.
  • 100 sales out of 1,000 visitors is a 10% close rate; out of a 10,000-person network, that’s a 1% close rate.
  • By looking at the entrance and exit paths of that particular 6-hour period, or particular day, you can see that a majority of people were moved enough by the blog post to go directly to the order page. Compare that to another blog post that only lead to 30 sales out of 1,000 visitors, and you know it wasn’t as effective in moving people to act.
  • You can then subtract the cost of that particular campaign from the amount of money you made to calculate the total ROI for the day/week/month.

Calculating social media ROI is not that difficult. It’s just a matter of having the right tools and knowing basic analytics and campaign creation. There are literally hundreds of articles and several books on each step I first described. It’s just a matter of reading, and then trying out what you’ve learned. With some trial and error, and constant measuring, you’ll soon learn what works and what you can stop doing.

Or you could just hire a social media professional to do it all for you.

Who Should Rule, Content or Marketing?

Over on his blog, Nashville writer Jeff Goins questions whether content is really king.

Well, actually, no he doesn’t. he said content is not king anymore. It’s a “fat, dethroned monarch, dis-empowered of his royal ability to influence.”

Janus, the two-faced Roman god, should represent content marketing.

Janus, the two-faced Roman god, should represent content marketing.

Marketing — or as Jeff calls it, “relationships” — are the true king. Without relationships, without marketing, it doesn’t matter how awesome your writing is.

I used to be terrible at this. I thought all I had to do was be a good writer. But I was wrong.

I was scared. And lazy. I didn’t want to have to actually meet people. I just wanted to write.

But that’s not how the world works. So why would I think for one minute the Web would work that way? Yes, even in real life, it’s not just what you know that matters, but also who you know.

And even in business, the best way to promote an idea, product, or service is relationship. We all know this, because in this day of media saturation, we don’t buy what the ads tell us to buy. We buy what our friends recommend.

If I have to give an edge to either of them, I still side with content. Because hidden content can accidentally be discovered one day. I might write a post that gets picked up by search engines, and I could start being found for that topic.

But I could optimize and promote the bejeezus out of something really awful, and a lot of people could see it, but what do you think would happen if everyone showed up and saw — and said — how awful it was?

Still, it’s not a question of whether content or marketing is king.

Content Marketing Rules

This does not have to be an either/or proposition. You shouldn’t have to choose one over the other. And no, this is not one of those “why can’t everyone just get along” cop-outs that I detest. This is like arguing about whether peanut butter or jelly is more important on a PBJ.

Content and marketing have a symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other. You can have great content, but if your marketing sucks, no one will see your stuff. And you can have great marketing, but if your writing sucks, no one will care.

There has to be a happy medium here. Or at the very least, we have to recognize that Content/Marketing is a two-faced king, like Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. You can’t have good marketing and lousy content, and you can’t have lousy marketing and good content. Without one, the other will die.

Content without good marketing is a private diary. Marketing without good content is spam.

I think once writers realize they need to market, we’ll see a bigger explosion in books and ebooks. And once marketers realize that content is not some throwaway afterthought, they’ll start seeing an explosion in sales and profits.

And if you want to learn how to do both, you can buy Branding Yourself or No Bullshit Social Media to see how.

(See what I did there?)

Photo credit: mscolly (Flickr)

Awesomize.me is Still The Awesome

I just got a very nice comment from Tatiana Sorabi from Awesomize.me very politely pointing out that I can be a big whiner at times. After my last post, Should I Cover Up the Name of No Bullshit Social Media?, Tatiana responded a couple days later with this very nice comment.no bullshit social media link cover-purchase on amazon

Erik, We are working on the issue. You jumped on this too quick. Your inquiry was forwarded to me last week. This was the first incident for us. We are still in startup phase and lacking resources.

To avoid ending up another myspace, we have put in place a strong policing system to keep the spammers and offenders away. We fully realize you are neither spammer nor offender. We are trying to come up with a solution how to separate your case with others. Once, the solution is in place, I send you a note.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to create a page for your company and book on our site. You can use the “Add Product” Template for your book.

So, I rescind my complaint, and will add my product for my book. AND I’ll rename my book to No Bullsh*t so they have plenty of time to work on their solution.