Tracking trends and setting traps on Twitter
Beware tweeters: Spammers are following you.
The social networking site is also a haven for sneaky marketers, frustrating a number of its most dedicated — and legitimate — users.
“Twitter has a lot of amazing tools to help us market ourselves, but when the tools are abused, it hurts people,” said Joseph Gelb, a tweaked tweeter. “I’m just so tired of the spam and it’s got to stop here.”
There are a number of ways scammers prowl the site. One of the more common methods is by posting messages with hashtags — keywords — that match the most popular searches, known as trending topics. For instance, if the most popular search term was “Kanye West,” then a spammer could post a message using the hip-hop star’s name as the tag. People then stumble on the spam link while looking for what people are saying about Kanye.
The Federal Trade Commission is keeping watch for shady marketing on Twitter, but it doesn’t have any plans to regulate practices on the site, according to Rich Cleland, an FTC spokesman. Changing technology always poses a challenge for regulators, and the agency is currently drafting rules to fight deceptive product endorsements on blogs. Spam on Twitter is another story, Cleland said.
“Not posting anything other than a link, I don’t know if that would be a problem,” Cleland said. “At the current time, I don’t think that’s among things that are deceptive.”
It seems the number of ways to game Twitter are endless, however, and Sarah Perez fell prey to another common practice. Perez, a writer for the Web log ReadWriteWeb, made the mistake of using an auto-following application on Twitter, which meant that whenever a spammer began to follow her, she also followed them. That opened the door for incoming messages from the spammers.
“Once I realized what I had done, I had to spend days cleaning up the mess,” said Perez.Hashtag abuse
Even legitimate companies have sought ways to manipulate Twitter. Moonfruit, a U.K.-based Web site development firm, challenged tweeters to include “#moonfruit” in hashtags for a chance to win a MacBook. That way Moonfruit would show up on the top trending topics. Some considered the ploy innovative marketing, but Twitter was not amused and removed Moonfruit from the topics list.