What Constitutes Tweet Spam?


Asking lots of questions this week, and hearing some interesting thoughts–today let’s talk about spam on Twitter. What constitutes tweet spam in your eyes, and what’s simply good old marketing? This issue has been on my mind for a while, ever since Dave Fleet’s post on Guy Kawasaki and ghost-tweeting (my issue being “should someone who constantly self-links via tweets really be calling out someone else on ethics using the same tool?”).

I’m especially interested to hear what you think about:

  1. Self-linking to your own blog posts
  2. Automated tweets

Here are some of my thoughts:


Links are a beautiful thing, aren’t they? But only if they’re deserved. I can’t take any issue with basic link-backs (interlinking related articles on your blog, linking your company site to your blog, links in a press release or article credit, etc.). That’s just natural, and those kinds of links add real value to the reader.

What I don’t like are spammy links like those I often see on Twitter – where someone feels a need to link in a tweet to every single blog post they publish. Look, if people really give that much of a damn about your blog, they’ll subscribe to your feed. They don’t need what really amounts to a manual feed coming through Twitter as well. It’s obnoxious. It’s like screaming “Look at me! Look at me! I said something new and I’m so uber important I just knew you couldn’t wait another minute for it!” Yuck.

I only follow a few folks who do this. Unfortunately they’re people I otherwise respect who should frankly know better (plenty I have no respect for at all do it as well–I just make it a point not to follow them). It’s gotten to the point where a few of these people post more link spam garbage than truly valuable tweets.

I thought the supposed beauty of Twitter was the ability to hold immediate multi-party conversations in a forcibly concise way. Linking to your own posts isn’t about conversation–not on Twitter at least. The bulk of blog conversations happen directly on the blog. To me that means those links (when self-serving) are little more than traffic-generation tools without any real thought behind them. That makes them spam in my book (on par with press releases put out solely for backlinks, which is disgustingly common).

Released an interesting report of value to more than just your regular blog readers? Cool. Tweet it. Real news about that site or blog? OK. Tweet that too. But linking just to link gets pretty pathetic pretty quickly. What do you think about constant self-linking via Twitter?

Automated Tweets

For the most part, my thoughts on automated tweets are simply SPAM! I don’t follow people using them. That said, I’m open to the thought that there might be limited non-spam uses of tweet automation (such as a Web hosting provider offering automated server status updates to customers or someone subscribing to automated weather updates especially during severe storm warnings and such).

Spam is all about solicitation. When I follow someone, I’m soliciting their thoughts–not constant links to their own content that I can easily follow elsewhere, and not posts from a bot of any kind (unless I knowingly subscribe for automated updates). Anything else, to me, is spam. The beauty is that you can always (well usually) unfollow someone. But just as an unsubscribe link in an email isn’t necessarily enough to say it’s not spam, is an unfollow button on Twitter? I’ll leave it to your thoughts….

For Further Enlightenment


  • Dave Fleet says:

    I always enjoy thought-provoking posts like this. This topic is still on my to-blog list since that conversation we had, too.

    I would, however, argue that “constantly self-links” is more than a little disingenuous. Given the volume of direct, personal conversations that I have on Twitter, one manual (not automated) tweet a day pointing people to a new post is hardly “constant.”

    That distinction aside, I think this is an interesting discussion. I’m curious to see what people think as, frankly, I’m happy to change that practice if people don’t like it.

  • Thanks for your thoughts Dave. I would consider regular self-linking to be “constant” if it’s something done often enough to become expected by those reading. The amount of extra tweets means little in my opinion – that would be like saying someone with two posts a day is spamming if one each day is a link to their blog, but if they yapped more then it would be alright. Plenty of email spammers send legitimate emails as well – doesn’t make them less of a spammer. To each his (or her) own.

    Feel free to leave a link here if and when you do share your thoughts on the topic on your blog – I’m always happy to see links that do add to a conversation.

  • Bill Sledzik says:

    Not sure we’re on the same page on this one, Jenn. But I see your point. It’s hardly a humble gesture to promote one’s blog via tweets. But the connection just may bring value to both parties, and it only takes 1.5 seconds to read it.

    I do tweet my posts, and I try to make it clear in those posts that I’m directing folks back to the blog. (OK, sometimes I surprise them!) Yeah, they could subscribe if they really cared, but if my readers are anything like me, that won’t get them to the blog. I check my feeder — if I’m lucky — once a week. Twitter is chirping away all day long. It’s immediate.

    For what it’s worth, my blog traffic is up 40-50% since I rejoined Twitter last October. I know traffic is only one measure of value, but it’s one we all understand — including my bosses, who see real value in my staying in the space.

    But as I said, you make a great point. If my Twitter posts and conversations are meaningful, interesting or witty, people will check out my site without the blatant self-linking. Food for thought — and one of the reasons I’m glad you’re back in the game.

  • Yep – you’re one of those “people I respect, but who should know better” types mentioned in the post. 😉 It’s also why I tend to skim a lot of your updates, and don’t click any of your links. Not to be mean, just pointing out the fact that what’s good for traffic isn’t necessarily (or perhaps often) “good PR.”

    I’m not arguing with the ability of those links to drive traffic. In fact, that’s why the IM spammers are waking up to Twitter with selling links in tweets, twitter follow exchanges (to up follower counts solely so they’ll be attractive to link buyers so they can spam what legitimate followers they do have), and various other tactics (the “perk” of being heavily active in the webmaster world is that I get to watch this lifecycle over and over again – find new spammable tool, spam the hell out of it, get the tool in hot water with Google, lose interest, move onto next big thing). What I find sad is that even the traditionally legitimate users are turning into spammers on Twitter.

    For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, couldn’t I take your logic of it being OK because it’s immediate and increases traffic (just what the super-spammers love about it btw 😉 ) and apply the same thing to email spam?

    Couldn’t I then say it’s okay to spam with mass emails because there will be a traffic boost and conversions even if it pisses some people off? And couldn’t the same also be said for press release spam? (Who cares if much isn’t targeted, as long as they get some links and traffic from a few conversions?) I mean, email is cheap and convenient, just as Twitter is immediate. Where’s the difference? Just something else to consider I guess.

  • Bill Sledzik says:

    All good questions, Jenn — questions I never considered. But I gotta tell you, I like it when bloggers I follow promote their posts on Twitter, because I otherwise might never read them. Tweets are what prompt me to visit those blogs. I’m not a feeder guy.

    That said, I’m with Dave Fleet: Were I to learn the self-linking is pissing people off, I wouldn’t do it. That’s counter productive to the conversation.

    With me, it’s not an ego thing so much as wanting to share ideas that can’t be discussed in a meaningful way in 140c. (That’s about every topic I can think of, btw.) Tweeting the post brings people to the discussion who might not otherwise stop in. If there’s a Twitter etiquette rule on this, I’ve not seen it.

    The standard defense of self-promotion on Twitter, and a tenable one, is this: Think of it as permission-based marketing, since all who receive the tweets have “signed on” to receive them. To me, that makes it very different from email spam or anything automated, since the receiver need only click “unfollow.” I did this with Guy Kawasaki when every other tweet too you to AllTop.

    So we’re still not on the same page on this one, but it has me rethinking my position.

  • We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one Bill, b/c I still don’t buy it. Like I mentioned in the post itself, I don’t think it’s fair to say that if someone followed you (as a person), they’ve automatically “signed on” to receive marketing messages. Like I said above, “When I follow someone, I’m soliciting their thoughts–not constant links to their own content that I can easily follow elsewhere.” And when Twitter is so heavily tied to the individual, I think that’s a fair assumption from a prospective follower (although perhaps a different story if you’re specifically and knowingly following a brand).

    If people are too lazy to subscribe to a blog, they aren’t that interested in keeping on top of it (I’m not a big RSS person either – a blogger has to be damned good to make me want to see those posts regularly – they should have to earn that with their posting; not get around it by spamming other services).

    Same with the emails – being able to unsubscribe isn’t enough to make it not (legally in that case) spam. Not even close to a good enough excuse to me. There are other ways to build traffic. If what you’re saying there can’t be said in 140 characters, it probably doesn’t belong on Twitter.

  • Judy Gombita says:

    I’m in the “it depends” group on this. Generally I don’t tweet/link to my new posts, BUT, I do link to new posts of my co-bloggers (including their personal blog, where applicable…usually Heather Yaxley’s). I’ll also point to new posts on other blogs I quite like (including yours, Naked PR missy) AND I’ll sometimes point to an old post I did, if the topic comes up again. (Like whether PR is a “profession.” Or top female communicators.)

    I’m definitely marketing (or plugging) those posts. Just usually not my own new posts. So, am I behind serious twitter spam?

    BTW, a guest post goes up on PR Conversations TOMORROW (under my account), from David Taylor of the Victoria Privacy Commission, Australia. It’s in honour of the upcoming Privacy Awareness Week. Yep, I’ll be tweeting that fact. 🙂

  • I think you give two specific examples where linking certainly isn’t spam in my eyes (I never said all linking in Twitter was spam – just self-gratuitous links every time a blogger posts something to their blog). 😉

    I take no issue with people linking to OTHER sites if they truly find them useful or interesting and worth sharing with the type of audience they’re connecting with on Twitter (in fact, there are one or two folks I follow specifically because they link to things I find interesting elsewhere). But that’s a part of the issue – if your content is worth linking to, others will. You shouldn’t have to put it out there yourself every time you post to a blog.

    As for linking regularly to co-bloggers, that’s more a gray area with me. It would be a question of whether it’s done obsessively solely to promote the blog, or if those conversations are timely and relevant to other things you’re talking about anyway I suppose.

    I don’t think I’d even take issue with someone I follow linking to one of their old posts if, like you mentioned, that topic came up again. That makes more sense than yapping about the same topic repeatedly, especially with those things that keep coming up (like issues with “influence” lists in the industry or whether PR is just a subset of marketing or not).

    But linking just to link, and linking regularly to your own posts… well, there’s just no real justification for it in my book. (And it’s something two of my favorite bloggers actually do, which drives me up a wall and constantly makes me consider unfollowing.)

  • I suppose one person’s spam is another’s useful link. I haven’t really got into Twitter, but surely a lot of people who pick up Tweet links have found them via a search rather than necessarily being Followers and that seems to me to be relevant if they find the link useful.

    I generally think that a Tweet should say something within the 140 character constraints not just have a link, but I’m not sure there’s anything wrong in including a tr.im link at the end if someone wants to read more. As Bill says, some topics need more reflection and why not direct someone who is interested to this.

    Can we really say there are only certain “allowed” uses of Twitter which is just a medium. All other forms of communication (personal, telephone, email, post, websites, etc etc) have a multitude of uses. Some of these are annoying or negative and will constitute spam.

    You like Twitter for conversations, others use it for news updates, searching topics, or following links.

    What annoys me most though are those people who ignore the attempts of others who do want to converse with them and just transmit. That seems very rude – but much the same as those bloggers who don’t allow comments or never engage back with their readers.

    But I suppose the term in Twitter is Follower which implies a one-sided arrangement from the start.

  • Thanks Heather. I certainly didn’t expect everyone to agree (seeing as how many people use these types of self-serving links, it’s natural to see them defended). But I think we come back to the same questions that no one has really addressed:

    When we hear “spam,” we typically think of email. You mention that email has a multitude of uses. One of those uses is spam. Can’t we say the same of Twitter?

    People also seem to keep mentioning that it might be alright if people may find the links useful. Again, think of traditional spam. If it didn’t offer some type of conversion (because someone out there actually thought it was worth clicking on), people wouldn’t likely spam in the first place. Is it enough to say spam is alright because someone might find value in that email or link (and of course there’s no saying whether or not they value it until after they click and the poster / sender has already gotten their traffic boost as a minimum)?

    You also mention people finding those links via search, and how that may reflect relevance in the links. The same could be said of search engine spam (garbage written and promoted solely for search engines with often awful content designed to make people want to leave the site via ad clicks). Its entire purpose is to be found via search in order to convert. Does someone finding it in Google or another SE mean that it’s not spam? In that case quite the contrary. Is Twitter really that different?

    Remember that it was just a few years back when “Myspace Marketing” was a hot topic in the online business world. Everyone was dabbling in it. The masses didn’t start labeling those efforts as “spam” for the most part until it became excessive, and they realized their precious platform wasn’t equipped to filter it well at that time. Does the fact that it may not have hit that critical point yet make the self-promotional links littering Twitter any less spam on an individual basis? (And I’m not saying I’ve never linked to one of my own sites – I’m sure I’ve made that mistake while playing with the tool on the marketing side – like I mentioned in another recent post here, there’s nothing wrong with social media marketing, as long as it’s ethical – self-linking to anything that’s not either exceptionally newsworthy or timely, as in every post you blog, strikes me as completely unethical, and that’s why I try not to do it or to follow many people who do).

    It’s easy to say a link is alright if it might have value. I wonder though how many people saying that would be equally okay with seeing tweets with paid links or exchanged links, which may also technically have value in the end if they’re targeted. How transparent can you be, while still including that link and commentary in 140 characters?

    I’m not saying there’s no value in what you and others are saying, but more sharing my thoughts as a prospective follower of the people who engage in that behavior and playing devil’s advocate a bit. I think people need to spend more time thinking about what they write and possible implications (especially PR folks who should be hyper-sensitive to potential image issues), even if it’s only 140 characters. We’ve seen useful tools turn to spammer’s havens before, and we’ll see it again – and from what I see people posting and from what I see in the webmaster communities of people specifically looking for ways to spam it, I think Twitter’s next on that list, if not already through the door.

  • Colin Morris says:

    Maybe this is the whole point, but I think the floor’s covered with split hairs here. Trying to iron out a universal set of rules for tweeting is exhausting, and in my opinion, pointless. I’d like to reframe the debate in terms of individual agreements between every Tweeter-Follower pair, which, exclusively in this context, I would agree with Jennifer are “one-sided arrangement[s].”

    It seems to me that Prof. Sledz’s point(1) about the Follow relationship of Twitter has received too cursory a pass-over. The way I understand his point (and the Twitterverse at large) is that Follower and Tweeter have an agreement subject to unlimited cancellation and renewal: Follower “signs on,” as Bill says, to receive Tweeter’s content -whatever it is- because Follower sees some value in it. I always read a pagefull of a user’s latest tweets before deciding whether to click the “Follow” button, even if it’s a personal friend or engaged Follower of my own.

    Our host, Ms. Mattern, argues(2) that this agreement doesn’t give the tweeter a carte blanche, according to the rules of good microblogging, to linkspam. I think that looking at the situation in terms of such rules is to miss the point altogether: the way I see it, there *are* no rules except Twitter’s ToS,† and anyone who doesn’t appreciate what you put out can and probably will unfollow you.

    To sum up: You might say @BillSledzik “spams” our Twitter feeds with links to his own posts by tweeting each one individually. But I still follow him and I even click the links despite having his blog in my RSS reader. Why? The posts are good, and I like reading them and commenting on them in a more timely manner than I would via RSS feed (which, like Sledz, I visit about once a week).

    If his blog weren’t interesting, I’d reconsider our Follower-Tweeter relationship based on the other merits, if any, of his tweets (incidentally there are plenty in the conversations and debates he has there). Ultimately, I’m grading him (weird, given our relationship) on my personal evaluation of the quality of his content.

    My bottom line: As Follower, you have to decide for yourself. Like Ms. Yaxley says, “one person’s spam is another’s useful link.”

    And as Tweeter, the value of your tweets will be judged by your followers individually. Watch your @replies, site traffic and follower numbers for indications of whether or not you’re violating the agreement.

    (1) Bill Sledzik: Think of it as permission-based marketing, since all who receive the tweets have “signed on” to receive them. To me, that makes it very different from email spam or anything automated, since the receiver need only click “unfollow.”

    (2) Jennifer Mattern: Like I mentioned in the post itself, I don’t think it’s fair to say that if someone followed you (as a person), they’ve automatically “signed on” to receive marketing messages.

    † Interestingly, as of this writing, rule #8 of Twitter’s ToS reads as follows, limiting the (its) definition of “spam” to e-mail:

    You must not create or submit unwanted email to any Twitter members (“Spam”).

  • “The way I understand his point (and the Twitterverse at large) is that Follower and Tweeter have an agreement subject to unlimited cancellation and renewal: Follower “signs on,” as Bill says, to receive Tweeter’s content -whatever it is- because Follower sees some value in it.”

    And that’s one of the fundamental disagreements (and perhaps goes back to today’s post talking about elements of personal branding). Following a person is about wanting to hear what that person has to say – not being fed blatant self-promotion on a regular basis. While some professionals could argue that their name is their brand, I wouldn’t say Bill in particular has that fall-back. I follow him on twitter for the same reasons I follow his blog – he often has something worthwhile to say, and he’s an authority source in an area I’m interested in. But your readers / followers are perfectly capable of following your blog if they truly want to. It’s not even about options really – people who tweet every post are double-dosing their blog’s real followers by pandering to the needs of those who aren’t yet. To refer to that as a turn-off would be beyond an understatement.

    It’s easy to say that it’s okay if you’re abiding by official rules. Then again, so were email spammers until laws changed. The fact that something isn’t officially banned doesn’t necessarily make it “right” either – since when to social rules of etiquette (not that I’m a huge fan of many of them to begin with) have to be official in any way?

    None of this is new. Like I mentioned in my previous comment, this is sadly old and something we’ve seen over and over again. In fact, I talked about some of this back in June of last year (that’s what a self-link looks like when in the context of a conversation 😉 ) giving examples of other services with similar issues, some of the then-rumblings in the webmaster and IM communities of how to abuse Twitter (of which several are progressing), and even my thoughts on the constant self-linking. It’s just far more rampant these days.

    People assume something is fine and dandy until the masses change their mind. I have absolutely no doubt tweet spam will become a bigger issue this year, and we’re going to see many folks’ opinions change by next. Why am I confident in that? Been there, done that.

    Interestingly, what I haven’t seen in a single response here or elsewhere to this post is any answer to my questions relating my classification of these tweet links as spam to other types of more commonly understood spam. If you really look at them all equally, I don’t see any way you can classify one as spam but not another.

    Although it’s still being brought up, in the end being potentially useful doesn’t make something not spam (even covered legally in the case of email). Someone out there finds spam useful – there will always be people clicking on links even if they ways those links were presented may not have been ethical.

    Since we’re “picking on” Bill specifically, maybe it’s simply time to unfollow. I’m extremely selective in who I follow on Twitter as it is, and perhaps it’s time to consider some further cuts. Like you say, it’s a form of grading someone. It’s just a shame that potentially unethical linking practices should get in the way of someone being “graded” for their actual contributions to conversations (which is what I followed him for in the first place, again as a person and not a habitually marketing “brand”).

  • On a sidenote, I think it may be misleading to quote the TOS as you did. By referring to unsolicited emails as spam, they’re in no way directly making a judgment call on any particular type of tweet – they’re simply using a common descriptive term for what those emails are, and not necessarily disassociating the term with anything else.

    And on another note entirely, this is precisely what I missed about this blog – people always have something to say, whether I consider their views reasoned out or not (and whether or not they feel that way about mine). The beauty is that no one here is attempting to set “rules.” Every once in a while a point gives me something new to think about, and hopefully the posts force at least a few to think a bit more critically about what they’re doing in this instant gratification world, whether or not they ultimately change their views. That’s what makes it fun. 😉

  • Colin Morris says:

    In the words of Peter Griffin, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Lois, this isn’t my Batman glass.”

    First of all, “blatant self-promotion on a regular basis” is what some people have to say. In media like Twitter, anyway. I’m not saying Sledz is an example, but when it comes to web presence for promoting music, I am that way. In that case, I encourage (theoretically) my followers/readers/MySpace friends to consider whether they can tolerate it, and if they can’t, to ditch me.

    I don’t want to speak for Sledz necessarily, but let’s say just for argument’s sake that for him, Twitter is just a marketing tool for his blog. It’s probably not his approach in reality, but I do think he sees it as an extension of the cosmic conversation of blogging, and in his case, Tweeter might be a tool to complement feeds. And, thus, to tweet every new post (which he’ll surely stop anyway after this fiasco).

    I realize, of course, that this is almost exactly what you’re complaining about and, for a lot of people, would constitute spam. All I’m saying is that there’s not a universal rule for this like there is for salad forks and dessert spoons. It’s up to each follower to decide whether it’s spam or a useful heads up about new blog posts.

    Which brings me to the rules bit. I never meant to suggest that Tweet spam is okay because it’s “abiding by official rules.” I’m saying that, when it comes to this enormous gray area of possibly-consual-self-promo-between-mutual-followers, I don’t think there are or even should be official rules. I think people must and will decide for themselves on an individual basis based on their tolerance for Tweeter’s update frequency and the nature of the content therein.

    In my view, the personal nature of Twitter and the spammy self-promotion of its legitimate users separates it fundamentally from all other forms of spam to date.

    I have a theory about why you haven’t received responses to your questions of classification. I think that Tweet spam, as you call it, at least within the context of mutual followers and outside the context of tweets that promise $5 iPhones, cannot be classified with other kinds.

    Telemarketers call you because they’ve bought your number as part of a list, not because you gave it to them. E-mail spammers operate likewise. But the kind of spam we’re talking about today is, if I understand the debate correctly, much more personal. And because it involves transmissions between individuals and infinitely nuanced styles and brands of “spam,” I don’t think it can be governed by universal rules the way the others can.

  • First just let me say that I’m enjoying your comments Colin. While we may not agree on this issue, I think we may have more common ground than you think, and it’s always refreshing to see young people “thinking out” the issues rather than following the norm solely for the sake of doing so (and I get the impression you fall within that first group). I also hope Bill / Sledz / my favorite “Twitter spammer” is flattered by the undying support. 😉

    But let’s get back to the issues, and I’m going to go back to the tone of primarily asking some questions.

    1. I worked in music PR, and have repeatedly said (here) that musicians “do” social media better than anyone. So I understand the kinds of tweets you’re talking about, and I think that’s covered by my previous comments reflecting on people versus brands. In the end, a musician’s name is their brand, and fans by their very nature know that when they choose to follow. No? Can the same really be said of a professor? A professional primarily networking with colleagues as opposed to clients or prospective clients? As a member of each of those audiences, I think the expectations are very much different. Don’t you?

    2. Is there really a need to “complement feeds?” Is it okay to, as I put it before, double-dose your already-loyal blog readers, because you’re pandering to those who aren’t yet? In the end what’s more important (from the PR perspective especially) – maintaining relationships and respect with your existing audience (the people who spread the word about you for free when your material is worth it), or focusing more on attracting those new folks on your own?

    3. I feel there’s a definite distinction between “rules” and “ethics,” and that ethical issues tend to set the later rules over time (we’ve seen it related to spam in blog comments, social networks, link-building tactics, on-site SEO / search engine spam such as hidden text, email, phone calls, etc.). Should Twitter really be any different? Why? We have general accepted “rules” (even if not official) about emailing too much nonsense to colleagues just for the hell of it. Why should Twitter be different in that sense? Basically, I’m not saying “here’s what I think, now everyone follow my rules.” I’m forecasting what I expect to be a growing problem and a growing mentality, just as it has been repeatedly in the past. History repeats itself, and SM tools are no exception. If you think Twitter will be, then why? Social networking started out on a “personal nature.” So did blogging. So did phone calls. So did email. So did….

    4. Interesting theory. However, I’ve pointed out a few ways in which tweet spam is absolutely similar to other types of spam, and how excuses for it are very similar to excuses given to justify past types of spam now considered “evil” by all but black hat types (unsubscribe options alone, agreeing to a personal connection just to be bombarded with marketing messages, etc.). Maybe I missed it, but I still haven’t seen a whole heck of a lot other than the same justification – some people may find it useful. So what? Some people find their email spam worthwhile and even make purchases and click those links. Some people get a telemarketing call and purchase. There’s always, always, always going to be value to someone. In no other medium has that justified spamming in the end. So why should (or will) Twitter be different in the grand scheme of things?

    As for telemarketers, in many cases you actually DID technically “give it to them.” By doing business with someone else, or by agreeing to some TOC somewhere, you welcomed contact by those buying your contact information with open arms. It’s easy to hate it though, isn’t it? That’s because we didn’t “sign on” to hear those specific types of marketing messages.

    My argument is that it’s similar with Twitter – you sign on for real conversations or tweet-worthy commentary (the things that didn’t quite make it to the main blog), only to find repeated self-linking of someone marketing that blog to you. No one’s asking for “universal rules” – but how about a bit more respect for followers?

    It might be easy to get them to follow you once. But if you lose them, how easy will it be to get them back?

  • LaToya Irby says:

    I see where you’re coming from, Jenn. I wouldn’t self-promoting tweets spam unless they’re trying to get me to buy viagra, sign up for payday loans, accept their money transfer, etc. And it’s not like it’s unsolicited. After all, I did choose to follow them. On the other hand, self-promoting can seem spammy when that’s your sole purpose for tweeting and that’s not why I chose to follow you.

    I don’t like most autotweets because they seem so impersonal and a blatant attempt at getting more traffic. In other words, it’s more about them than it is about me.

    I do follow some major blogs that only autotweet. I accept that from them because it’s too time consuming to follow the news on their sites, anyway. Going through their blog feeds is too time-consuming because of the volume of their updates. CNNMoney and Consumerist are two Twitterers I follow that only autotweet. But with those sites, I only expect one-way communication. I don’t expect they’d ever tweet me and I’d never directly tweet them.

    For other Twitterers who want/need to be more personal with their followers, there are two rules I think should be followed:

    1. Self-promo tweets should only make up a certain percentage of all your tweets. Twenty percent sounds good. That’s 1 out of every 5 tweets. Your other tweets can be replies, retweets, original tweets, links to interesting things, etc.

    2. Don’t have to tweet all your posts. If you only make 1-2 posts per day, ok, I can see tweeting them all. But, if you tweet 5+ posts, especially in rapid succession, it can get annoying.

  • Colin Morris says:

    I owe our host’s last comment a big, long “hmmmmmm.” Pretty solid, and admittedly, I agree with her almost 100% with its reformulated, crystal-clear framing.

    It might just be that I can’t yet express what it is that, for me, makes the Follower-Tweeter relationship so different from other spam models. I know that the way you agree to receive tweets from someone is deliberate, and not sneaky, as in the TOC loophole methods Jenn has pointed out. (It was a good point. Touché.)

    I also know that -and forgive me if I get a little philosophical here- everyone’s name is a brand for them in some way, and if they have any motivation for publicizing their thoughts in some public medium, there’s a motivation in there somewhere for promoting it, even if that motivation isn’t as obvious or explainable for in a professor’s case as it is in that of a working musician. From the perspective I’m approaching with, self promotion is a lot more Freud than business. But maybe I’m just a self-aware narcissist.

    Ultimately I agree with Jenn and I’ve been playing a fair amount of devil’s advocate today. But I do draw a line between the dickish invasion of sales spam and the annoying, often impolite faux pas of over-self-promo spam. Even if it’s a blurry line.

    Either way, I definitely put my name to the last line about winning back lost followers. That Follower-Tweeter relationship I’ve been talking about is personal, and mussin’ it up with fluff or spam is risky business for Tweeter, for sure.

    PS – A loosely related thought: When I’m back in the U.S. and have unlimited SMS again, I’ll once again be living the life of SMS tweets (which I’ve beginning to realize is different than the mobile Twitter app life of my smartphone-toting comerades). IN THAT CASE, I choose among the Tweeters I follow whose tweets merit a potentially disruptive vibration in my pocket. That’s a list for which the Bill Sledzik’s of my Twitter feed simply don’t make the cut.

    In some way, I feel that’s a concession to and recognition of the logic in your Tweet spam argument. I’ve been holding out on you up to this point!

  • Jenn,

    This discussion seems to me to be barking up the wrong tree in terms of the target for concerns about spam in Twitter. I agree with you that like Facebook and all the other media (including telephone, email, etc etc), the tool will become abused and we’ll all get fed up with being spammed. However, I don’t seem someone I choose to follow linking to their blog as spam when they are simply redirecting to further reflection from them.

    When I talk with friends or students, I sometimes say that I wrote a blog post on something as part of the conversation. Am I spamming them? Sure if all I ever talked about was seen as a promo for my blog, I’d soon get a reputation as being very boring and everyone would stop talking to me – the equivalent of un-following me, I suppose.

    The linkage use of Twitter is no different for me than the emails I get from friends or contacts. For example, let’s take Judy Gombita (to pick on someone other than Bill). Some of what Judy sends me is great and I’ll follow up by visiting a site, linking or even emailing onto friends. Other emails, I hit the delete button.

    Do I think any less of Judy? No – and unless I felt she never or rarely sent me anything personal or interesting, I wouldn’t spam block her either!

    For me that’s the same with Twitter – it would be very odd if I thought everything someone said was great – and if I follow their links and don’t find them of value most of the time, I can just ignore them.

    I don’t care whether the link is generating traffic for Dave or Bill – I’m an active participant who is looking for things that are useful. As you say with Google, sometimes we find rubbish, sometimes spam – it might be brilliant if Google only gave me exactly what I want, but I’ll live with its imperfections for the benefits – provided I can block out accidentally accessing porn or violent content.

    I believe that the laws against spam are about protecting the vulnerable from being exploited – not about ensuring we aren’t inconvenienced by receiving emails, cold calls, junk mail.

    So pornography, stalking and other potentially criminal issues in Twitter are what concern me. I don’t think whether or not a Tweeter links to their own blog too much is comparable or could be called “unethical” in a way that necessitates laws.

    Indeed, on what basis do you think self-linking infringes any particular ethical framework? You might not like it; it may be stupid or bad practice, but that doesn’t make it unethical or immoral.

    For me, the nature of spam (via Twitter or any other medium) is when that link is to something totally worthless, questionable or crooked – and when I have no option of preventing it from recurring.

    This does cover comments left on our blogs that are entirely linkbait to dodgy websites and I’d find @ Tweets with similar links to be spam.

    But when I follow someone like Scott Monty of Ford, a journalist contact or even the BBC, I expect them to be providing links to additional information from Twitter.

    That seems to me to be a perfectly valid use of the technology and not spam.

  • One last follow-up on this post before I’m out for the weekend (I’ll check in on any pending comments again Monday). I’d like to address some of Heather’s thoughts and questions.

    Two things up front:

    1. Thanks for those thoughts.
    2. I want to clarify up front that nowhere did I use the term “immoral” (that I’m aware of), or say tweet spam “necessitates laws” in any way. Not saying you’re putting those words in my mouth – just pointing out that that’s not the essence of what I’m saying here.

    “However, I don’t seem someone I choose to follow linking to their blog as spam when they are simply redirecting to further reflection from them.”

    Not even if they link to every blog post? I’m not saying you have to think that is, but to me there’s a huge difference between linking occasionally when you really have something to say on Twitter itself versus linking to everything on your blog just because you can.

    “When I talk with friends or students, I sometimes say that I wrote a blog post on something as part of the conversation. Am I spamming them?”

    The keyword here is “sometimes.” If you were having an actual conversation, and the link / post mentioned truly fit within the context rather than you just spewing out mentions of your blog left and right, I think that’s very different than the example you gave of doing it all the time. Remember, my point isn’t that links are “bad” – only the issue of constant linking.

    “Some of what Judy sends me is great and I’ll follow up by visiting a site, linking or even emailing onto friends. Other emails, I hit the delete button.”

    I understand what you’re trying to say. I don’t know what Judy sends you specifically, but in my case the vast majority of links sent are not self-promotional. They involve a comment or two at least, and link to 3rd parties. Even when she links to the group blog, I’ve rarely seen her link to her own posts, and then only generally if there’s a timely reason for wanting to bring a topic up for more discussion. Again, nowhere have I said all linking is bad, and nowhere have I tried to make a case against 3rd party linking. If, however, Judy started sending me a link to everything she posted, I’d give her a stern “knock it off” and blacklist her if she didn’t (no offense Judes – I seriously doubt you would ever go that route).

    “As you say with Google, sometimes we find rubbish, sometimes spam – it might be brilliant if Google only gave me exactly what I want, but I’ll live with its imperfections for the benefits – provided I can block out accidentally accessing porn or violent content.”

    I’m not quite sure that relates directly (it would be like me blaming the Twitter platform instead of the constant linkers), but it brings up another interesting question. With relatively new options in Google, if you’re signed into the SE you can “demote” certain results you don’t like and promote ones you do (so they’ll rank higher for you personally in the future). Does the fact that you have the ability to eliminate future spam really mean something isn’t spam? I mean technically you did “opt-in” to see those spam results the moment you conducted a search. I don’t think so (although everyone’s welcome to their own opinions).

    In the end, opt-ins are based on reasonable assumptions of what someone can expect. You can reasonably expect something different from a communications professor and an IM guru for example. If I wanted tweet spam, I’d choose to follow Kawasaki – not Sledzik. If I want thought-provoking commentary and interesting leads elsewhere, I’d follow Bill. If I wanted more detailed thoughts, I’d follow his blog. Again, others are always free to disagree, but I think “stupid” (to steal a word from Heather) barely hits the surface of catering to the lazy and bombarding those readers who do think your blog content is worth reading without constant tweet reminders.

    I agree that porn, stalking and other illegal issues are potential problems. But then again, I guess I could just as easily say “if you have a problem with someone posting porn links, just unfollow them” – if that’s the answer to link spam (which as a word has long gone beyond the legal definitions regarding email), then it should be the answer to most other worries.

    “Indeed, on what basis do you think self-linking infringes any particular ethical framework? You might not like it; it may be stupid or bad practice, but that doesn’t make it unethical or immoral.”

    To be “ethical” in my book, you need to keep certain expectations and standards in mind. And when it comes to SM tools, we repeatedly come to the same conclusion – link spam is not OK – not in manipulating SE rankings through excessive exchanges or subdomain linking, not in abusing SU, Digg, and similar services for self-promotion, not in Squidoo, not in blog commenting, etc. So again I’d have to ask – why on earth should / would Twitter be different? It’s in the same early part of the cycle the others have gone through. The same types of criticism here, and the same kind of defenses that never last in the long run. I fail to see the difference.

    More importantly perhaps, since we’re talking on this blog to PR professionals and those interested in good PR – aren’t the expectations and standards even higher when it comes to PR folks? Do they have a responsibility to be even more cautious about their use of Twitter, the potential image they’re portraying, and the potential alienation excessive linking sometimes leads to (knowing that while not everyone is doing it now, those numbers keep growing, people have been talking more lately about being unhappy with poor quality tweets, etc.)? If they want to talk about quality content and other staples of PR on the Web, I’d say they should be a group leading the charge to cleaning up the crap rather than contributing to it on a daily (or blog post-to-post) basis. But hey, it may just be me, and that’s fine too.

  • Judy Gombita says:

    Who knew a platform that allows 140-character messages AND links could inspire such an impassioned debate.

    Frankly, for me the main reason for Twitter is an information-sharing resource, as well as an opportunity to meet new people (especially from different countries and industries). Links are a very economical way of sharing information. More extensive “conversations” generally move to other platforms: blogs (public) or email/phone/in-person (private).

    No one needs to Follow me; similarly, they are welcome to unFollow me if the information that interests me (blog posts, websites, MSM) doesn’t interest them. Quite frankly, I have no idea why some folks follow me, but I’m not there to “perform” or work to some set of expectations–even yours, Jenn. My skill set and areas of specialty/interest are pretty clear. I’d like to think my Twitter stream was reflective of them. Same with my “info” email messages.

    You can’t please all of the people, all of the time. So, play those info/interest odds. Or get out of Vegas. Even after taking in this double-digit number of comments, I really don’t plan to change any behaviour.

  • John Weet says:

    Phew, I’ve come in late to this debate but it was fun to read all the comments. I think this has been said already but my take on this is that twitter is whatever you want it to be.

    My kids use twitter in a very different way than I do and I would consider some of the messages they get as spam, but then they have different aims and objectives than me and they follow different people.

    Whenever I find somebody that I think may be worth a follow, or when somebody follows me I have a look at what they have been posting. If I consider their posts will be of no interest and that they would constitute spam for me, I choose not to follow, so if I don’t get them are they spam?

    Jennifer says that if we want to follow people’s blogs then we can subscribe to the feed. Very good point but how do you find the blog in the first place. Personally I have found some very good blogs by following links in tweets, I suspect I would not have found them otherwise.

    If all I ever got from somebody was links to blog posts, and I was already subscribed to the blog feed then I have the option of unfollowing. No more spam.

  • Thanks for your comment John. Honestly, the whole topic bores me stiff at this point, but it’s a topic likely to be debated for months to come.

    Is there merit in what you and other have said? Sure. But still, not a single person has been able to make a case for why Twitter should be, or will be, different than the countless other tools that have gone through this same debate before (always ultimately deemed spam by the masses, either starting with the service itself, the users, or even Google in cases). More interesting to me is taking a look through the evolving views of Twitter staff themselves, both on their blog and in the official Twitter Rules (not the TOS). Has this particular case been discussed yet there? Nope. But they do cover linking as spam, and just like most other services that debate likely won’t go mainstream until the automated issues are hashed out first.

    Nowhere have I said that you can’t find useful blogs via Twitter. In fact, I know I mentioned that some people will always find any kind of spam useful – if they didn’t, there would be zero ROI for the effort, and it wouldn’t be worth the spammer’s time. You could also find the blogs through the profile links without people spamming their users and current readers with link after link after link. Or another novel idea – finding blogs others are talking about (because they had merit to warrant the WOM), rather than from people constantly tooting their own horn. Remember, contrary to what some of the comments imply, I never said all linking was bad or spam. Only incessant self-promotion for the purpose of driving traffic and readers to the blog instead of actually posting conversations that can be had on Twitter, on Twitter. We can make what we want to make of any service out there – that doesn’t mean actions automatically aren’t spam.

  • Nancy says:

    This was eye opening to me. I haven’t been tweeting that long and I see so many other people post when they’ve put a new blog post up that I followed suit and do this myself everyday. I didn’t realize it could be really annoying to some! I’ll have to temper that with what my content is for the day and whether it would interest a larger audience than my usual readers. Thanks for the insight.

    As for the auto-tweet, those annoy the heck out of me. I do not like it when people send me a DM thanking me for following them that is an obvious mass email.

  • Spam, plus the lack of link transparency with the use of short links, equals massive potential for problems. As you say a link could take you to an mp3 site, but it could also be a malware site, much more dangerous.

    Spam on twitter is going to be one of the largest hurdles for the developers to cope with if they are going to survive.

    Mass tweeting and retweeting is already becoming a serious problem.

  • Andrew says:

    Lately I’ve noticed that several Twitter users are quickly sending multiple Tweets (just seconds between posts) that appear back-to-back-to-back. I assume this is “automated” tweeting?

    • Not necessarily. Sometimes people login and post several tweets at once (in waves basically, before getting back to whatever else they were doing). If they’re all commercial, or the tweeting is constant or very regular it could very well be automated tweeting. Auto tweeting just means they’re not tweeting personally – it’s a bot doing it for them. It’s often used to tweet your blog’s RSS fees, affiliate link garbage, etc.

  • Colin Morris says:

    I’m guilty of this, if it’s a crime. I’ll turn off my SMS updates when I sit down at the computer for a prolonged period, and typically end up responding to a bunch of @replies at once because they’re from people I don’t follow. Add that to tweeting interesting links I find while I’m in front of the machine, and before you know it I’m a wave tweeter.

    No complaints from the followers, though.

  • I totally agree with Andrew’s word that Twitter users are quickly sending multiple Tweets (just seconds between posts) that appear back-to-back-to-back. Anyway i like your writing style very much. I commend you for your service to the future bloggers. I’m sure they will appreciate it! Great job. Keep it up.

  • Doug Sibley says:

    Interesting debate. Our site does allow for auto-tweeting which was what got me hooked into reading this post (and the debate that follows). In terms of our site, auto-tweeting allows our users to tell their friends how much they have learned on our site (it’s an eLearning site for learning to write Chinese and Japanese characters). Since social-reinforcement of a goal is a good motivator it makes some sense and it’s really about our user’s followers see it that matters (and they will be different).

    More generally, the ‘followership’ contract if you will socially limits what you can send in two ways. The first is general norms (i.e. no get-rich links) and the second is history (that is, if Bill’s feed contains links to his posts than you know what you are getting when you follow him). Of course, your post is about getting the Bills of the world to stop posting this kind of thing (or maybe post it via a separate account that you could opt-into if you would rather follow on twitter than a blog reader).

    In terms of naming, I get “spam” from companies I signed up with not because I want all the spam but because in with their annoying promotional material they often have interesting content. I’d love it if I could say don’t send me your promotions, just your articles but it’s all or nothing.

    • They key point in your comparison is “promotions.” That’s not what people sign up for when they follow professional communicators — many of whom are precisely the folks who ramble on about how social media is about the “conversation” and poo-poo its use in marketing and promotion. Not pointing fingers at anyone specific with that, but considering the audience of this blog it includes quite a lot of folks.

  • Doug Sibley says:

    Right, doing self-marketing on twitter and then criticizing corporate marketing on twitter makes little sense. I suppose it should be implied that when I follow a person I get his or her thoughts, though then again a blog post is full of thoughts and why can’t he or she start a conversation with a blog post?

    To me there is still a fair bit of grey and legitimate debate here as norms are still forming. Maybe twitter will have more fine-grained control in the future (i.e. follow except for auto-tweets, ignore posts tagged as blogposts, etc.)

  • Bill Sledzik says:

    One sign of a great post is that it’s still drawing traffic 9 months after it was published.

    Your discussion of Twitter self promotion is more timely than ever given the growth and all. And now the annoyances of Twitter extend to 4Square, which sorta redefines spam while arming stalkers with great information.

    In this post, Jason Falls created a useful typology of Twitter marketers (even tho not all of it is marketing). Perhaps you’ve seen it.


    I’m not sure where I fit in Jason’s scheme, but I’ll confess that I still shill for my new blog posts once or twice. And it does drive traffic.

    Hope all is well on your end, and that we cross paths (IRL or online) in the new year.

  • Colin Morris says:

    “Maybe twitter will have more fine-grained control in the future (i.e. follow except for auto-tweets, ignore posts tagged as blogposts, etc.)”

    Ooh. Awesome.

  • Doug Sibley says:

    Bill – Good link and classification of twitter styles.

    I must admit though, that when I saw that a good post was still active in discussions nine months later my immediate thought was that nine months wasn’t that long but I suppose for a blog it is – blogs aren’t expected to be as enduring as The Wealth of Nations or The Origin of the Species – at the same time I have a bias towards content that is more timeless and this post does a great job of taking a specific trend (tweet spam) and thinking big picture about social norms in online spaces.

  • Chris says:

    All you have to do is unsubscribe… it’s not spam if you follow someone and they tweet content that you don’t like… well, you subscribed to that content, if you don’t like it, then cancel your subscription or “unfollow” them. It’s as simple as that. There really is no such thing as spam on Twitter since you have full control over the content you receive.

    • I wouldn’t say that’s entirely true. In many cases the frequent promotional tweets aren’t done up front. People start out one way to attract followers and then suddenly start posting self-promotional tweets on a constant basis. And yes. That can be unfollowed. But the ability to unsubscribe from something doesn’t automatically mean there’s no spam. Most spam emails I receive have unsubscribe options too. But when you send marketing materials that weren’t a part of the implied agreement when someone subscribed to your feed, you risk pushing too far into that spam-like level.

      And yes, there is absolutely spam on Twitter. And no, you don’t have full control over the content you receive. You have control over the content in your main feed, to a large degree. You cannot control retweets (which can become a problem when people over-promote content from their “tribes”). And while it wasn’t the focus on this article, the primary spam issue on Twitter seems to come in the reply feeds where you have no control over the content. I’ve had to report dozens of spammers who target people that way — tweeting unsolicited links and ads to individuals, often with no context. Not saying that’s a part of this debate; just pointing out that it is unquestionably spam occurring on Twitter.

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