In order to understand the problem, oftentimes you have to get a full description and get a full view of how the problem takes place, why it is a problem, and if there are things that you can do to avoid this problem. This analysis applies to many issues in life, whether they be money issues or relationship issues. It works for any problems you encounter. It is especially effective when dealing with problems involving internet marketing. We are applying this analysis to how marketers abuse Twitter.
Getting a clear picture of the problem
If you use Twitter at all, you have probably run across these spam schemes. We are listing the abusive marketing techniques below not because we approve of them or want you to copy them. Instead, we are laying them out to help you get a clear understanding of how they work, how to recognize them quickly and understand your options in dealing with them. In essence, we are letting you know these techniques so you do not use them.
A clear understanding of their operations would highlight the unethical nature of these techniques. Any responsible marketer would try to steer clear of them. Another reason we are letting you know of these Twitter abuse techniques is to let you be aware that you are being spammed and report it accordingly. Finally, we are letting you know we are laying these shady Twitter marketing approaches clearly to avoid being victimized.
Twitter Abuse Method 1. Direct Messages
The direct message function in Twitter is like an e-mail function for the microblogging site. You can send a direct message to any profile on Twitter. This is abused quite heavily because many people would send messages saying that you should follow them. This would make sense if you knew the person or there is some sort of preexisting relationship between you two. More likely than not, the person sending is a complete stranger and they are just sending you solicitations to get their Twitter updates. Their updates, not surprisingly, might contain spam links.
Variations of Direct Message Abuse
There are many variations to this type of Twitter abuse. Some direct message spammers would even try to be clever and talk about the things that you are interested in. For example, if your Twitter profile says that you are interested in pet products or you have a pet products blog, the direct message spam would talk about pet products and then ask you to follow that account. This is obviously not very cost effective if done individually considering that there are millions of Twitter accounts out there. Many enterprising Twitter spammers have automated the process. It works just like e-mail spam. A direct message would just crank out all these solicitations with mail merge type headings. Thankfully, Twitter has some mechanisms in place that cuts down on bulk messages, but still it is quite annoying to receive even one of these messages.
Avoiding Direct Message Spam Victimization
How do you avoid victimization? It is every easy. Just turn off notifications. When somebody sends you a direct message, if you have notifications turned off, you do not even notice that they have sent you a message. Since most direct messages on Twitter are spam, most users just forget about the direct message inbox and do not check their direct messages. Out of sight, out of mind. There is a small chance that somebody legitimate would actually send you a direct message. However, the cost of missing out their direct messages is more than outweighed by the hassle of having to wade through hundreds, if not, thousands of spamming direct messages.
To avoid missing important legit messages, add a quick request in your profile description that you don’t take direct messages. Specify how you’d like to be contacted.
Twitter Abuse Method 2. Follow and Quick Unfollow
Returning a favor for a favor is a standard feature of human psychology. It is called the law of reciprocity. If somebody is kind to you, your natural instinct is to respond in kind. If somebody is mean to you, your natural inclination is to exact revenge. This is the law of reciprocity in action. It is no big mystery.
Exploiting the Law of Reciprocity on Twitter
On Twitter, many people respond to a new follower by adding them in return. Somebody follows you and out of respect or out of courtesy, you follow them back. Unfortunately, many shady Twitter marketers abuse the psychology of reciprocity and manipulate it to their advantage. What they would do is they would follow a lot of people and once those people have followed them, they would then quickly unfollow. This frees them up to follow more people and then unfollow them as well. What is the point of this Twitter promotion method? The key is to establish a massive base of followers and then issue tweets with spam links. Since Twitter only allows followers to receive messages of the person whom they are following, this is an effective way of reaching thousands of people.
Solution: Remember that you are not obligated to follow back
Do not be a victim of your own innate psychology. If somebody follows you, you are not obligated to follow them back. Another way to avoid victimization is to turn off e-mail notifications. The power of follow and unfollow abuse method is that when you have e-mail notifications turned on, you are seeing almost in real time people following you and you jump on to Twitter and follow them back.
Check to see if the person is worth following
How do you follow your Twitter followers that are worth following? In essence, how do you filter for quality? It is very simple. Just click their profiles if you have time and check their recent tweets. If these are things that you are interested in or add value to whatever it is that you are doing, then you should follow them back. Thus, you are always in the loop regarding their updates. Of course, this would take time, but it is a much better option than having to deal with the hassle of filtering through your Twitter feeds, trying to clear out worthless tweets from people that you do not care to get updates from. This cherry picking method also helps you keep your Twitter feed clean and allows you to follow friends at your own pace and on your own terms. Once again, do not be obligated to follow back because many of these Twitter spammers actually buy sophisticated pieces of software that follow thousands of random people with no regard to any affinity of topic or any shared interest. Stay clear of their spam’s schemes and turn off your e-mail notifications and do not follow back. If you are using software that has an auto follow function, turn it off. Follow manually.
Twitter Abuse Method 3. @ Spamming
@ spamming is a very common way spammers get the attention of influential people. This is how it works: If you are not following somebody, you are not going to get that person’s updates. Some clever spammers get around this by sending @ messages to people that they want to follow them back or respond to the @ tweet. If a celebrity has millions of followers, one @ response to a spammer’s account may mean a few thousand new followers for the spammer.
The idea behind @ tweets
There is no black and white method to determine whether an @ message is spam or not. However, there are some key guidelines you can use and tweet your specific purposes to minimize the amount of @ spam you are getting. The @ functionality was originally added to Twitter to facilitate discussions among people that may not be following each other. This is a great way for opposing views, contrary opinions or alternative views to be heard regarding a particular tweet or a particular link that is placed in a tweet. In short, the @ feature facilitates discussion and the flow of ideas.
Spamming via @
Sadly, spammers have abused the act of function by automating it. Instead of sending you an @ message because you posted a provocative tweet and somebody wants to discuss the merits of your update, they just wanted to send you an @ message to get your attention and click a link. This is obviously an @ spam and is easy to deal with. Just go to your Twitter account and click report spam link, which appears when you are leaving the abusive @ message.
Some clever spammers will use a confrontational tone to “troll” celebrities into responding with an @ that the celebrities’ followers can see. Don’t fall for this. You can avoid being victimized by just laughing at the exchange between the celebrity or person you’re following and the person trying to troll or get attention. The worst you can do is reward an @ troll spammer by following that person.
Important note regarding “rude” @ tweets
Remember just because somebody is rude does not mean that they are spammers. Many people especially on Twittter can pose seemingly rude tweets. Pardon the appearance, but a lot of the times these are not rude messages at all, but they just come off as rude and obnoxious because of the short character requirements.
Determining if an @ tweet is spam
The number one way to determine whether @ messages is spam or not is to look at the contents. If it is obvious that the person just wants your attention so you could click a link, and then more likely than not, that @ message is a piece of spam. Go ahead and report it. However, if it is @ message that discusses the materials you posted or offers a different view and does not have a link and seeks to get your response and engage you in a conversation, there is a greater possibility it is not spam. The best way to test it is to respond and if they respond back and it results in a conversation, then that person is not an @ spammer, although they do tend to send many @ messages. Relevancy is a very important filter in determining @ spamming. Make sure that the responses that you are getting are responsive, relevant and add to the discussion. If they are not or if the person is obviously trolling, it is up to you to report abuse or just block that user. Normally if the @ message sender is just trolling you, trying to get an emotional outburst from you or is repeating the same message over and over, that is a troll and not a spammer. You can block that person. However, if it is a message that is aimed at just getting your attention so you could click a link or to add them to your Twitter feed, you can report that tweet for spam.
Twitter Abuse Method 4. Malicious URL Redirects
This is quite a problem at Twitter. If you have used Twitter before, you will notice that really long URL’s can be shortened. Many people use many URL shortening services in association with their use at Twitter. This is a problem because the direct URL does not really show the exact URL. It can cause you headaches if the URL being redirected goes to a spyware or malware attack site. How does this scam works? Somebody would send you a provocative tweet, either using the @ message, using the direct message or you may have auto follow this person because they followed you. Regardless, they caught your attention and they got in your feed and they have sent you a message or a tweet. There is a short textual come on. It is something cryptic, something that gets your attention and next to it is a seemingly innocent bitl.y or tiny URL, or any other default URL shortener service that is used with Twitter.
The Spyware Threat
You then click the link and your browser is infected with malicious spyware or malware. The scammers that pull this off do this because they are trying to use social media like Twitter to propagate and expand their network of zombie computers. Also dubbed botnets, these networks of zombie computers do the bidding of the remote operator. Once the malicious software is installed without your consent on your computer, all sorts of problems can occur.
Recognize the dangers spyware brings
At the very least, whoever installed the software on your computer is recording your key strokes to figure out the websites that you are visiting, and possibly use that information to log into your accounts or engage in other forms of identity theft. This is quite dangerous especially when it comes to online banking. What is worse is that these spyware propagators could use your computer as an unwitting accomplice in attacking or taking down other websites all over the internet. Usually these are done just for giggles or cheap thrills. These attacks are usually done in conjunction with an elaborate extortion scheme. Finally, spammers could use spyware and load it on your computer to turn your computer into a spam relay machine. You can easily tell that this is happening if your data connection is going off, and you are not doing anything. Your cable modem or DSL modem is busily blinking while you are not doing anything on your end ostensibly.
How to protect yourself from malicious Twitter links
How do you protect yourself from these kinds of malicious Twitter attacks? The most solid step is not click a link from somebody you do not know. If you do not have a relationship with a person that you are following, do not follow them or do not click the link. It is one thing when a known sports personality sends a link through his verified account and it is another when you receive a twit from a Joe Blow who you do not know. Most importantly, make sure that your computer is protected by having a proper antivirus software or security software installed. While this is not a fool proof method to avoiding spyware because there are no foolproof methods, this is way better than not having an anti-malware application installed. If you get suspicious tweet with a suspicious URL, block the sender and report that sender to Twitter.
The Bottom Line
Twitter is a very powerful marketing platform. It is a tool that can unite communities, can really push the flow of ideas and certainly enrich its user’s general knowledge. Unfortunately, there are many shady and unscrupulous marketers that look at Twitter as a cash cow. As we have discussed earlier in another guide, many of these conceptions are misplaced and naïve. They are bound to fail and most abusive marketing schemes on Twitter end up in failure because the bottom line is that Twitter is a branding platform instead of direct sales platform.
Still, either some marketers are just new and they do not realize this or they are battle-hardened veterans and they are spamming and running a purely numbers game. Regardless of the type of abuser that you come across, they will use one or more of the abuse methods above to make your Twitter experience less than ideal. Follow the tips above and learn how to tell whether a twit or a message to you is spam or not. Learn how they work and learn your options in dealing with them. Twitter can help you in many levels as long as you know what to expect and as long as you know how to use it properly.