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Best practice in spam beats a lot of social media agencies

The concept of “survival of the fittest” applies to marketing as much as anywhere. Marketers need to stay one step ahead of both their audience and their rivals in order to reach a competitive advantage. And spammers, like the porn industry, are rapacious in their quest to make use of new technologies to gain that teensy extra percentage of traction.

No guns were bitten in the making of this image

This is as subtle as spammers usually get

Spam is usually seen as “throw mud at a wall and hope some of it sticks” discipline. According to a recent study  it takes around 12.5 million emails to generate c. $100 of Viagra sales, which is a lot of mud being chucked at a lot of walls.

Twitter spam is a trickier business. For a start, mere link spamming is likely to get an account blocked & banned pretty quickly, but spammers set up so many accounts – and so quickly – that they are back in the game before you can say “0 followers, 97 tweets”. My spidey sense starts tingling the moment I check out a new follower and see they’re following a load of people with no followers in return. These usually have a profile pic of a woman aimed at a particular demographic (some are saucy, some are not – segmentation in practice), and you can usually tell it’s spam from the fact the profile name and the user name are different. It’s a quick press of “block & report spam” and we all go on with our lives.

So I was quite impressed with one account that hooked me in unawares. Sometimes when you get followed by someone that looks vaguely interesting you figure you’ll follow them and they might turn up the odd interesting comment in the Twitter stream from time to time. A little background music, if you will. Last week, I was followed by “Cool Like Linsey“. She had some pretty good little quotes going on and seemed to be in conversation with some of her followers. I blindly followed.

And then I got a little non-Follow Friday shout:

Oooh I feel special

Getting my attention

Well, hey, that’s nice I thought. I mean, I’m an interesting guy, so why not? Ego stroked, I went on my way. A few days later I noticed her giving similar (i.e. exactly same copy) shouts to others. And the penny dropped.

This is about reducing attrition. By giving me a seemingly genuine follow shout-out I think “Oh I’d better not unfollow her. She was nice to me.” I am a sap, obviously. Brands are slow to repost content or retweet stuff from their followers as they worry about highlighting users who may turn out to be off-message or degenerate. So they err on the side of caution and stick to a bit of conversation without the stamp of approval a retweet may give.

Here, then, is an account which does pretty bloody well at masking its true intent. It’s pretty much best practice in Twitter spam as of today. The account pumps out decently-researched historical / philosophical quotes:

"I may need to procreate with this deep and meaningful, yet utterly saucy, woman"

I am a sap.

But then, just for a few hours at a time, there’s links to a couple of apps / ads for eyeglasses. And then it’s back to shouting out for follows for her followers and quoting away. Smart stuff.

In this way, you can see how spammers are going to evolve to match market expectations just the way a brand or corporation or anyone else does. She (? Who knows if it’s male, female or bot?) focuses on her audience, targets her content to a narrower niche and drops the marketing in smaller, less noticeable chunks. And she’s now rotating the copy in her follow shout-outs too.

The truth is, as social media practices go, this beats an awful lot of agency-led / PR-savvy brand accounts out there. Eventually accounts like this will die off, although someone like this will have clearly evolved whatever is effective elsewhere long before that happens.

Targeting, copy adjustment, a degree of subtlety and creativity.

At this point you have to ask, “Is this spam? Or just… marketing?”

I hate it, but some degree of respect is due.

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