PR spam on Twitter – it could be smart (but it’s probably not)

Look at this mess.

LDR London

There’s been a rash of this stuff lately. It irritates me in a way that’s hard to explain but usually I ignore it – we were all new to this stuff once upon a time. Thing is, not only is this cack-handed and lazy but, because LDR London claim to be a decent agency, some poor sod must be paying for this.

It’s not as if I don’t try to help. There’s a contact page on Created in Birmingham – it has an email address, a contact form, a postal address and, in case that’s not enough, there are some step-by-step instructions explaining how to get onto CiB.

For that matter, because I don’t use the account in a particularly conversational manner, the @createdinbrum Twitter bio says “@ChrisUnitt is the person to chat to”. And anyway, why would I want to follow a Twitter account that spams people like that and just wants to send me a press release? That doesn’t sound fun.

It wasn’t just me who felt the need to point out the obvious:

LDR London replies

But wait…

Is my minor hissy-fit missing a bigger point?

Perhaps the accepted wisdom – that a more personal, conversational approach is the way to go – is wrong, and the way to extract maximum value from Twitter is to use it ruthlessly efficiently.

Maybe, in a commercial context, it’s enough to use Twitter to follow your industry peers/contacts/sources of info and occasionally fire out messages to people who might be useful. You’d miss out on some of the deeper benefits that Twitter offers but they’re not guaranteed anyway and you’d be minimising your level of investment in the platform.

It’s not necessarily what I’d recommend, but I’m not blinkered enough to think there’s only one way of using a tool.

It strikes me as a risky tactic though. Beyond a bit of antagonism from people who feel like they’re being cynically targeted, there’s a chance Twitter will think you’re a spammer and shut you down – after all, it’s the way spam bots behave. I’ve tested this out and, on a new account, you can usually tweet the same message to about ten or so people before Twitter catches on and closes your account. Quite right too – imagine if every brand used Twitter like that.

The other week the British Museum tried this tactic to promote a debate with Grayson Perry. In a short period of time they put out 100 identical tweets to a range of people before Twitter applied the brakes – not because they were seen as spamming (presumably having an established account with around 65k followers gives you some leeway) but because they reached their daily limit (see info about limits here). This caused some issues.

Still, I didn’t see any complaints from anyone and presumably it had the effect of increasing the number of people who were aware of the debate and the museum’s Twitter account more generally. So that’s good.

In conclusion

Like I say, I think it’s a good thing to find new ways of using these tools. Accepted wisdom is fine and useful as long as it doesn’t limit invention and lead to needless homogeneity.

On the other hand, if you want me to promote your client for you, a little effort on your part wouldn’t go amiss.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

4 replies on “PR spam on Twitter – it could be smart (but it’s probably not)”

  1. Just to add a related example to this but one I don’t have much of an issue with:

    When I tweeted ‘rejected from London Marathon’ last Thursday is resulted in a few (5) tweets from charities inviting me to run for them instead (for context: I got rejected from the ordinary entry route – the ‘ballot’ – but could choose to run for a charity as long as I raise circa £1500-£2000 – a ‘bond’ place). Last Thursday was the day for the rejection notices for everyone, I would say easily over 100k of us rejects were getting our rejection letter on that day.

    So the charities had clearly set up searches for ‘London’ ‘Marathon’ ‘rejected’ and then were offering this other option to the rejected runners. Some of the charities were throwing out the same tweet up to their limit.

    So it’s kind of spammy but the bottom line is that if they get one new runner out of it they get £1500-£2000 raised for their charity. They may annoy plenty of tweeters in the meantime but that’s not to focus on the job in hand right now – they need to sell off their bond places before the runner decides to run the Beachy Head marathon instead next spring.

    If I was the kind of guy who thought these things up I’d call them twuggers (you see what I did there….).

  2. I see what you did there.

    It’s a fine and shiftable line, isn’t it? From one point of view those charities are playing a cynical numbers game – on the other, they’re giving people an opportunity they may not otherwise have known about.

    So if it’s all in a good cause then it’s more likely to be excusable (which is why chuggers get away with it). The question then becomes, what counts as a ‘good cause’? Clearly, in my case, not the offer of a yet another press release.

  3. Interesting. Your comments characterise ‘numbers games’ as cynical, but give digital chuggers a let out because they’re doing things for a ‘good cause’. I don’t think it’s about that. As the rest of the post acknowledges, I think it’s about the smartness of the targeting.

    In my experience, I don’t mind being on the end of a ‘cynical’ (do you mean ‘effective’?) numbers game, if I can appreciate its smartness. For example when Sainsburys clock that I drink a lot of Rioja, and send me an email with an offer for a case of Spanish reds, and then upsell me on another case at an even better deal as I’m checking out, I actually *like* that. But I’m keenly aware I’m on the end of a database algorithm.

    In the case of LDR London the targeting is dumb and blanket. (Quite common in the PR industry I’m afraid. Made Media constantly gets targeted with inappropriate press releases and interview requests just because we have the word ‘media’ in our name.)

    So my guess is that users don’t mind, appreciate even, a well targeted cynical numbers ploy like Dave’s Marathon example. But they hate a badly targeted blanket campaign that’s clearly not relevant to them.

    If I had to choose between:

    A: Having mind-numbing digital conversations about smarties with a small group of people in the hope it might turn into an opportunity at some point in the future


    B: Executing a well-targeted cynical numbers game that upset a couple of people, but went down well with the majority of recipients and generated measurable strategic results

    I’d probably go with (B) every time.

  4. I think you’re right, the charities were smarter about their targeting and messaging – it was relevant, timely, done through the right channel and more likely to lead to a win for both parties. LDR might have scored on relevancy (I’ll never know) but missed on the other three. When charities, good causes or people I feel better disposed towards do this I mind a lot less.

    On the other stuff, ‘cynical’ may have been too judgmental – ‘calculating’ is probably closer to what I meant – but I’m loathe to call it effective without knowing the numbers. And the phrasing of your ‘choice’ at the end there surely makes it a false dilemma.

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