Twitter Succumbs to Marketer Attack [Toldja So]

Update: Robert Scoble spurred a lively discussion on this topic over at Friendfeed. Embedded below the post.

image Earlier today, Adam Ostrow noticed a trending topic on Twitter, and on further investigation, it was as a direct result of an MLM marketer’s efforts to cash in on the perceived naïveté of Twitter:

It might be starting to sound like a broken record, but the issue of Twitter trending topic spam continues to be a major problem that is derailing the usefulness of one of the microblogging tool’s best features.

Today, good old fashioned multi-level marketing (MLM) has invaded trending topics. The website, called “Twitter Online System,” promises boatloads of new followers as you reach different “levels,” though it doesn’t offer much of an explanation as to the “how.” All I can say about this one is … enough already.

image Not to sound like a know-it-all, but I warned about this  exact thing almost a year ago.  Back in June of last year, in an article entitled “Is Twitter Vulnerable to Marketer Attack?”, I explored what could be done to prevent Twitter becoming an MLM and spam cesspool like other social networks have become in the past. 

It was prompted by something from John Reese, the ebook purveyor and affiliate marketing scheme proponent behind failed startup BlogRush:

The advent of Twitter going mainstream is upon us, according to Inquisitr’s Duncan Riley.  That’s not actually how he put it, though.  I believe he said something like “doom, gloom, and the end of days!”

image What’s bringing this glorious/tragic event?  Riley quotes an email he received from known Web 2.0 flopster and prolific e-book salesman John Reese […] on the one hand, its hard to take much that John Reese says seriously after his outlandish claims landed a net negative with his service BlogRush (“..a RUSH of TRAFFIC to your BLOG.”). Given his propensity for hyperbole, I’m unsure exactly what he’s promising his victims e-book customers in the texts, but in a certain sense, he’s not wrong.  When used in the manner it was intended, Twitter is a mighty powerful marketing tool.

Even if John Reese makes claims that he can actually live up to this time, given that there are a million affiliate marketers with even less scruples, there will be a number of e-books to follow from several other folks trying to game the system.

Fast forward to this year, and what do we have? Exactly what I predicted – the  unscrupulous “get rich quick” ebook affiliate program / MLM marketer invading Twitter.

Of course, as was often the case at Mashable, my predictions were met with stark opposition, the battle charge in this instance lead by John Reese himself, spurred on by a number of letters to his mailing list, posts on his blog, and even a stick-puppet adaptation of Lord of the Rings where I was meant to be the evil Sauron.

Is This Going to Be a Thing Now?
image As I said in the original post on this topic, my inclination is to say that this won’t be a big problem for Twitter (at least not in the long run):

Fortunately for those of us on Twitter currently, as studies plainly show, we’re nigh-immune to the shady tactics of those who would like to use the system for profit whilst at the same time adding no value. If these e-book marketers turn legit and realize this, we may have a group of highly effective evangelists carrying the gospel of Twitter to the masses.  Or, conversely, we may have a group of unscrupulous jerks bringing in a load of undesirables for a little while (who will leave once they realize it isn’t profitable to try to game the system).

On the one hand, Twitter isn’t very good at all at preventing this sort of thing from happening in the first place. Spammers routinely create scads of accounts and invade the threads on the trending topics. Spam directed at users through the use of @replies is becoming an issue.

What’s Twitter’s response to all this?  Create an @spam account to report this stuff to. Not create a “report this user” button like every other social network, but just an account. Weak, in other words.

On the other hand, though, Twitter has a built in defense against this sort of thing – as I discussed in my post on Magpie and sponsored tweets, affiliate advertising performs poorly on Twitter (and conversational marketing excels).

It won’t take long for these purveyors of fine crap to realize they’re spinning their wheels. Once it spreads amongst the “gurus” of the MLM community that Twitter isn’t fertile ground for money-making, the spammer invasion will end.

Until that point, we’ll go through a season of junk, and I get to say “I Toldja So.”