As of this past Sunday my twitter account, @greenzeta, has been shut down. Not by choice, but clearly a result of my action. There’s a good story behind it, with some valuable lessons I have learned in using the tweeters:
Being Shark Week, I had one thought in mind: Time to beat the dead horse of JAWS Converter one more time. The site was built to be a joke for @ThatKevinSmith, nothing more than that. It served its function extremely well But from time to time blogs pick it up and it still generates traffic. It’s the site that keeps on giving and these days I’m just curious how much further it can go. Hell, this is Shark Week! What better time to build interest in a silly shark joke site than Shark Week?
Of course, the programmer in me had to beat down what little humanity I have and said: “Let’s automate this!” Using a few old projects, I hacked myself together a script to cull #SharkWeek on twitter. It automatically sent @replies of the JAWSConverter url and tagline “Measure your world in terms of sharks!” to people talking about #SharkWeek. At first things were going great, tweeting at a rate of one a minute. Traffic to the site was suddenly way up. I was getting favorited and retweeted. Life was good, until my script started throwing errors.
Response from the twitter api: Bad Authentication Data. I logged into twitter and there it was: “Your account has been suspended!” Not one hundred tweets later and I was smacked on the nose by the twitter police. To unlock my account I had to fill out a form promising I would no longer send “too many unsolicited @replies”. Feeling defeated, I logged into my server to delete the crontab entry. The programmer in me jumped back up. The message had said “too many”, that implies a tolerance. Just send less, fly under the radar. This time I added some filtering to my script and a moderation queue. Surely a few tweets, manually enabled, will be fine.
Thirty tweets more and my script was throwing errors again. This time I went straight to my profile: “Your account has been suspended!” Now there was no promissory form. This was it, one warning and my account is completely disabled. Not just all my tweets, retweets and favorites from others were gone too. JAWS Converter traffic instantly fell. My only recourse was to manually email an apology and beg for my account. I have yet to hear a reply.
Not to be silenced, I decided a different approach was in order. A kinder, friendlier, almost human approach to branding. @JAWSConverter was born. This time I took my Nexus 10 to the couch and began scrolling through the #SharkWeek tweets. The approach at first was to retweet anything interesting, follow the person, and occasionally tweet my own #SharkWeek message. It went slow, really slow, and there was no interaction with other users. Feeling more confident, I stepped up my game and began sending clever replies to some tweets. Positive comments, asking people talking about anything shark & measurement related to convert into JAWS units. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Nine out of twelve messages got at least a “favorite” status. Then, once again, it was over. A message popped up on my tablet: “Your account has been suspended!” There I was, filling out the promissory form for my hours old account. I wasn’t about to lose two twitter accounts in one day. The experiment was over.
I did learn some valuable lessons. First, twitter takes those spam reports extremely seriously. Regardless of positive engagement, if you breach that threshold of three or four complaints your account will be shut down. Second, some people just hate anything that looks even remotely like an advertisement. Even if what you’re advertising costs them nothing. Third, twitter is an extremely difficult place to build relationships from scratch. People liken it to a crowded room where everyone is shouting. But if you try to start a conversation with strangers, you risk getting thrown out. I’ve had @greenzeta since 2007. I built up over a hundred non-superficial followers. Yet with all that time and effort there has been only one person I had any significant interaction exclusively through twitter. @AngrySam, I’m pointing to you.
One final word of wisdom: If you ever get that first warning with the promissory form, stop doing everything. Fill out the form and back away from twitter for a good while. As of this post, it has been three business days since I appealed @greenzeta’s suspension and I have still heard nothing.