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This developer broke Twitter’s rules, says the site should ‘shut him down’

twitter courtWhy would someone who made a successful Twitter-based service want Twitter to kick him off?

Developer Myles Recny doesn’t really want to be banned from Twitter, but his blog post calling for Twitter’s attention (“Twitter Should Shut Me Down“) makes a good point: The service he developed almost certainly violates Twitter’s Terms of Service, yet the micro-blogging sites hasn’t noticed it yet.

What’s his service? Recny created Followgen, an automated program that helps people and brands gain more Twitter followers. It currently has around 5,000 users, attracted to the program by positive word-of-mouth.Screen Shot 2013-04-26 at 11.05.56 AM

Gaining new followers are your own can be tricky. Organically growing your followers can take a while, and if you’re really eager to jump-start a brand, it’s too slow. Of course, you can buy followers if you’re really desperate – but lots of research shows that these fake followers do little to truly increase your influence – plus, it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s faking social media savvy. But the followers you get from Followgen are real, active users – people who voluntarily choose to follow you, not spambots.

How does it work?

Followgen generates extra Twitter followers for people who sign up for the service by automatically favoriting random users’ tweets. A certain percentage of users who see their tweets favorited tend to follow back, so even though the favorite process is automated, the user who follows back will have a sliver of organic interest in the user who signed up for Followgen. So it’s a better way to bulk up followers than simply buying bots – and it’s strikingly similar to a Twitter Ads product. As Recny explained in his post, “Rather than serving promoted tweets, or promoted accounts as impressions, I was serving targeted favorites.”

We asked Recny about his intentions with the blog post, and how he’s responding to critics – a recent online commenter derided his program by saying “innovative spam is still spam.” We asked him why he chose automated favorites instead of automated re-tweets (since people are often more invested in getting re-tweeted, it seemed like that would lead to an even quicker follower boost), but he has a reason: “Imagine if Coca-Cola re-tweeted an inappropriate tweet,” Recny explains.

“Sometimes people don’t use the targeting system effectively and it surfaces inappropriate content – a favorite is a relatively silent impression versus a re-tweet.” So favorites are safer because it protects clients from tweeting inappropriate content – people would have to go into their “Favorite” section to see what they’d selected, a rather uncommon tab to visit on Twitter. 

What’s Next?

We asked Recny what he’d like to see happen with Followgen in the future. “I want to partner with Twitter via their Ads API. That partnership would enable me to serve promoted accounts and promoted tweets instead of targeted favorites, and make money for Followgen and Twitter without substantial changes to Followgen’s front-end system.”

“I think I’ve innovated on the UX of buying Twitter Ads (targeting, analytics, AB-testing, referrals) and that should be acknowledged. I’m also championing the notion that ‘one-to-one’ social interactions have a place in the nascent world of Social Advertising, I just haven’t nailed the implementation yet.”

So Recny wants to team up with Twitter, not get exiled from the service. And though it remains to be seen whether the platform will want to adopt Followgen tactics, the success of the program means that it’s worth Twitter’s while to take a look.

When asked how he would defend Followgen against critics that say it’s just sophisticated spamming, Recny says the positives of the service outweigh any of these complaints. “I don’t think that Followgen is actually creating a noticeably negative experience for anyone on Twitter. What people have a problem with is that my users don’t actually read, evaluate, and consciously favorite the tweets that Followgen favorites on their behalf. Instead they express a general interest in all tweets falling within a certain category. The onus is then on them to follow up via their favorites list and engage with that person. My view is that if they do a good job of following up, it’s not spammy, if they don’t it is. Followgen’s current implementation allows for spamminess, but its vision [a partnership with Twitter] does not.”

Basically, the current Followgen service could be perceived as spammy if users don’t make an attempt to connect with the followers they gain through automated favorites. But if a client uses the service properly, they should be able to make it an effective tool to not just grow their follower numbers, but to connect with new people. 

Right now, there’s a bit of a stigma attached to people who buy followers or try to get around the slow-burn organic process of building a brand. People value authenticity on Twitter, so Followgen needs to make sure it’s perceived as a legitimate way to pursue a higher follower count.

Ultimately, that depends on who is using Followgen – if it’s someone who just wants a hike in their follower numbers but they don’t care who’s following them, they probably wont’ be able to retain the people they gained through Followgen. But if someone leverages their new followers, and produces interesting, engaging Twitter content, the people who found them via Followgen will probably feel grateful that the program exists. So no matter how many audacious blog posts Recny writers, his clients need to hold up their end of the deal to take Followgen to the next level.

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Kate Knibbs
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