It Takes A Village to Clean Up Twitter


Twitter is a mess. Maybe it’s just me, but in the last few weeks the vast majority of my new Twitter followers were bots or people promoting something. Perhaps that’s not unexpected. After all, I’m sure an even higher percentage of my email is spam. In this day and age, it’s a certainty that any free medium will attract abuse. But the problem is that there are lots of enablers for Twitter abuse. Are YOU an enabler of bad behavior?

(As you may have noticed, this post is a departure from my usual neuromarketing theme. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to brain-based marketing next time.)

Why do I say there are enablers on Twitter? Because many of these marginal accounts have thousands upon thousands of followers. I’ve seen accounts with 50 low-quality, impersonal tweets that have 20K followers. While it would be nice to think those are all other spammers, they aren’t. Many are real people posting quality tweets themselves who automatically follow back anyone who follows them.

I think it’s going to take a village, or more precisely, a community, to clean up Twitter. Here’s my simple, two-step prescription for cleaning up much of the dreck on Twitter.

Step 1: Treat Twitter as a Community

Maybe I’m like a surgeon who sees cutting as the solution to every health problem, but as a long-time Web community builder I think one part of the solution is to act more like a community. We all need to look beyond our own tweet-streams and do what we can to help the entire group. If I follow back some idiot who is auto-posting motivational quotes, news feeds, and links to some money-making scheme or a tool to get more followers, I’m encouraging that behavior. In addition, the more of those low-quality tweeters I let into my tweet stream, the less likely I am to see tweets from my Twitter friends who are real people and actually have something to say.

So, my simple suggestion is to look at the people who follow you, and use the “block and report for spam” and “block” controls for anyone who looks automated or of very low quality. While you might be losing the occasional automated retweet from one of these accounts, that’s a small price to pay for not having them pollute your timeline with mindless quotes, useless news, and self-promos. (Hint: if their bio mentions making money, MLM, or “helping YOU” don’t read any farther, hit the block button. And most “social media experts” are anything but.)

Some tweeps fall into the “semi-human” category. That is, they DO interact with other users, but still post a lot of junk tweets. Their follower counts often suggest phony growth via automated tools. I rarely follow one of these, but I will sometimes not block them. If the want to read my stuff, fine. If they want to interact, they can send me an @ message. But in most cases they will unfollow me after a few days as their only reason for following was to add another follower to their own count.

In short, I strongly suggest you block, or at least ignore, anyone who follows you that isn’t entirely human. Block any jerk who auto-DMs you. Watch your timeline, too, for low quality tweets and check out the sender’s profile; if they are tweeting mainly junk, block or unfollow them. (I find spammers popping up in my timeline; likely, they looked “real” at first glance. I tend to give new followers the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes a bad actor slips through.)

When you block a low quality account, your actions send a signal to them, and perhaps to Twitter too, that you won’t put up with spam just to keep a follower.

Different Strokes. Some people are starting to do this, albeit in an extreme way. Lately, I’ve seen more users “declaring Twitter bankruptcy”,, nuking all the people they follow, and starting over from scratch. Others keep the number of people they follow very low, as described in Lisa Barone’s Twitter Snob post. (I prefer to follow back more people mainly to afford those followers the ability to send me a direct message, and because I do sample my full timeline throughout the day. I keep a tiny watch list for those folks I want to read more of.)

Whatever your strategy, do SOMETHING to discourage low quality tweeting. (But don’t do anything as extreme as my pal Edward Lewis, aka @PageOneResults, who, to the great detriment of the community, dropped out completely. Edward was very tough on spammers and promoters – check out his Twitter TOS – but the unreliability of the service itself apparently pushed him over edge.)

Step 2: Twitter Needs an Algo

Twitter could be collecting and using all of its data about who gets blocked, who gets unfollowed, who gets RTed, and so on to score accounts by quality. We know that if Google didn’t have an amazingly sophisticated algorithm for scoring sites and pages, its results would be irrelevant and full of spam. Twitter needs to start focusing on their users and finding out who the humans are. I’d like to see Twitter experiment with some options to screen out the automated accounts and the promoters. A few random ideas:

  • Calculate (and display?) a quality score for each user.
  • If a user’s score is too low, don’t display his tweets in searches.
  • Tightly restrict the number of people a low-scoring user can follow in a specific time period.
  • Use a more sophisticated algorithm to stamp out automated follower-building.

There has to be a way to keep Twitter both human and keep the promotion to a minimum, and right now Twitter is doing nothing beyond deactivating the least-sophisticated automated spammers.

Be Part of the Solution!

One thing I don’t foresee is Twitter hiring a big staff of quality control people to look at every account or tweet. It’s incumbent on the community to clean up our own timelines, and, by doing so, send Twitter data that it can use to automate junk account removal or downgrading.

What are YOUR ideas for cutting the noise on Twitter?

  1. Jay Berkowitz says

    Amen Roger, well said!

  2. Sculptor says

    Pretty much, I ignore the bots; Twitter purges them automatically after a while. Anytime someone I don’t know follows me, I always check their twitter profile, and their website if one is given – I’ve weeded out more than a handful of (on the surface) seemingly legit people who turned out to me cleverer MLMs or the like. Bah. I use Twitter as my personal comedy feed, so I’m not expecting literary gems, but I certainly don’t need the equivalent of viagra ads either. 😉

  3. Roger Dooley says

    Thanks, Jay.

    Sculptor, your approach makes sense. I’m seeing some human looking accounts that interact but post a lot of promo stuff. Life coaches, social media gurus, etc. I block ’em.


  4. Nik Pasic says

    Agree completely. I make it a habit to only follow friends, relevant industry and interesting people. I find that a lot of spammers tend to follow me and then unfollow a few days later when they see I didn’t automatically add them as well. Haven’t had all that much issues with bots though. You seem to be attracting them all. 😉

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Nik, often bots target people with larger numbers of friends/followers. They use keywords, too. Mention SEO, MLM, social media, coaching, and other keywords and you’ll get a bunch of spammy follows.


  5. Nik Pasic says

    Holidays and Travel seem to work like a charm too. Made that mistake before.

  6. Ulstrup says

    Spot on Roger
    I think the quest for more followers is one of the main reasons for people accepting lousy followers. The assuption is that having tons of followers means you’re popular, call it rock star effect and an unhelthy emphasis on ME, while quality and emphasis on WE could help weed out spammy Twitter accounts and help building a community.

  7. Katey says

    I feel the same about Twitter. I don’t auto follow anybody back – I know you said to unfollow everybody who autodm’s you, however I have a special tactic to my auto dm to figure out the connectors to the possible spammers and it goes along the lines of “Gr8 connecting with you, so I know your real, please send me a Hi @kateyshaw” … It’s worked a dream and I have better connections and created a community because of it 🙂

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Interesting approach, Katey. I don’t unfollow EVERY auto-DM sender, a few appear to be OK. And your approach likely does screen out many pseudo-tweeps.


  8. Rich and Co. says

    There are many brain aspects of this:

    – Like spam, the messages we see are the ones that most readily trigger our brain’s, largely unconscious and reactive, attention behaviors. They’re used because they work.
    – The also largely unconscious and impulsive action of hostile-aggressive, rule breaking behavior online — which we would propose is dominant online and in other non-policed open environments — are also symptoms of brain states.

    Brains that “can’t stop” bad behavior will take over in any environment where they are all owed to run free.

    Finally, the idea that “rational” appeals can effect this kind of behavior is an example of our brain’s belief in “conscious” verbal exchange as effecting behavior. In this case, as in so many others, this is likely just a quaint myth.

    All “public” and open environments need policing. The same is true for other social animals as well.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      As a long-time community guy, I agree with the inevitable need for “policing” whenever an environment is open to all. Fortunately, in many communities, the members themselves do most of that and no heavy-handed authority intervention is needed.


  9. Melissa says

    Sounds like Rich&Co doesn’t believe in cross-talk or any uncontrolled relationship.

  10. Roger Dooley says

    What do you mean, Melissa?

  11. Rick Ross says

    What I value most about Twitter is its openness. Rules are not just beneficial, they have a cost. I can easily deal with the minor annoyances of such an open environment since I so value the relationships that I couldn’t have made any other way.

    I’m not on Twitter selling anything, but don’t have a problem with the people that are. In many cases, I’ve found service vendors and products about which I would’ve never known. More importantly, I’ve met all sorts of thought-provoking new friends with whom I regularly interact. That was my purpose in setting up an account.

    Twitter is far from pure anarchy. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t run across a suspended account. It’s controlled, but not overly controlled.

    In my opinion, one of the “secrets” to making Twitter useful is to do everything manually. Doing so provides you with exactly the interactions you want.

    While I understand your annoyance, I’m a bit puzzled by it. You began your post by complaining about new followers that are bots or people promoting something. Who cares who follows you? Only those that you choose to follow show up in your feed – and you can unfollow anyone at any time with the click of a mouse.

    One last thing to keep in mind: some of those tweets are mine promoting your blog posts!!

    I enjoy your blog very much. Keep the interesting and well written posts coming.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I think it’s the WAY that people sell, Rick. Someone who interacts in a valuable way and suggests their service/product now and then is fine. I have a problem with those who are here mainly to sell, and interact in an artificial way to achieve their goal. Automated account growth is one such artifice.

      While you are right that I don’t see tweets from followers I don’t follow back, I view it as a duty to block jackasses who are abusing a good service. It may reduce my follower numbers, and I might lose a few RTs, but it’s a small price to pay. And, as @pageoneresults pointed out, spammers tend to mine the lists of other spammers for people to follow. Block ’em and it cuts down on your new spammer influx.


  12. Rick Ross says

    “interact in an artificial way to achieve their goal” Excellent point, I agree.

    What’s really surprising is that, looking at the types of accounts to which you’re referring, you have to wonder what their goal is. Many seem purposeless.

    Adding “Lists” (for those to whom they’re available) was a good move on Twitter’s part. There are also good third party tools to help manage your stream.

    Thanks again for the post and for generating an interesting discussion.

  13. Roger Dooley says

    Rick, I think these promotional accounts were more effective when Twitter was new and vast numbers of newbies were pouring in. Even as a long-time community and SEO guy, it took me a month or two to hone my “Twitter BS Detector.” In my early days, I followed accounts that I wouldn’t today. Presumably, other users are getting down the learning curve too. With a more crowded space and more experienced users, the effectiveness of cheesy promoters is diminishing.


  14. Rick Ross says

    “the effectiveness of cheesy promoters is diminishing.” That’s something that we can all gleefully applaud!

  15. Bev says

    I enjoy reading some of those inspirational and motivational tweets especially when the conversations about Haiti etc. get pretty heavy and depressing or when there is not much new to be discussed. I also have a friend who is undergoing cancer treatments and seems to need these types of tweets to help her. I tend to do alot of reading and retweating of things I have read that I think are interesting. I find other peoples ideas very thought provoking. Yet there are some days that I don’t write a tweet of my own that has any dept of thought to it. I guess you could say that I am more of a listener, observer, and thinker than a talker. I feel that if people don’t like my tweets or retweets that they don’t have to follow me. The on;y thing that bothers me is when a person keeps tweeting the same message over and over again through out the whole day. Sometimes three times one right after the other. As you can tell from this message I am not the best at putting my thoughts into written word.

    I have enjoyed reading your blogs and have retweeted some of them the last couple of days. Please keep the blogs coming.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Hi, Bev, I understand that some people may appreciate a stream of motivational quotes. I agree, one can simply decide not to follow if one doesn’t like the clutter. But, I take issue with the folks who dump a bunch of quotes into an autoposter to intersperse with their promotional junk.

      RTs are fine too, and I don’t always add to them. In general, though, when I look at a new follower I look to see if they add value with their news tweets or RTs. I want to see a little originality, even one or two additional words expressing agreement, disagreement, shock, outrage, joy, disappointment, etc. That tells me the account is likely a real person (not that a clever promoter couldn’t do this) and also makes those tweets more meaningful.

      Thanks for the kind words, and, of course, the RTs.


  16. Justin says

    Its an interesting one isnt it.. There used to be a fantastic service called thetwitcleaner, which would remove all your spammy type followers.

    Unfortunately it fell foul of the change in Twitters terms which disallowed auto unfollowing. You can still use it to unfollow people but you have to unfollow them manually. I think that services like thetwitcleaner should be allowed to unfollow the spam.

    For my personal twitter account I have now switched off autofollow. For the commercial Twitter Accounts that I either own or manage I do have autofollow switched on, and I think that it is a necessary evil. I do however periodically block and or report the really obvious spammers.

    I also quite often retweet without adding something in, mainly because of the 140 limit.

    I also quite often unfollow people who don’t follow me back. Auto DMs are something I sometimes think I should be using for the commercial accounts, but as I hate receiving them so much I don’t think I can bring myself to use them!

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Justin, I don’t unfollow everyone who doesn’t follow me (does @OliverSacks really care about my tweets?), but like you I also unfollow my digital marketing peers (as well as more random people) who don’t seem to want to engage. Which reminds me, I’ve got some housecleaning to do!


  17. Roberts Howard says

    Perhaps it’s because I don’t feel bored and empty inside but Twitter and Facebook strike me as immense bores…listening to dull converstaions of people you’d rather not have as neighbors. With all the hype about social media as a money-making vehicle, unless you’re in the online crap and drivel business (baking virtual cupcakes or or bloodless Mafia wars) I have seen few documented cases of anyone showing me the money. The nearest I have seen has been with large faceless companies trying to put on a human face.

    For those of us operating companies a bit smaller than DELL, I fail to see where much can be made on the social sites. It’s like typing your URL on a postcard and jumping up and down with the Times Square crowd on New Years Eve hoping that customers will see your card and flock to your website.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      While it’s true that there is a huge amount of noise in social media, Roberts, I wouldn’t dismiss all of it as drivel. I’ve connected with some fascinating people on Twitter, and Facebook is used by many not to make new contacts but to stay in touch with real-life friends and relatives. Particularly when these friends and relatives are in distant locations, Facebook makes staying in touch fairly effortless.

      There’s definitely nothing more pointless than a bloodless Mafia war!


  18. Roberts Howard says

    Point taken, Roger. However, past performing the same function as notes and greeting cards, albeit with greater speed, I was hoping (on the NeuroMarketing website) for some substantive discussion concerning social media as a marketing tool. I want to be sure that we have not misunderstood its true potential for driving a market. We have used FaceBook to expand our list (slightly), but it has been less successful than the same appeals offered in other venues…free venues, too.

    The only marketing tool I have seen that rivals FaceBook’s poor quality respondents were punch cards in magazines. Those were notorious losers.

    Again, we may have overlooked techniques that turn social media into those fabled pots of gold. Thus far it’s been buckets of dross.

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