News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Twitter "B" Western

As a relative newcomer to the new frontier of Twitter land, I’ve discovered it can be a lot like the Wild West. Just how similar, I found out yesterday when I was caught up in an incident that reminded me of a “B” Western plot complete with rustlers, folks in white hats, and a shady cattle baron turned vigilante.

Let me apologize in advance for some of the minutiae that follows. It’s impossible to relate the full story without going into details about “follows, unfollows and auto DMs.” Stay with me though, once you know the landscape, it will get more interesting.

For those of you who don’t know much about Twitter, the premise is straightforward. You “follow” anyone whose “tweets” (140 character messages) you’re interested in reading. Anyone interested in what you have to say, will follow you. As a rule, if you follow someone, they will usually extend the courtesy and follow you back. Simple enough, right?

The media likes to depict Twitter as a perpetual stream of narcissistic messages. But the real bane of Twitter is not the self-absorbed. It’s the multi-level-marketers and “social media whores” who attempt to amass tens of thousands of followers to fuel their pyramid schemes or to proclaim themselves as “social media experts” and sell their services to advertisers. These people indiscriminately follow anyone on Twitter hoping to be followed in return. They have no interest in a relationship or what you have to say. They work pretty much like rustlers trying to round up stray cattle.

For an author, on the other hand, Twitter can be a valuable marketing tool. With my debut novel being released by GCP in July, Twitter seemed a great way to meet people who might be interested in my book and make contacts with folks in the literary community and the media. So like millions of others, I packed my wagon and headed into this promising but uncharted territory. It wasn’t long before I discovered the brigands, rustlers and hucksters along the trail.   

Of course everyone on Twitter wants to be followed. It’s a mark of honor to have thousands following you while you follow very few. (This says: “See how important I am?”) So some clever tech folks have devised services that enable you to automatically follow anyone who has started following you. They also let you drop anyone who you follow but doesn’t follow you back. (This sounds a lot like junior high, doesn’t it? But the MLMers and SMWs take this very seriously.)

Socialtoo, one provider of these automated follow-unfollow services for Twitter users, recently bowed to marketplace complaints and removed the automated reply message function from its offerings. It seems the multi-level-marketers and “social media whores” indiscriminately following anyone are in a snit because their inboxes are filled with automated messages from all the new followers they are acquiring.

Personally, I prefer to welcome new followers with this automated message: “Hello! I am not online all day and use this auto reply as my answering machine. I will return your personal message.” So when Socialtoo decided to stop offering automated messages as a service, I chose to switch providers.

I was pleasantly surprised to get a personal email note from the CEO of Socialtoo asking why I was dropping his service. I explained that my intent was not to acquire legions of followers but simply wanted to extend a courtesy to those who chose to follow me. Further, I told him his company’s decision to drop the courtesy of automated messages was his choice to make. My choice would be to seek another service. Then I posted this exchange on my blog. That was a big mistake. (More details in my previous post).

Within the hour, I had been labeled a spammer and placed in Socialtoo’s pariahs list.

Needless to say, I was stunned. My list of followers was less than 550. In contrast, many Twitter users have 30,000 followers or more. Yet not one of these Twitter users with followers in the five figures had been blacklisted. Like a shady cattle ranche who’d bought enough stolen steers to earn respectability, the company whose tools are the stock in trade of spammers had just turned vigilante and branded me as an outlaw.

Thankfully, a lot of folks in white hats rode to the rescue after I tweeted about this petty and vindictive act. The word quickly spread through the Twittosphere. Long story short, just over 24 hours later, Socialtoo took me off their spammers list.

Still, it’s been an eye-opening experience – and a testament to the power of Twitter. If you have not tried Twitter, I urge you to explore this promising and uncharted territory. But just remember to keep your eyes open and your six-shooter handy. It's not all twenty-somethings telling you what kind of bagel they had for breakfast. 

Raul Ramos y Sanchez