Twitter Games: Can You Spot Them?

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With each new medium of communication, new techniques of advertising have evolved. The consumers may initially be taken in, but eventually they become more savvy and advertisers must lift their game.

This results in a perpetual arms race of sophistication between advertisers and consumers. We laugh at the simplicity of the ads of the 1950s but there is no doubt our grand kids will be laughing at the ads of the 2000’s one day.

Sexist Ad for Beer

We have seen a similar evolution of sophistication on internet advertising. Gone are the days of pop-ups and cheesy rotating banners. The era of social media has ushered in much more subtle ways to manipulate consumers.


Enter Twitter.

With Twitter being such a new medium, many users remain naive of how they are being manipulated – either by individuals or by corporations.

For the most part, the purpose of manipulation tends to be self-glorification; however the techniques can just as easily be used to push a product or opinion.

Could you have spotted them?

Some of the techniques for chasing eyeballs are obvious – some less so.
If you look, you will find examples of them almost every day.

Note: This list avoids the clearly obvious tactics of bots and self-appointed gurus and focuses on more subtle tactics which a user may fail to recognize.

  • Use of multiple accounts by a single user to create fake dialogue.
    One user confessed to me that in weaker moments, he would have one of his personas attack one of his other personas in order to draw sympathy from his followers!

    Next time two users get into it, ask yourself: is this a real debate or is it just some guy talking to himself?

  • Use of multiple accounts for retweeting
    This is most easy to spot when a link is retweeted long after it has grown cold (ie to revive it) or by a low volume user whose sole contribution to Twitter is one or two selective retweets.

    New users don’t tend to know how to retweet so if the very first tweet of Sally225 is "Must see check it out please retweet!" it’s suspect.

  • Product Plug
    The most effective product plugs come from users who have created a respectable online following that is not single purpose ie a popular tweeter who is not obviously associated with a company or product. Is the plug genuine or has the user become a shill in a sophisticated online campaign? In the world word-of-mouth advertising, there will be a growing demand for social media influencers who can push a product without being obvious about it.

    Can you spot the difference between a genuine love of a product versus a paid-for tweet? Not if they are good at it.

  • Hashtag pumping
    The most brilliant example of Twitter manipulation I’ve seen involved creating a heated debated which was marked by a given hashtag. Then, once the eyeballs arrived and the tag started trending, a link was tweeted with the same hashtag. Smart.

    If you want people to check out your link but the tag is cold, it will not garner much attention. But if you heat up the tag THEN post your link BOOM. You have an audience ready and waiting. It’s like having an ad on the Good Year blimp during Super Bowl as opposed to flying your blimp over an empty stadium.

    Is a tag trending on genuine excitement or is it controversy? Who are the main actors and what are they doing? Watch for it.


At the moment, most of the Twitter games are petty and small scale.

But it’s early days.

Surely advertisers are watching and learning.