Breakdown: 4 Ways Brands Are Earning –and Buying– Followers on Twitter

Update: July 6th, I added a 4th way, as I recently met a developer this weekend who showed me the scripts he created to quickly auto follow thousands of folks.

Companies who don’t have iconic brands with millions of adoring fans, often have to resort to other ways to get the attention of the market.  This isn’t evil, nor is it uncommon, it’s just business, and was here before the web, and will be afterwards.  Don’t get mad or emotional about it, let’s break it down to understand how it’s going to work, if you’re a concerned user, use this post to figure out how to beat it.  If you’re a marketer, figure out what works –and throw away what doesn’t.

Breakdown: How Brands Are Buying –and Earning– Followers on Twitter
As a result, we’re seeing some of the same method applied to the web and email as to the social space.  Here’s three examples (again in outline form) that I saw this week.

1) The Sweepstakes Giveaway: Moonfruit becomes a Trending Topic

  • Summary: This giveaway contest spurs word of mouth –results in opt-in “registration”
  • How they did it: Moonfruit offers website building services, and is offering a new computer to those that tweet about the contest (see their official contest page), the only way to receive a product is if you follow their account (opt-in).  Of course, this means the members are subject to future messages.
  • This is the same as: Contests, WOM marketing, tell-a-friend.
  • Benefits: Rapid word of mouth about a brand driving awareness and opt-in as people follow the account, likely a percentage of followers will convert and buy the service.
  • Risks: This doesn’t build long term engagement with a brand, and it’s likely many will unfollow after the contest is over.
  • Costs:  10 Macbook Pro (13″) which is $1500 each for a total of $15,000.  If the follower count retains at 10k a day (it’s day 3 today) for 10 days resulting in 100,000 followers, that’s about $.66 a follower, not including marketing efforts.
  • Results: Big wins.  Moonfruit is a trending topic 3 days after the contest landed, there are thousands of retweets and tweets about the brand, as well as an increase in followers of about 10,000 a day (graph).Update: It’s now July 6th and the Moonfruit account has stalled out at 43k followers –it didn’t grow 10k as the first 3 days did. It’s also no longer a trending topic. Techcrunch Europe comments.
  • My take: A natural extension of other marketing forms to Twitter. The giveaway prize matches well with the type of clientele the brand wants, and it’s certainly generating a high degree of discussion for at least 10 days.  This really isn’t a new model, and we should expect more brands to offer these types of sweepstakes, however to make it better, the tweets should be more inline with the brand promise, such as asking the followers to tweet about “what website they love, or would build”

2) Buying Customer Matching Lists: uSocial Promises Relevant Followers

  • Summary: Service  called uSocial offers brand cost per action (CPA) advertising resulting in customer match
  • How they do it:  uSocial  matches brands with suggest followers that have similar affinities, keywords, or profile information, BBC has the story.   It looks like they will find matches, and suggest to twitter users that you follow that brand, (likely through an automated spammy system) till the reserve is met.
  • This is the same as: What’s new is old again.  This is very similar to direct marketers buying email lists of prospects that have similar demographic or affinity information.  Martin agrees.  Kevin Marks makes a good point that it’s not like email, as you can’t make folks follow them on Twitter. I suggest it’s the same, as you can’t get a user to open a spammy email.
  • Benefits:  They promise lots of followers within a few days, a very low cost.
  • Risks: Brand damage.  If the market finds out (it should be easy) that a brand isn’t earning their followers, they risk backlash and people unfollowing, or even worse, unfollowing.
  • Costs:  The lowest package (there are others) is $87 for 1000 followers–it breaks down to 8 cents a follower.  If you buy the 100,000 follower package it drops down to 3 cents a follower.
  • Results:  I’ve not heard if this works, I’m sure someone will report back to me.
  • My Take: Use as a last resort: If it looks to good to be true, it probaly is.  The uSocial site looks like a ‘get rich quick’ site, the design comes across really spammy themselves.  It’s likely brands that do buy this will likely act in a similar way, and I wouldn’t expect followers to stick around if they behave in a similar way.   It’s likely a brand that goes for the quick hit doesn’t have a long term strategy to interact with their public market, and will use Twitter as a distribution point. However, brands that do have a community strategy, and have developed relationships using Twitter, could certainly benefit from the increased awareness to likely prospects –the only risk is that it may come across as spammy as uSocial makes recommendations.

3) Product Discounts or Specials: Dell Offers Followers Specials

  • Summary: Some brands are generating followers by providing special deals to followers.
  • How they do it:  For some time, Dell is offering reduced priced or refurbed products on their Dell Outlets Twitter account.
  • This is the same as: signing up for emails to receive discounts.
  • Benefits:  A low cost channel to sell products to an opt-in crowd, avoiding excess inventory.
  • Risks: Can’t think of any, leave a comment if you have one.
  • Costs:  Inexpensive.  It appears there is a community manager responding and answering questions, so the cost of this part time employee, or contractor, must be accounted for.
  • Results: Dell has made the claims they’ve generated over $3 million in revenues from this single account.  Of course, that’s a drop in the bucket for this tech giant.
  • My Take: Replicate. This is a great use of using the medium to obtain more interested followers that are requesting to be customers.  The downside is that not every company has products to offer on a discount, nor the brand appeal.  Brands should find ways to offer special deals to this highly viral community, offsetting the costs by weighing in the benefits of WOM and press coverage.

4) Auto Following Scripts and Services: Get followed by following

  • Summary: A variety of services have been released that will find followers for your account to follow, then do an auto-follow script that will add them. The hope is that many of them will auto follow you back, out of courtesy, in order to increase follower amount. The downside? It can look spammy, and many who return the follow are often bots.
  • How they do it: Similar to the Usocial service, they find followers (sorted by keyword, geo, name, etc) and start to follow. There’s a limit to how many Twitter will let a script auto follow per day. After a few days, the Twitter account will be following thousands of other accounts, and the hope is that many will follow in return.
  • This is the same as: Cross linking and link farms. Websites a few years ago would share cross links in hoping of increasing their page rank –soon Google caught on to this and started to regulate. A whole industry of ‘link farms’ emerged, however some of the sites involved with this were penalized by Google.
  • Benefits: Cheap way to get lots of followers.
  • Risks: Brand damage by being somewhat spammish, and many of the return followers are likely bots just returning the follow. As a result, the returns for this may not be mixed: some new followers may be your target market, although not all will be the ideal individual.
  • Costs: I’ve heard of package that can add a few thousand followers for around $25-$100, it’s just a simple script to run.
  • Results: You will get lots of followers if you follow others –although you’ll have to live with the risks
  • My Take: Easy come, easy go. While many popular twitter users go on a rampage to follow as many people as they can, I find the slow organic way of letting the right folks opt-in is the a better long term strategy. The Twitter founders Biz and Ev told me first hand they frown on people who do mass follows, at some point we should expect Twitter to clamp down on this behavior, just as Google did with link gaming.

Hope this breakdown is helpful, it’s important to look under the covers and analyze.  Of course, I’ve not discussed the organic way of brands providing helpful content, interacting, or supporting customers, but that’s been written to death by the many social media bloggers.