Social scoring and the business case for blocking Twitter spammers

Judging by her school-issue personal photo, Twana Florance appears to be a mild-mannered, middle-aged matron from Twin Falls, Idaho.  But there is no Twana Florance. Twana is probably some teenager in a Third World country hired to propagate and populate fake Twitter accounts that will later be sold on eBay.

Twitter has done a good job clearing out most of the porn stars and MLM hacks who almost brought the service to its knees by mid-2009. But the new breed of spammer is hiding behind a tender smile like Twana.

For the time being, it’s the stupid tweets that give it away but the spammers will probably get around that soon too. What does it hurt?  What does it matter if spammers trick you into following them?  Believe it or not, blocking spammers like “Twana” might actually lead to important business benefits in the future.  Here’s why.

Social influence and spam

A few months ago my friend Steve Dodd made an interesting observation. Chris Brogan, one of the top five social media bloggers in the world who currently carries enough Twitter followers to form a small nation, tweeted out about a specific issue … and I did too. Steve — who has a great analytical mind — noticed that my message, sent out at the same time, was re-tweeted about the same number of times as Chris. However, the number of RT’s compared to my number of followers was a vastly larger ratio compared to Chris.

“If a higher percentage of people re-tweet your message, wouldn’t this indicate that you are more influential than Chris?” Steve asked.

At first I dismissed this as a mildly-interesting aberration but the more I thought about it, the more I think Steve might be on to something.

One of the reasons Chris has so many followers is that he typically doesn’t block any one. Chris stated at a speech I attended last year that “half the people who follow me are spammers and porn stars.”

In the old days (six months ago) of social influence, having a large number of followers — no matter who they are — was a status symbol. But in this age of algorithms and Klout scores, simply having large numbers of non-human followers could work against you because that “conversation ratio” is going to be a measure of influence.

Here is what the new social scoring systems are reflecting: Spammers don’t engage. Spammer don’t re-tweet. Having spammers among your list of followers will drive your social influence score DOWN.

Ethics of blocking spam

From the beginning, I have done my best to look at the profile of every person who follows me to determine whether I should follow back, just let them follow me, or if I should nuke them.  I probably block about 25 percent of the people who try to follow me because I attract a lot of crap I guess! Yes, this takes a little extra work, but the 18,000 people who follow me are legitimate, real people to the best of my knowledge.

When I adopted this strategy, I didn’t have social scoring systems like Klout in mind. Ejecting spammers was just the right thing to do (and still is) for four reasons:

  1. My Twitter Tribe matters. If I follow you, I choose to do so. No auto-follows, ever. Before I follow, I have read your bio, some of your tweets and probably clicked your link. I have a quality audience and it’s staying that way.
  2. I want an audience to be proud of. This probably sounds old-fashioned but I don’t want to do anything in my life that I wouldn’t be proud to disclose to my children. And if they examined my Twitter audience, I would not want them to see a bunch of nymphs peddling their videos. Anybody can see who you’re following. What does your audience say about you?
  3. I want to protect you. If I block the spamaholics I keep them from my tweets and I keep them, in a small way, from you. I see so many of these folks who copy “Follow Friday” lists trying to lure followers. No. Stay away from my friends dammit.
  4. Because I just do not want to play that game. I’m not going to be passive and imply that what they’re doing is OK.

The business case for blocking

Blocking sends a message and that’s important. But I increasingly believe that having a quality list of followers who actually exist and care about you is going to make a difference because measures of social scoring are going to be a big deal. I recently wrote about the importance of Klout scores and other systems that will emerge. If you missed it, please read it because it’s an important trend that is even having an impact on SEO strategies.

And by the way, Chris (with 167,350 followers) has a Klout score of 84.

Me?  I currently have just 10 percent of the followers Chris has but have a Klout score of 76. My hypothesis is that the quality of my followers is one contributor since I do not pretend for a minute to have the reach or power of Chris Brogan.

I don’t want to turn this into a debate about Klout or its social scoring competitors. Whether you or I philosophically agree with what they do is irrelevant because these systems exist, are growing in importance, and we need to deal with this fact dispassionately.

My point is that there might be a legitimate business case to support a strategy of blocking spammers, as well as an ethical one. What’s your take on it? Does this make sense to you?

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