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Big Company Exploiting Twitter?

Social Media Legitmacy Deteriorating

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Twitter can be gamed too? Who would have thought? If there is a way to get promotion from a popular social site, you know that it will be taken advantage of. It just becomes a matter of competition at some point, perhaps even with people being paid to help with that promotion (right Diggers?).

Why would we think that Twitter is above this? Well, their announcement a month ago about cracking down on spam would be one indication, but honestly, who really thought that this type of behavior would be eliminated?

The CareerBuilder Model

Svetlana Gladkova at Profy has uncovered
what appears to be CareerBuilder "gaming" its way into Twitter’s "Trending Topics" and search results (actually our own Susan Coppersmith noticed it a while back as well and twittered about it [you can follow her here.]). Gladkova noticed that a lot of searches using Twitter Search (formerly Summize) would turn up results with CareerBuilder in the top ten. Her curiosity was piqued when no recent big CareerBuilder news was evident. Why would the brand come up so frequently? Gladkova writes:

The answer proved to be very simple – CareerBuilder generated all the activity required to make the name of the site the most discussed topic on Twitter on its own. The thing is that the guys behind the website simply configured a few Twitter accounts (each account focused on a particular city) to broadcast all the latest job positions advertised on CareerBuilder automatically to Twitter. This resulted in a few dozens of new tweets posted to a few timelines belonging to different CareerBuilder geographical sections every hour (as I believe they must have some moderation for new jobs where they approve new postings to the site in bulk).

"I also suspect that these tweets are posted using some sort of a script as they show ‘from web’ as the posting method while normally when we see such automatic tweets published via RSS we see ‘from Twitterfeed’ there."

Sue's Tweet

Questions Arise

First of all, does this not fall into Twitter’s definition of spam? Last month the company said it was hiring workers specifically to keep spam under control. Apart from that, they would suspend offending accounts, and provide community-powered alerts to help bring offenders to their attention. They did note however, "As always, fighting spam is a sustained activity. There is no magic wand we can wave or switch we can flip to make it all go away." Secondly, what is to stop everybody else from doing the same thing, rendering Twitter Search and Trending Topics virtually useless?

 

Twitter Search Results

It would be one thing if CareerBuilder’s listings were coming up in searches for say, "jobs, los angeles", rather than just "los angeles" and appearing as five of the top ten results. Then again, you have to criticize Twitter’s search algorithm as well.

The Real Issue

But algorithms aside, this is really just an example of a much bigger issue. This type of thing happens all the time with social sites across the board, and there seems to be no easy solution. Sites allowing stuff like this to happen are giving social media marketing a bad name. Any social media marketing enthusiast will tell you, the best way to market via social networks/social bookmarking sites, is through conversation and relationships.

Yet the opposite seems to be true for what is really happening. I discussed earlier this month what was going on at Digg, as revealed by an interview with an anonymous "top digger" at Invesp. Now that StumbleUpon is dropping the toolbar-only approach, they’re going to be attracting a lot of new users, so the "gaming" will likely increase there as well. I’ve always loved StumbleUpon’s service for the sheer quality of results obtained from its search tool, but part of me wonders if that is a product of its limited use due to the toolbar factor. If the usage increases tremendously, so might the spam (if you wish to call it that).

The fact that it is such an issue also leads me to wonder just how much success the "gaming" parties are actually achieving with these methods.  Are the guys paying people to "digg" their stories truly reaping tremendous rewards? Is CareerBuilder gaining a whole lot of excess traffic thanks to a script flooding Twitter with job tweets?

Considering the popularity of a site like Twitter, I’m curious to know the percentage of Tweets rolling in on Twitter’s new election page coming directly from the candidates’ campaign staffs. It would certainly provide a much easier venue for hiding behind lies. See more of what Gladkova has to say on the matter in the comments

There’s no denying that so called "new media" has had a huge impact on how people get their news. The pros and cons are the subject of ongoing debate throughout the Internet and the blogosphere. Though I have personally defended new media (specifically blogs) as a legitimate source of news, it is behavior like this that tends to favor the other side of the coin. I still think new media is legitimate, but social sites need to reallly come up with solutions to keep results from being too polluted. It defeats the purpose. If people want to know what others are "twittering" about, they don’t want to see what one source is "twittering" about itself. If they want to see what’s popular on Digg, they want to see what people actually like. Not what people were paid to like.

Big Company Exploiting Twitter?
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  • Matt

    CareerBuilder and others should continue to do these types of things if they want to further erode the legitimacy of their brand – at least the little that they have.

  • http://profy.com/ Svetlana Gladkova

    Great analysis of the thing I noticed. I think it is very difficult for Twitter to determine where spam begins but from what I know they usually consider it spam when people actually send replies and DM other users – and flooding the timeline with tons of unwanted updates does not seem to be considered spammy. Hopefully the guys over at Twitter will admit the problem and try to find the solution.

    As for the recently launched election site, they already feature profiles of the main actors (the candidates) with all the updates sent by their teams, of course – so it looks like in this particular case Twitter is only willing to give them a better place to push all their messages at us easily.

    • Chris Crum

      Thanks for chiming in Svetlana. It really does seem to be an issue that is larger than Twitter, plaguing social sites in general which puts a damper on the credibility of results.

  • http://www.medlawplus.com Joe

    SEOs, by definition, are about gaming the system.  Obviously it is no surprise that the SEO mentality would migrate over to Twitter.  The question is does Twitter hang these people up by the balls or just recognize it as business as usual and move on?  Not sure what the answer should be on that front.

  • http://www.hotelsnortheast.co.uk Hotels

    Why oh why do you write so much about Twitter? Nearly every news email I receive has a headline TWITTER this that and the other!

    Is it part of WPN?

    • Chris Crum

      Looking through our newsletter archives, it looks this is the first one since August unless I’ve missed something. It’s a popular service. That’s why we talk about it.

    • Guest

      ditto, there’s got to be other apps out there to write up on.  I’m being bombarded by twitter from various outlets, and honestly I don’t know why… It’s "cool" but besides that I really don’t see it.  Now when they figure out how to earn revenue, that’s when I’ll be interested as that will be a true miracle.  But until then this could be yet another service that starts out as free, turns into subscription, and loses users all of a sudden because so many out there are too cheap to pay for anything besides XBox 360 games.

  • Stephen

    Are you trying to promote the idea that “Social Media” in the current internet form has or should ever be considered legitimate?

    Social networking / user provided content requires social / personal responsibility to have any worth. I hope you have noticed that this type of reasonability is severely lacking in today’s world.
     
    To think that people are considering themselves informed by reading the drivel provided by an uninformed public, through a source with no accountability is truly a scary thought.
     
    When looking for “what people like” consider that in today’s market, people like what they are paid to like. What more can you expect?
     
    From just another member of the public.
    • Chris Crum

      I think when social media is not abused, it can absolutely be legitimate. That’s the whole issue – the abuse. Obviously not all info on these sites is “legit” but much like blogs, which I basically consider a form of social media anyway, users can be presented with enough different perspectives to come away with a better analysis of the topic they’re reading about.

      You say, “Social networking / user provided content requires social / personal responsibility to have any worth. I hope you have noticed that this type of reasonability is severely lacking in today

      • Stephen

        Hmmm… You say "I’m trying to promote the idea that with greater effort on the part of the social sites themselves, perhaps the legitimacy would be greater as well." Apparently you do still consider there to be some legitimacy.

        Consider that these types of sites were spawned from the perceived anonymity of the internet and the ability to say anything you want in this medium, without accountability. They are filling the perceived need and apparently people do want it. Now you ask that they censor themselves. Seems counter to their perceived charter but that is just how I see it.
         
        Consider that information provided in these sites, with these perceptions is just junk information and that is just part of the way it is. Children have played in junk piles for years, it will continue to happen and with today’s level of parental involvement it will probably increase.
         
        “Legitimizing through use” is what has skewed today’s definitions of right and wrong – be careful.
        • Chris Crum

          It’s about the discussion. It’s not always about who said what, though credibility does certainly play a factor in legitimacy.

          I don’t see your point about anonymity as valid, because not everyone is operating on these sites anonymously. I can follow, say, Robert Scoble on Twitter for example, and find out interesting tidbits on technology. He is definitely a credible source on such subjects, so why would this not be a legitimate source to obtain information?

          I’ll go further and say one thing that adds to the legitimacy of social media is that when someone posts something, there are plenty of other people to call BS on it, making it more evident when some piece of information is false, and in some case eliminating a bias that would otherwise provide the only point of view. If anything, the social aspect makes people more accountable for their words. There has never been a more open way to criticize a source of information than what has been provided with blogs and social media.

          • Stephen

            Ok, you are getting it. It is only about the discussion, not who said it or what was said. Free flowing opinion and self promotion is entertaining but …a legitimate news source? I think not.

            Interesting that you bring up Scoble, someone who has become somewhat of an expert in “gaming” the “social media” for purposes of self promotion, as a source of technology tidbits. Great fun but again …a legitimate news source? I think not.
             
            While on the subject of Scoble, noting his blog post of September 30, 2008:
             
            “The downside of this new media world is that you’ll hear a lot of opinions. Which one is right? I’m not always right. In fact, I’m often wrong. But I’ve counted on YOU, the audience, to help me correct that when I’m off in the deep end. Now, though, I’ve seen so much idiocy that I’m not even sure of my audience anymore. That’s how deep our loss of confidence in each other has come.
             
            I find I’m becoming a lot more like Andrew Keen. That scares the sh** out of me. Why? I find I’m looking to experts and elites more and more, because the crap I’m seeing out of all of our mouths is just so, um, wrong. As my history teacher back in the 1980s used to say “the masses are a**es.” This is shaking my belief system pretty thoroughly, because I actually do believe that a decentralized system is stronger than one with one guy or gal in the middle controlling everything. But for a decentralized system to work we have to 1. be smart and 2. believe in each other. Those two things are proving to me to be pretty trying right now.”
             
            The self policing Utopia that you purport is flawed in many ways (in no particular order of importance):
            1. The police are often the perpetrators.
            2. The police are often even less informed than the perpetrators.
            3. The police have no vested interest in policing the system.
            4. etc…
            It has been said eloquently by many when discussing any number of systems and institutions of the past and seems to apply to “social media” – The inmates have taken control of the asylum.
          • Chris Crum

            That is definitely an interesting post from Scoble, but I think it kind of compliments both of our points, not to mention my initial point with the above article. Social media is being damaged by users, and the ones who should be putting forth the effort to keep it under control are not doing it very well (the police if you will).

            Clearly we could go back and forth on this over and over again. We just have different ideas of what we consider to be legitimate, which is the beauty of social media, because you can get different takes on any subject written about, and therefore become more informed on the subject. What you dismiss as merely entertaining, can often times provide actual useful information to readers.

            As far as social media as a legitimate news source, there is no way any one news publication can cover every newsworthy item to happen an any given day, and one other area where social media excels in this, is bringing together different sources into one.

            I don’t know what Scoble’s “gaming” practices are, but I know he breaks stories fairly often. The legitimacy deteriorates because of the problems we have discussed. But to say there was no legitimacy ever there and that there never will be, is something I just don’t agree with. If you believe everything you read, then I guess you should not consider it legitimate, but if that’s the case, you shouldn’t consider “traditional” news sources legitimate either. It’s not like they are never wrong.

            The biggest difference is that when you socialize it, you get the whole discussion rather than one person’s take on it. I consider hearing more sides to a story to be more legitimate than to hearing only one.

            It’s why they usually call multiple witnesses in murder trials. It doesn’t always work there either, but it’s easier to reach a verdict when you hear more about the case.

          • Stephen

            Yep, futile discussion, I realize that and have from the beginning – but it has been fun.

            Let’s see; Social Media, Web 2.0, Social Networking, etc… all defined on the net as “user created content”
             
            Then there is your point; “Social media is being damaged by users, and the ones who should be putting forth the effort to keep it under control are not doing it very well”
             
            Then there is Scobles’ point; “But for a decentralized system to work we have to 1. be smart and 2. believe in each other. Those two things are proving to me to be pretty trying right now.”
             
            Provide and open forum for an ill-advised public, tell them that their opinion is important and then notice that they are not adept at dispensing worthwhile information or debating it reasonably. Really, what can you expect? Have you noticed that if you use the feature film or entertainment television industry as your source for science information you will see and hear science discussed, used, explained, etc… but the information you take away, in most part, will be false?
             
            Your statement; “There’s no denying that so called "new media" has had a huge impact on how people get their news” is really what raised my ire and prompted all of this typing. Responsible journalism has been disappearing from the landscape for some time; we really don’t need another source of misinformation promoted as a news source.
             
            The Internet as a whole is the only medium that can present every newsworthy item in the world on any given day – that is good. Filling parts of the Internet with uninformed drivel and directing people to it as legitimate news seems counter productive
             
            Kids nearly always find something to play with when they play in a junk pile; it is just not responsible to tell them that it is not dangerous.
             
            Thanks for equating it to a murder trial.
             
            I read your article simply because I was approached a month or so ago about using web 2.0 (Social Media) in promoting my business and after looking at it I decided that it would be a huge step backwards (maybe two or three) in professionalism. After speaking to many gen Xer’s who thought it “was” a good idea, I decided that maybe I was thinking too old so I have continued research on the subject. Your column and the comments here have reinforced my original thinking.
             
            The concept I was presented with was – I pay some one to teach me how to create several (large numbers) of accounts on social networking sites, all with different stories tailored to appeal to the differing interests of the net community. Make up the stories just to get people to converse with you (it was stated that this was not telling a lie, just theater and heavens no don’t use your real name, business name or contact information). Then you use applications called “Friend Blasters” and predictive dialers to “invite” large numbers of people to these made up pages. Have several people engaging the visitors in conversation. When the visitor is identified as a prospect they are added to the customer management system for further promotion – after all they opted in to one of our sites. As a kicker, when a connection is made with the inevitable child, be sure to get them to talk their parents into contacting you and keep engaging them in conversation until they do.

            While I can see the above subterfuge working at some level, it sure appears that social networking is promoting a whole new definition of the words friends and social than I am familiar with.

  • http://www.melvinnashlaw.com Marc

    CareerBuilder’s use of twitter can have value, but they have to make sure not to flood twitter with 100 messages at a time. 

    the New York times and seveal other media outlets make use of twitter well, so it can be done. 

    and its only a matter of time before we start seeing tweets about, viagara and all that other spammy stuff. 

  • Adam L

    More than anything else about Twitter, I appreciate its simplicity.  I use it for keeping in touch and I’ve never even read the tweet dump…  in all honesty, I don’t even find that feature very useful. There are enough journalism-style blogs peppered with varied opinionated headlines to browse the constant flow of headline-esque comments of thousands of (mostly uninformed) folks about politics, celebrities, Apple, Nintendo, Joe’s Big Mac for lunch, etc… They are just fun to look at.

    I’m not too concerned with companies "gaming" their way into this…the tweet dump is hardly the value of Twitter, IMO and would be surprised if companies doing this would garner any business benefit for the time they spend posting boring tweets. 

    Someone will always try, but it will take a very clever mind to make Twitter profitable.  Positive social networking requires rapport but  I’m still curious how this worked out for Career Builder.

     

     

  • http://www.yomi11.com olatokunbo gbolade

    Fine how can i do the same thing with my twitter account?

  • http://www.tv-converter-boxes.com/ Matt

    SEO champs want to get their stuff seen and it’s little wonder that any social network wouldn’t become a victim of spam.  My buddy and I have quite a few niche websites and we are always trying new ways to get them seen.  BUT, we always try to have our sites be relevant and contain good content.

    The other day we were grumbling how Google doesn’t give a lick about content anymore and only cares about what buzz is happening on the social nets.  He wrote back with this commentary that I think sums it up perfectly.

    "This whole mess is GOOGLES FAULT for changing the cornerstone of search from the best keywords – to this pop/trend chatter/twitter blog/blather content of the day! God it’s like ‘Wuzzup, Dude?? Where Yo Been?!?’ – is more important than ‘What do you offer? What is your site really about?

    Has the world gone mad? Are Kidz Whu Kan’t Reed Guud taking over the internet? Does iPhone sharing with friends, realtime Geo-Mapping cell-tower-triangulation of which Starbucks store I’m currently at getting a latte’ and which stolen MP3 song I’m listening to – have more importance these days?"

    I’m inclined to agree!

  • http://www.xivos.com Tom

    Stumbleupon provides really great (quality, not necessarily quantity) traffic for me, I am worried that the shift to a no-toolbar will mean that it just increases the noise-to-signal ratio and that an influx of crappy results will just mean the demise of the service for the more educated users, my 2c

    • Chris Crum

      I hear you on that. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

  • Guest

    Give them credit.  Thats smart.  Wish I would have thought that creatively.  If you’re mad it just b/c you didn’t think of it first.

  • http://www.movingsnow.com Guest

    Too bad people and companies always have to try to "work around"  the rules.

    Wouldn’t be great if all of us could make money by giving the customer what they really want – good old fashioned customer service.

     

  • http://www.easyadshowplace.com/adboards.html Glenn

    Seeing that many post from one company or person, only makes me less likely to use or trust them.  If you have a useful comment or opinion it only needs to be said once

  • http://officialsafetyandsecurity.com Debbie Morgan

    No matter how many good ideas come along, there will always be someone who tries to ruin it. Social media marketing is a really good idea and lots of small business owners like myslef have found it to be a very cost effective way to get our sites noticed.

    I hope this situation with CareerBuilder doesn’t ruin it for those of us who do stay within the lines.

    I enjoy interacting with people on various social sites, twitter included, raising awareness for my safety and security products. It’s a great way for the public to meet me and learn what I’m about before they become a customer.

    Thanks, Chris, for another great article!

  • http://www.thebookabyss.com.au digitalfrog

    from my point of view as a small website owner trying to get legitimate exposure without using black hat tecniques, Its extremely dissapointing. We are constantly told via blogs and newsletters to use only honest and legitimate tools to build your exposure and that search engines (read google) will punish those doing the wrong thing. Sure does make you wonder when this punishment is going to be handed down… and if we can possibly sustain ourselves until that moment comes.

    All good things come to those who wait…. but no one ever said for how long that wait was going to last.

  • http://www.sec-world.com Robert (sec)

    It will get to the point where the small website owner will have no way to advertise their website without paying someone because the big profiting sites will use up the resources causing more regulation by the social networking outlets.

     

    http://www.sec-world.com/

  • http://www.tradetosuccess.com Armand

    Black Hat SEO unfortunately will always evolve as long as technology does.  Yes, one could say that it’s not right for Career Builder (CB) to be using black hat SEO or some might say it is ingenious for CB to be the first to come up with the idea.

    However, there is one thing I know about Twitter – is that YOU CAN ALWAYS CHOOSE who you want to follow.  If you don’t want to follow CB, you will never really know what they’re talking about.  Unless of course, you happen to look at the timeline or happen to be reading WPN as you do now.

    But they’re generating links to their site you might ask?  Yes, they are – but who actually uses Twitter to look for jobs?  There might be the technically savvy ones that do but if you’re talking about the general population – who really does?

    Personally, now that I know CB has this service and if I happen to be laid off on my job – I might consider following it on jobs availability.  And if I do, then I would’ve found out the latest jobs there is.  And once I find another job then I will just UNFOLLOW it anyway.

    But then again, I won’t because I am based in Australia.  And I won’t because I use another service instead.  Additionally, I already have a job.

    In any case, social media such as twitter is different.  The choice really is entirely up to you – NOW.  You do what you want, when you want and how you want.  In short, THE POWER IS IN YOUR HANDS.  In your keyboard that you’re typing in now… or in your iPhone… or Blackberry.

    This might be a short term gain for CB but long-term combined with social networking and compounded negative feedback (if so), my suggestion to Career Builder is to be very careful.

    Hope this gives you a bit of perspective on this issue.

     

  • http://www.insuranceblog.co.uk Insuranceblogger

    Firstly I’d like to take issue with the idea that what Careerbuilder is doing is spam or black hat.

    Every SEM so called guru whose emails we get every day, from Stompernet to Blogging to the bank suggests smaller scale versions of what careerbuilder has done to promote their website. There’s certainly nothing black hat about these link and brand building exercises. As for spam – it only becomes spam when its successful and thats only in the eyes of the other ‘spammers’ who aint so good at it!

    The problem is Google – giving weight to any links from any social media site!

    Fortunately Twitter hasn’t caught on yet in the UK. Fifteen years ago we had to remove intranet ‘ twitter‘ messaging facilities from our 6000 staff at General Accident as they were demmed to be abusing it.

    If I was in charge there today I would force them to twitter and blog all day long  as long as they included links, as we’d soon be top of the search engines for every major insurance keyword – who needs to pay for advertising when your a large corporation!

     

  • http://www.ebiz-strategies.com Dean Markham

    I have a two part comment…

    First I would have to appluad Careerbuilder for their marketing creativity.

    Secondly, even more strongly than the first, spam is a pain in the butt and a real hassle for those trying to use the system as it was designed and find any real value.

  • http://www.fishni.net Nicaragua Photos

    Does anyone actually use these social networks for anything other than SEO? I wonder at times. IMHO they are one of the most bring parts of the net. I would not waste my time even visiting any of them except that they seem to be so highly weighted in Google.

  • http://www.alphawebdesigns.com deeziner

    The author said, “…rendering Twitter Search and Trending Topics virtually useless?”

    I say, it’s useless anyway. I’ve tried several times to figure out what value is there, seeing all the stupid things people post about their pathetic daily routines (“Just had my morning coffee.” “Taking the kids to school now.”) How inane! And a big “Who gives a crap?”

    Spamming Twitter to get links is the only value I can make of it, and that’s pretty limited.

  • http://smileimbank.blogspot.com/ smileimbank

    You might consider leveraging this site as a link dump by creating a handful of different twitter accounts and creating new memes for yourself along your keywords. Your tweet might be something like

  • http://car2be.com/ used bmw m5

    Fortunately Twitter hasn’t caught on yet in the UK. Fifteen years ago we had to remove intranet ‘ twitter‘ messaging facilities from our 6000 staff at General Accident as they were demmed to be abusing it.

  • http://www.neotericuk.co.uk/web-design.php website design

    Its true that today people are abusing in twitter.

  • http://www.lightsonline.com/ Anonymous

    Just like any good thing, sooner or later people abuse and destroy it. I’m afraid that Twitter is definitely falling victim to abuse. Seriously, why are people so mean?

  • http://www.blogrotica.ca BlogRotica

    Twitter marketing it’s a real force.

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