Ban This! New Rules for Twitter Users

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"Sorry, the account you were headed to has been suspended due to strange activity."

Ever log onto Twitter only to be blindsided by the message above, usually accompanied by some type of stylized cartoon bird? If you have, it's a pretty disheartening feeling (at least, I would assume), one that is a mix of emotions, such as sadness, anger, frustration and betrayal (Why, Jack Dorsey? Why?). 

Recently, the social networking site has started suspending accounts that they felt were violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This rash of suspended stops in the Twitterverse leads to one penultimate question: What exactly does it take to get suspended or banned from Twitter?

Twitter's rules and regulations are in place to keep spammers and bots from filling up news feeds and just generally ruining the whole experience for the rest of us law-abiding Twitizens. So, if you're a ruthless spammer, the above message shouldn't surprise you much, but if you're just an average user trying to promote your brand or business on one of the world's largest social networking sites, you may be a little confused.

Unfortunately, a lot of the things that online marketers might be doing to market their brand, product or service might actually find them in violation of some of Twitter's rules, and your innocent attempt at marketing will soon find itself on the receiving end of an account suspension. 

While the folks at Twitter are monitoring accounts for suspicious behavior, there are really four things that they are going to look at to determine the legitimacy of an account. 

If an account has recently started to follow a large number of people in a short amount of time, they're going to take notice. This is because usually spammers or bots will try to follow a bunch of people at once in hopes that they will follow them in return, and then they can spam them. So, if Twitter sees someone starting to follow an incredible amount of people in just a day or two, they're going to be a bit wary of their motives. The best bet for a marketer is to follow a few people who they know will be interested in their brand or company, usually because the user already follows a similar brand, and then let their networking grow from there. As the Twitter rules page says, "Remember, Twitter isn't a race to get the most followers." Targeted networking is key on this social network, and following every user you can find is, by all accounts, not targeted. 

Another issue related to mass following is mass unfollowing. As I said, people will typically follow a lot of users at once in hopes that some of them will follow them back in return. However, occassionally, when that doesn't work out, the original user will go back and unfollow those who chose not to follow them. As Twitter starts to limit your numbers and scrutinize your account more once you start following around 2000 users, many spammers will unleash mass unfollowing fury every once in a while, which is usually a good tip off to the site that you're up to no good. 

An account with a small number of followers compared to the number of people they're following is also a red flag, at least in Twitter's eyes. This one is questionable, especially for new accounts who are just starting out and many potential followers may not know about yet, but it is also sort of a natural extension of the first warning sign. If you continue to follow new people every day, but no one seems interested in following you, there may be a reason. Not that you're spamming necessarily, but if you're not, you may want to figure out what the deal is. Still, I think this is one of the lesser concerns of a Twitter user, because if you're networking the right way, things should even out naturally. 

Updating mainly with links and not personal statuses is another thing they don't take too kindly to around them parts. This is the ultimate technique of the spammer, just constantly updating with links and impersonal nonsense. Remember, this is social media, so Twitter wants you to be social. Obviously, if you have important links to post, go for it, but keep it lively and communicate with your followers. Use this tool the way it was intended and have a little fun. Social media marketing is not the same as old-school business marketing, it requires a more personal touch. 

The last big one should be really, really obvious. If Twitter has a problem with a lot of users blocking your profile and/or writing in with complaints that you're spamming, you're going to be suspended, and probably almost immediately. There's a simple solution: don't spam. It's rare that anyone will ever complain if you're not actually spamming, and Twitter is probably going to notice pretty early on if you are, anyway.

There are a few other practices that can lead to suspensions even though they may be harmless on the user's end. Inadvertently "spamming" by posting the same thing, especially links, to other users, maybe asking them to vote for you in a contest or something, will draw the ire of the Twitter crew. So will duplicate updates, which could be happening without your knowledge if you use a third-party app to post on your social networking sites, which is why it's a great reason to monitor those applications daily just to make sure nothing is going wrong. Finally, Twitter hates username squatting, which is where you'll sign up for an account only to hold that title hostage. Many people who just don't use their accounts very often will find them suspended for this reason, even though it's perfectly innocent. Just ask our Editor-in-Chief, Peter Prestipino.

So, just to refresh, here are a few things you'll want to avoid so you don't bring down the wrath of Twitter. Don't go a spree of mass following a bunch of people, and, likewise, don't go too crazy unfollowing people all-at-once, either. Try not to overuse links and make sure you incorporate personal status updates into your Twitter content; nothing says "spam" like a bunch of dispassionate linking. Don't go overboard posting content for specific users, especially if it's the same material. Make sure that all of your posts are going through only once and you don't have duplicates. Check in on and update your profile every once in a while, which you should be doing anyway if you actually want something to come out of your Twitter marketing campaign. And, finally, please, don't intentionally spam

Oh, and pornography...don't post any pornography.

Happy tweeting!

 

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3 comments

CherylA 09-02-2011 6:37 PM

Wow - this is seriously good information - I'm going to share the link to the article to a few of our clients.  I've not had this happen to me or to any of our clients so far, but I found the info about using third-party apps especially chilling - as many of our customers use these.

I'm actually kind of happy to read that these changes are coming into effect, because as a 'twitizen' who enjoys many aspects of twitter, getting spammed isn't one of them - and I find it happening more often lately - so it will be interesting to see if these measures put a stop to spammers.  Thanks again for a great read!

Keith James 09-02-2011 8:31 PM

This will improve the user experience on Twitter but I'm not exactly sure what problem this solves. Twitter is asynchronous in that you don't have to follow everyone who follows you. If you should for some reason happen to follow a spammer, the unfollow button is just a click away. The biggest effect will probably be a reduction in Twitter's bandwidth costs.

JulieK 09-04-2011 12:33 PM

Thanks for the great insight.

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