The Fine Line Between Informing and Spamming Your Followers

As of this morning, I've got 27,162 followers on Twitter. I've developed this following the hard way, slow and steady growth for 2 1/2 years. I'll be the first to admit that being an investor in and a board member of Twitter has helped. But I've not wanted to be on the Suggested User List and I am not. The people who follow me on Twitter have chosen to follow me for a reason and I try hard to post things that they'll find interesting.

My rule for Twitter is "four to six a day or you'll send your followers away". According to TweetStats, I post an average of 6.3 tweets per day. So I occasionally break my own rule, but I do edit myself on Twitter.

Yesterday, two things happened to me that got me thinking about this tension between informing and spamming. The first is my friend Seth Goldstein asked me to check out his company's new Twitter advertising system called Twitter Sparq. I went there, created an identical ad to the one I run for this blog in AdWords and submitted it. Somewhere in that work flow, I generated a tweet to all my followers that said:

I'm getting free Twitter advertising through a newly launched Twitter Ad Platform. You can too at

I didn't even know about the auto tweet until a few friends/followers emailed me and DM'd me about it. They all thought it was an unusual looking tweet coming from me. One follower asked:

@fredwilson looks like you just got tricked into spamming

To which I replied:

@jcsalterego i did get tricked into spamming and it pisses me off. not cool. i guard what goes to my followers pretty carefully.

I also informed Seth and he promised to look into the workflow to make sure that doesn't happen to others.

The second thing that happened yesterday is I played around with the Hype Machine's new Twitter playlist. I gotta tell you that this is the coolest new web music thing that I have seen in a long time. Last night at a dinner party, I just put this list on the home stereo and we got great music all night from it.

Anthony, the founder of the Hype Machine, published the algorithm that drives this list on the Hype Machine blog and it's a fascinating read.

Basically, the Hype Machine looks at all twitter links to Hype Machine and counts all those links as votes. But the votes are weighted by this formula:

round(( 1/3 * (twitter_followers / 10) ^ 0.5 ) * (twitter_followers / twitter_friends) * 10))

Well it turns out that I weight really heavily on this formula. Because of my follower count and following ratio, I generate 515 points every time I tweet a song from Hype Machine.

I did that once this week, the new single from the Arctic Monkeys, Crying Lightning. It's a fantastic song that I like more and more every time I listen to it.

Since then, I've been asked by a few artists and fans to tweet out some other tracks. I've been hesitant to do that. I don't want to spam my followers with tons of Hype Machine links. I am trying to figure out exactly how I should play this game. And that's the cool thing about the Hype Machine Twitter playlist, it has game dynamics in it. I like that.

All games built on Twitter, like Spymaster, include spamming your followers as a key component. I'm not comfortable abusing the trust of the 27k people who clicked that follow button by unleashing a ton of music links at them, even if I do really like the songs.

So I am working through this tension between informing and spamming. I thought I had it figured out pretty well but now as new services pop up that include the social (and viral) element of spamming your followers, I am facing some new questions. I think all of us who use Twitter regularly are going to face those questions, or are facing them, and the way we all work through them will be important to the value we get out of Twitter going forward.

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