Why retweet marketing campaigns are the devil

by Alex on May 26, 2010

Recently United Airlines (@UnitedAirlines) ran a campaign on Twitter to celebrate the 1st anniversary of their Twitter account, or “Tware” as they like to call it. The basic structure of the campaign involved asking Twitter users to retweet the following:

Happy bday Tware! RT this for a chance to win 2 RT tkts w/in the lower 48, Canada+Alaska! http://tinyurl.com/26ka7rw #twarebday4less than a minute ago via web

So essentially, to enter the contest you had to retweet the contest message and hashtag, as well as the URL, which was basically the Ts & Cs for the campaign. You can retweet it every day for the duration of the campaign to increase your chances of winning.

This is a terrible, terrible idea. At best I would call it disingenuous and against the spirit of the platform. At worst I would call if fucking annoying. I would strongly discourage companies from ever doing this type of campaign. Here’s why:

It’s effectively spam. You’re encouraging your followers to pollute their tweetstream with meaningless crap. A few of my friends retweeted the United message and I called them on it. We had an interesting debate about the merits of this type of campaign when a friend said this:

@cubedweller – @southwestair posted 16 tweets today, I see that as a little more spam like that @unitedairlines tweet contests #grogpinionless than a minute ago via HootSuite

My answer to this is no. Categorically no. And the reason is simple. I don’t follow Southwest on Twitter, and if I did and felt they were tweeting too much per day, I could easily unfollow them. With United’s campaign, I could potentially receive the same campaign message 178 times a day for the duration of the campaign (5 days.) So let’s look at this:

I follow 178 people on Twitter, who could all retweet the same message every day for 5 days. Remember, one increases one’s chances of winning by retweeting the message each day. So, 178 x 5 = 890. I could receive essentially the same tweet 890 times in 5 days. Fuck. That. Of course the chances of that are low but at least 10 of the people I follow retweeted the message at least once so I had the possibility of getting it 50 times in 5 days. Still absolutely unacceptable. The whole retweet thing was bad enough but encouraging users to retweet the same message 5 days in a row is completely ridiculous.

A simple way that UA could have made this a successful campaign AND added value to followers receiving the RT is if they had added a UGC component. For example, instead of retweeting a meaningless marketing message that is of zero value to an entrant’s followers, why not have the entrant tweet a travel tip each day with the contest hashtag. That way the entrant is enrolling in the contest AND providing a service to their followers.

Also,  users should NEVER be encouraged to retweet your same marketing message multiple times to enter a contest, or for any other reason. Ever. Ever, ever, ever.

Let’s be honest here, if your contest isn’t complete crap, then your followers will retweet it because they WANT to not because they have to. I have a feeling that the people I follow who retweeted the UA contest would have done so on the merit of the prize alone and as a service to their followers. I know I would.

I think this quote from Snipe.net sums up my feelings nicely: “Encouraging your Twitter followers to spam their friends with contests and promotions that they very likely may not even be interested in will only result in their followers resenting you *and* unfollowing the original tweeter. I treat RT contests very much like the recent syphilitic plague of Twitter-based games such as Mafia Wars.”

BTW, if you’re looking for GOOD Twitter marketing advice, check out The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web by Tamar Weinberg. It really is an excellent book.


[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alex Hunter and WD Becvar, Franco. Franco said: RT @cubedweller: Why retweet marketing campaigns are the devil http://bit.ly/aKdcZM /cc @grogory @lbc42a @TheChrisPaduan […]

by Tweets that mention Why retweet marketing campaigns are the devil | Alex Hunter -- Topsy.com on May 26, 2010 at 11:45 am. #

I am now working for a major company and I honestly do not think large companies understand. We have random people in “Marketing” *cough* Sales *cough* sending out useless shit all day. I have yet to give my .02 cents because I really don’t think they care. I find it amusing that startups are years ahead of the Fortune 500 company. Enjoyable read!

FYI: The label “Comments” is overlaying this textbox in Chrome.

by anonymous on May 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm. #

Well said, Alex. I think I’ll start sending companies here when they break the RT rule :)

by Dan Rubin on May 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm. #

Of course, if your followers used the new RT feature (instead of just quoting the tweet) then you would only see the message once, no matter how many of your followers tweeted it.

I’m not saying I agree with those campaigns (I don’t.) just that this is one of the reasons Twitter made the new RT feature. You can also follow a friend but NOT follow their RTs if they use this feature.

by Shaun on May 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm. #

Thank for laying this out in long form rather than a 140 character blast.

I like that UA was trying something different to celebrate one year of tweeting versus other companies that are getting repetitive and stale at this point. However, UA tripped up in two ways with that campaign. First, it was five days of retweeting. I was tired of it after the second day despite wanting to win the tickets and, with the exception of retweeting it to #annoycubedweller, I ignored the campaign after day two. The other mistake was trying to prove their relevancy on twitter. That is the role of billboards and banner ads. However, UA wanted their followers to show everyone else that UA matters. imagine how much seeing all the UA crap would have bugged you if you didn’t care about flying.

There were two other airline contests recently from Lufthansa and JetBlue. Lufthansa did an admirable job as they did not ask for any retweeting. Followers were asked to write an essay about what air travel will be like in a few decades. Then the public could vote on the best of three answers selected by Lufty. This was engaging and targeted on twitter to people who like the brand. I’m sure they marketed it in other places too in order to gain brand awareness. JetBlue was a little better than UA at the beginning. The BlueJet simply asked followers to say what they would do with a day in LA. But, even that deteriorated into a
“retweet this…” campaign.

About WN’s 16 tweets in one day: I only follow companies to get something from them – news, deals, announcements or, in the case of Jack in the Box, a laugh. I don’t really care that @intsertcattlenamehere had a great experience on Southwest or that Kyle was in Bob’s Liquor Store. That’s all noise and I think some companies go overboard with stroking their egos. I also equate those tweets with overhearing a loud conversation on the subway. KLM is a great airline to follow, they usually have one tweet a day at most. The ash cloud may have fallen from US news outlet’s radars, but KLM has posted a few updates of the most recent happenings. They also have posted some interesting marketing videos.

by @grogory on May 26, 2010 at 7:08 pm. #

[…] a tidal wave of retweeting, likes, +1, and more lazy retweeting, it is no surprise to find that good quality, original content is king. The 2011 B2B Marketing […]

by Content marketing is one of your best strategies – but don’t underestimate the amount of work « Running in parallel on March 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm. #

[…] a tidal wave of retweeting, likes, +1, and more lazy retweeting, it is no surprise to find that good quality, original content is king. The 2011 B2B Marketing […]

by Content is king but don’t underestimate the amount of work | PedalRedPedalRed on September 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm. #

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