Why retweet marketing campaigns are the devil

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.