Is MacHeist’s Tweetblast an example of how advertisers will destroy Twitter?

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Like many people (19,000 at the last count) I took part in MacHeist’s recent “tweetblast” which, as Cult of Mac explain:

is a simple concept. All you have to do is post a tweet on Twitter using a particular phrase, which in this case is:

‘@MacHeist Yeah, I’ll take a free copy of DEVONthink! #MacHeist #free’

And once you’ve done that, you can claim a license code for DEVONthink worth just shy of 50 bucks.

I did it for several reasons – firstly I thought it was DEVONagent I was asking for, which is a rather good internet research tool. But it wasn’t – it was DEVONthink which is also a neat tool but which, as an Evernote user, I don’t really need. Secondly I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on MacHeist which in the past has led me to getting hold of someinteresting software at knock-down prices.
But mainly I was intrigued. I’d seen companies use Twitter for promotional purposes before – for example Evernote themselves are asking people to send tweets on Fridays for a chance to win prizes, while of course at the same time telling anyone who follows them about the product.

But Evernote’s strategy relies on people being bothered to compose a short and meaningful message – to me it’s still within the realms of what Twitter is all about. The MacHeist approach is different. To get the “prize” (which is guaranteed) you simply have to send a set phrase. It’s easy to do – in fact I read someone else’s tweet and simply copied and pasted it and sent it on. It’s the equivalent of a chain letter. It’s not a meme, before anyone uses the term, as a meme is an idea that develops and mutates. This is cloning, not memetics.
It strikes me as being similar to those advertising campaigns where you would have to find someone or be approached by them and say a certain phrase word-for-word to win the prize. They still happen: radio stations phone people up randomly and if they answer with the required phrase they get money, but anything else (like “Hello?”) loses.
It’s sort of exciting, but it’s also very useful for the organiser because it’s a sure fire way of getting hundreds, thousands, if not more, people to memorise a phrase and rehearse saying it over and over. Then telling their friends.

There’s no memorising going on here, of course, but there is certainly friend-telling. Tweeting the message ensures it’s seen by anyone who follows you and, if your updates aren’t protected, by anyone looking at the public timeline. Because it will happen quickly, it means the timeline will be flooded with the same message for an hour or so, and that it will crop up in any clients that track popular topics.

It’s very, very clever. But it’s also rather worrying. Why? Well I’ll let Cult of Mac explain:

By asking people to turn their Twitter streams into advertising billboards, the MacHeisters are damaging the community there. Twitter’s supposed to be about the sharing of status, it’s all about conversation. I find it sad to see it being co-opted by commercialism. Sad, but not surprising.

The more Twitter grows, the more advertisers are going to try and game it. I don’t want the people I follow to be tempted into doing the spammers’ work for them. I don’t want to see advertising where I expected to see real people.

I think this is right: MacHeist has distorted Twitter to suit its own ends and I fell right in to it for a piece of software I didn’t need (I even had to unprotect my updates temporarily to take part). Skittles did something similar last week, turning their home page in to a Twitter search for #skittles – the only problem being that it resulted in people posting racist and crude messages. MacHeist’s approach is cleverer. If other companies cotton on to it (which they will if people like me blog about it!) we could soon see Twitter flooded with advertising messages like this one:

‘@Coca-Cola Yeah, I’ll take a free can of cola and the chance to win a trip of a lifetime! #Coca-Cola #free’

You get the idea…

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