"Twitter should shut me down," screams developer Myles Recny’s post. Alright, you have our attention. Recny has a service that he claims offers better cost per acquisition on Twitter than the micro-blogging website’s own promoted tweets and accounts. And this service is directly in violation of Twitter's terms of services.
So, what is this service really about? Called Followgen, the service allows individuals and brands gain followers by programmatically favouriting people’s tweets. On Twitter, once you favourite another user’s tweet, he gets a notification. Depending on how his notification settings are adjusted, the user will see this activity on his Interactions tab and in most cases, he will even get an email informing him about it.
According to Recny, the favouriting of tweets increases the chance that a user might follow the account that favourited it. “It worked, and it worked well,” writes Recny about the service he developed as a project for his graduate programme at the New York University.
Favouriting your way to more followers
He soon started to offer this as a service, adding the ability for people to target the audience they wanted to build. If you’re a brand that manufactures equipment for outdoor sports, Followgen will start favouriting tweets of people who regularly talk about outdoor sports. When the user sees the favourite, it increases the chance of him following the brand.
Recny mentions that according to his data, the cost of a real, targeted follower on his platform was about 12 cents, as opposed to $2.50 on Twitter Ads. He claims that according to his customers - a mix of brands and individuals - the targetting and analytics of Followgen were far better too. Recny ended up building an API and built partnerships with businesses.
Anyone who has spent even a few months on Twitter will agree to the fact that it is extremely difficult to gain followers as fast as you can garner "Likes" on Facebook – think of it as a long term commitment. Brands on Twitter are especially faced with the predicament of piling up numbers quickly, something that is not the easiest task.
Of course, there are more options to garner followers, but none of them organic. There are services that offer you followers if you follow a set number of profiles. You can also engage bots or outright purchase followers. Unfortunately, none of these options will help your reach and influence much.
What Followgen does is, it tries to get real, active Twitter users to follow you back. The reason could be finding a strong topical link to what you or your brand stand for, or simple following back owing to flattery, but there is a strong chance that a certain percentage of favourited users will follow you back.
Yes, Followgen is similar in principle to a Twitter Ads product. “Rather than serving promoted tweets, or promoted accounts as impressions, I was serving targeted favorites. I'd re-invented the impression as a one-to-one social action,” writes Recny in his post.
Of course, not everyone thinks that Recny’s service is path breaking. “Innovative spam is still spam,” a user name Martin Cron commented on the post. Several other comments echo the thought. Followgen essentially spams.
Recny counters the criticism in a statement to Digital Trends: “I don’t think that Followgen is actually creating a noticeably negative experience for anyone on Twitter. What people have a problem with is that my users don’t actually read, evaluate, and consciously favorite the tweets that Followgen favorites on their behalf. Instead they express a general interest in all tweets falling within a certain category. The onus is then on them to follow up via their favorites list and engage with that person. My view is that if they do a good job of following up, it’s not spammy, if they don’t it is. Followgen’s current implementation allows for spamminess, but its vision [a partnership with Twitter] does not.”
Essentially, he says, Followgen does only half the job by getting you the followers. Interacting with them to increase your influence is your headache alone. The service already has a bevy of brands and about 50,000 “influencers” signed up for the service.
Recny now wants Twitter to shake hands with him. He wants access to Twitter’s Ads API so he can “start making money for the both of us.” He admits that his service is eating into Twitter’s Ads revenue model and doing so on its own platform.
If Twitter indeed gives it a thought, the system of favouriting tweets in order to gain real followers could be a sweet deal for all parties involved. But for now, Recny is stuck trying to get a meeting with the Twitter honchos. “It's ironic that when you want to get caught, you can't,” he signs off.