Five Ways to Identify Twitter Spam Before It Invades Your Twitterstream

As the adoption of Twitter rapidly grows, so does the volume of spam, malware and overall “noise” in the network. Twitter’s development of verified accounts might be a first step to combating fraud but it certainly will not be the last. Search Engine Land detailed two more examples of this growing problem as it pertains to trending spam and misleading profiles.

Not everyone following you on Twitter is truly there to be your “friend”.

Beyond Twitter basics, here are five ways that I use for identifying potentially questionable accounts and Twitter spam.

Check Important Ratios
The first indications are in the numbers. Pay attention to the following red alerts, especially when the numbers reach the thousand mark:

  • A profile significantly following more people than having followers
  • Large numbers of followers/following without a significant number of comparable updates
  • Large numbers of followers/following in a short period of time

Services like Twitterholic and Twitter Grader provide an easy way to look at when the account was created and provide a general “score” in comparison to others. Twitterholic provides a snapshot of the recent increases/decreases in followers and following counts as well.

Be aware that when first starting a profile, Twitter allows someone to follow a maximum of 2,000 others, until greater than 2,000 follow back. Keep that mind when reviewing reviewing profiles, especially those who list something like, “following: 1,999 and followers: 500“.

Check the Style of their Updates
Read through the profile’s history of recent updates to gauge if their style is in line with your taste and interests. Trends in a profile’s Twitterstream to consider:

  • The percentage of updates which contain links
  • The tone of their updates, particularly when links are included.
  • How often they reply to other Twitter users

Part of the value in Twitter is certainly in sharing of information but take note if it appears the profile is just broadcasting links or just offering simple replies without much context.

Tone and profile objectives are important to note as well but keep in mind that there are popular Twitter profiles which rely solely on the distribution of links and provide very little conversation outside of their regular updates. For example, thousands of people follow woot.com because they trust the brand and acknowledge the type of updates they will be receiving by following.

This recommendation is more inline with “personal” profiles as opposed to company news feeds or information services.

Search for Reciprocity
Just because a profile is replying to others does not mean their really having a conversation. Use Twitter Search to identify how often others are replying to them or mentioning the profile in conversation.

If it turns out that very few people are replying back, retweeting their updates or acknowledging what they say, that should be considered a red flag.

Search for their Name in Other Locations
If you are really not certain about a particular account, search for their brand, real name and username in other networks and through Google. Legitimate online marketers should have presence in networks such as LinkedIn or Facebook or be involved in online communities related to their profession.

Verify that the information listed in the Twitter profile matches what else is documented in other social networks and third party websites.

Be careful clicking links in a questionable profile’s bio, especially if they are using a URL shortener such as tinyurl.com or Bit.ly which masks the domain name. Remember that even seemingly real domains can redirect to undesirable locations as well.

Focus on Your Objectives
Above all else, consider your original objectives with using Twitter. It might seem great to have hundreds or thousands of followers but will following everyone back have a positive impact on your end goals.

Services such as TweetDeck and the Seesmic Desktop provide better ways to organize the people you follow but it’s still difficult to effectively follow a large number of users if you’re on a mobile device (though TweetDeck is now available for the iPhone).

If an objective of your Twitter presence is to develop a large following be careful with tools that automate this process. It’s fairly easy to inadvertently follow a profile that might not be aligned with your interests. Regularly check the profiles followed to review their activity, information and ultimately if it still makes sense to stay connected.

Twitter Spam is Not Going Away
More than likely Twitter spam will get more advanced. In addition, as your profile develops and grows, so will the number of followers that might not provide value for your network.

If faced with spam or fraudulent activity, Twitter offers options for dealing with this, including their support forum and @spam profile for reporting spam activity.

At the least, Twitter users always have the option of completely blocking a questionable account from following them, which means your updates will no longer show up in their timeline and they will not be able to follow you.

Are there specific red flags that you check for when monitoring Twitter followers? We’d love to hear you thoughts and ideas on this issue via comments below.

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