Archive for the ‘Promoted Tweets’ Category

How To Kill ‘Promoted Tweets’

August 15, 2015 2 comments

[Update : I’ve tried a new experiment – un-muting a promoted tweet a/c I’d previously muted as per below. Their promoted tweets started appearing again pretty much straight away. Which seems to confirm the whole approach of muting not blocking]

Twitter’s ‘promoted tweets’ are a gimpfarm, right? Right. Leaving aside the usual dumb-mute defence of “but .. you might miss out on a commercial opprtunity that you’re interested in!“, the Twitter ad model & monetization is particularly crass, like the inherent clumsiness of radio ads – changing the channel doesn’t really work in what is essentially a linear feed of information, and there’s no handy AdBlocker (without which the whole interweb itself would be completely unusable).

[Disclaimer : in the interests of not just making a childish demand to receive services for free, personally I’d far rather simply pay. (a) I then cease to be being sold commercially myself – my own data – if you can’t see where to pay for the product then you ARE the product; and (b) you can easily do it anonymously with anon credit cards. I’m also aware of the irony of WordPress inserting random ads all around this blog post.]

Anyway, you’re still reading this at all, so I assume you’re interested in killing off promoted tweets somehow. Fine. Long story short, there are lots of things you’d think might work, and one solution that actually might work. Don’t block them (there’s no point), Do chew them out (for the LOLZ), and Do mute the accounts (as it appears to work).

1. I can just block them, right? 

*bzzzzt* Wrong! For a start, you don’t block tweets, you block accounts. And anyway, it simply doesn’t work. You can block accounts which send promoted tweets OK, it just doesn’t make any difference to their promoted tweets – they get through in any case.

This assertion is easy, if a bit tedious, to verify – just try it. Block a promoted-tweeter, and then just wait until another one of their promoted tweets appears. Which it will, if they send one at you.

2. What if I can contrive them to block me

Good thinking. This is supposed to stop you, the blockee, being able at all to view anything of them, the blocker, right?

Yes – except for promoted tweets. Obvs. Duh. If you are blocked by a promoted tweeter then it, as per “1.” above, simply makes no difference – their promoted tweets get through to you in any case.

This is a bit trickier for you to verify, as involves you managing to get a promoted tweeter to block you and then waiting until they promoted-tweet at you again. I’ve managed it a few times myself (mainly by pissing them off enough with the #OTAPTTFOBERTTTCTM gambit as per below), and it definitely confirms this point. See below – the LHS is a promoted tweet I got from the account who, as per the RHS, had already blocked me.

A blocked promoted tweet

3. But I don’t get promoted tweets on a 3rd-party Twitter client

Correct. You don’t. This is one potential solution. The main problem is just the basic quality of Twitter experience.

3rd-party Twitter clients rely on the public Twitter API – a service which Twitter elect to provide, to enable independent developers to make apps etc. for Twitter users. The original aim for Twitter being just to grow their social media presence as much as possible. (More apps, more users).

And the API helps us, the poor beleaguered users, because 3rd-party apps can elect to simply not download promoted tweets. You don’t see promoted tweets in Janetter/Tweetbot/etc because that programs simply chooses not to poll them from the Twitter server. YAY!! #zomg

However – now, for Twitter, the commercial game has changed. Twitter aren’t a small kooky meeja startup any more – they have shareholders, and tedious meetings where words like “asset leverage” get used. So instead of trying to just grow-grow-grow, users now need to be productive for the company as well as merely being extant.

So Twitter are somewhat less benevolent with API developments than they used to be. Desktop apps are OK – still – for how long, who knows – but mobile apps are becoming unusable – for the following reason.

One of the simplest ways Twitter can ramp down the party of free 3rd-party API access to tweet data, is just incrementally to reduce the rate at which those 3rd-party apps can access it. Don’t kill them off, but choke them down quietly so no-one notices. And right now, IMHO this has already rendered 3rd-party mobile Twitter apps unusable. [Disclaimer : I’ve only tried on Android]. “Unusable” means the refresh rate – you get X pings to the API per-15-minutes or so, and when they’re gone they’re gone. If you want Twitter to refresh live, as I do, then you very quickly use up your allocated server pings, and you just sit there for many minutes waiting for a few tweets to emerge from the hundreds that may be passing. And this is especially noticeable if you back-to-back it against the regular Android Twitter app (which has no such refresh-rate limit) – it’s an utterly different, and better, experience than the 3rd-party app case.

(BTW this goes for all 3rd-party apps. It’s nothing to do with their own features and foibles; it’s a single issue they all face, of the single server-side API they’re all pointing at.)

So you can use 3rd-party apps to dodge promoted tweets. But (a) the effectiveness of this on mobile appears to have been crippled by Twitter via the side-route of the effective refresh limit (making the thing as unusable as it is with promoted tweets in place), and (b) we have cause to think this will probably get inflicted on desktop apps at some point also. Because monetization.

4. Can’t we just fight the commercial aspect head-on?

The customer is king, right?

Well. Twitter’s commercial model for promoted tweets works like this. You, a promoter, take out a contract for a certain amount, e.g. $2000; things happen, e.g. tweets are promoted, ads are posted etc., which incrementally reduces your contract balance. And when it’s at zero, your tweets stop being promoted, until you buy another bundle.

(Note: this is relatively hard to verify, from public data. Twitter are actively reticent, as it’s straightforward commercial-competitive data; and I infer there’s a term in their contracts preventing clients disseminating much info. I did have some links to illustrate all this, but either (a) stupidly I have lost them, or (b) they’re dead.)

So what, specifically, costs money to the promoter? Promoting a tweet itself, clearly; and also, various adjoints to that :

  • If someone responds to your promoted tweet
  • If someone RTs it
  • If someone follows you directly after it

.. and so on. In each of these cases, these actions will chip a bit off your outstanding promotion balance.

However – it turns out that ANY response to a promoted tweet counts. ANY response. A blank space; random characters; active abuse. You can verify this relatively easily by just looking at some responses to some promoted tweets; I’m not the only one who’s figured this out, apparently, as quite often you see people just pinging back with random letters. (As distinct from just generic “please go away” responses).

How much does this cost the promoted tweeter? Well, typically (under the caveat of what public info on all this is available, as per note above), it’s about $0.10-$1 or so. I mean, any response you make to a promoted tweet will cost them about that much money off their current promotion balance.

SO – in the interests of making a proactive commercial point, to try and drive tweet promotion down as a remunerative ad activity, and also because I’m basically a bit of a wanker, I myself have decided to take this head-on. Any promoted tweet I get, I reply to with “Fuck off. #OTAPTTFOBERTTTCTM”. Which stands for “Operation ‘Tell All Promoted Tweets To Fuck Off Because Each Response To Their Tweet Costs Them Money'”. Catchy, no? BTW you can program this as a shortcut into the standard Android keyboard – in my case, all I actually type is “fo”, which auto-fills to the above kickback.

You can easily “verify” = spectate on this, just on the hashtag #OTAPTTFOBERTTTCTM. Sometimes there’s not a lot on display, but this is because I delete all my tweets every night automatically (a separate story), so I might not have got around to cussing anybody out at the particular time of day you check it out. Soz.

[Editor’s note – not sure what’s going on with Twitter search, but right now the #OTAPTTFOBERTTTCTM search returns loads of results on the native Android interface but none on the native web interface.]

5. None of this sounds especially helpful

Wait for it. WAIT FOR IT.

The latest option I’ve twigged, is to mute the promoting account. (After chewing them out, as per above).

This, appears to be different to blocking – and it appears to work. [Disclaimer : only tested on the native Android app]. I have, recently, begun simply muting accounts which post promoted tweets – and thus far, I have not seen in my TL a single repeated promoted tweet from an account which I’ve muted. And I do check – as you can infer from all the other info, I’m a bit anal.

You can verify this too, just by trying it. And in particular, look out for any evidence that contradicts. It’s easy to demonstrate that e.g. blocking doesn’t work, as a single example of a fail is enough, but demonstrating that muting does work is a long-tail test. It has worked for me so far, but that isn’t formal proof it works.

A bit more context, too. In the Android native Twitter client, there is a reasonably well-known bug relating to the mute feature itself, whereby you can read tweets of accounts that have blocked you. Go to their profile, mute them and then unmute them, and lo! you can read their tweets despite still being as blocked as you were beforehand. So if muting promoted tweets does indeed work as it appears to, it might just be a bug.