Faux Viral Maketing

Today, when I was looking at recent Twitter updates from the people I follow, I saw one that read:

Just started using to get my @replies via email. Neat stuff!

Curious, and perhaps a bit groggy from last night’s festivities, I signed up for a free account. I then found that twply sent out a tweet on my behalf with the same “neat stuff” message. I deleted the message immediately (to the limited extent that one can delete anything on Twitter), but I was quite annoyed. And I’m not the only one.

I’m a big fan of viral marketing, and I think it may ultimately supplant advertising as the main way we find out about new goods and services. But what twply is doing is hardly viral marketing. Rather, it is sending out spam intended to simulate endorsement. And their approach clearly even brings short-term results, perhaps even enough to offset the cost of the backlash against their spammy approach. Even Facebook learned its lesson when it had to scale back its Beacon system, that would have taken a similar approach on a larger scale.

The other day, Ben Kunz wrote a satirical piece about a business model of selling our opinions. At least in his “modest proposal”, I imagined I’d be a willing and compensated participant. Now I find that I unwittingly sold my opinion for nothing!

I hope the backlash against twply discourages other companies from pursuing this approach. Personal endorsements and recommendations are an extremely important source of information, especially in a world of information and advertising overload. Undermining their integrity undermines this oasis in a sea of untrustworthy sources, and it’s an oasis we have to protect.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

6 replies on “Faux Viral Maketing”

Tamar, I know that I checked the box to opt out of “supporting” them at the time I signed up, so I at least thought I was opting out. But that didn’t stop it from sending out a message as me. Perhaps it was a bug or a browser issue. Regardless, there were no details about the nature of the support.

In any case, I agree wholeheartedly with your observation, as should be clear from my post.


Tamar – in order to “opt in”one should have to _check_ a box. The requirement to uncheck a box is a default opt-in with an ability to opt-out.

Worse, several people have reported that the “opt-out” feature doesn’t seem to be working.

The default should always be Quiet Please. Let _me_ decide if I want to recommend a service.


I absolutely hear you, Daniel. Why should you Tweet about a site before even seeing how it performs?

Vicki, I hear you — you were basically “opting in” without knowing, though. was the same way.

I’m not using any more Twitter services that require me to enter my username and password to access the API. In fact, I think the Twitter team should start banning applications that abuse the API in this way.


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