Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Rise of the Robots

Twitter bots. Everyone hates them. I say “everyone”, but who knows for certain? Their proponents aren’t especially vocal on the matter.

In case you missed the memo, a Twitter bot is a program that can be used to (a) automatically follow Twitter accounts and (b) produce automated posts, such as retweets. And in case you haven’t yet put two and two together, this means that they can hunt out follow-RT comps on Twitter and enter them - automatically.

Evil robot! Evil!

This is where the frown starts to spread across most compers’ faces. But why is that? What’s actually wrong with automation?

Have you ever used keyboard shortcuts or a form-filling plugin such as Autofill on Chrome, or an app such as Roboform, to fill in your address details? That’s automation by any other name, so isn’t it in the same ballpark?

Short answer: no.

For a start, there’s the matter of targeting. If you’re using Autofill to populate some address fields, you’re doing so for a competition that you have decided to enter. Twitter bots are a ruthlessly efficient way of scoring the odd win, much like the indiscriminate dredging of sea beds is a sure-fire way of catching a crab or two. Dredging for crabs would cause untold collateral damage to other marine life and the environment. Twitter bots are likewise wasteful and damaging. Prizes are won that can’t be claimed and promoters get wazzed off with people wasting their time, not to mention any negative publicity associated with the poor sportsmanship. In any case, it does the comping community no favours.

Promoters host competitions to raise the profile of their brand or their products. They want people to interact with their brand - to engage. This, after all, is the first stage of customer journey - the “first moment of truth”, I believe they call it. And these robots, while all very clever, don’t engage. Autofill might save a few seconds of typing, but (a) typing your address isn’t brand engagement, and (b) if nothing else, you have at least paid the promoter the most basic courtesy of reading their name.
In sum: employing a robot might not always break the letter of the law, but it’s certainly not in keeping with the spirit of it.

But what to do? Compers could tell promoters when it looks like a robot has won their promotion - but would that help or would it just shine a bad light on the comping community? Furthermore, how many people would actually tell a promoter if they suspected a winning account of being bot-driven? Who wants to be a grass or a bad loser?

It’s not like promoters can add a CAPTCHA test to their tweets, is it? Or is it? Even the most basic of effort hurdles could help here. Sure, keep the follow & RT entry criteria, but require a pertinent comment or photo and the bots will be stopped in their tracks. Enough of this and they will wither and die. We can at least dream, right?

Terms & conditions on Twitter comps are notoriously lacking, meaning that automated entries are not expressly forbidden as religiously as they are for regular web comps - how does that make you feel? What would you do to change this? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. I am so behind on Twitter that I've literally only just started using autoschedule for some of our blogposts! I can't understand why anyone would use twitter bots for comps - takes the fun out of it for themselves and others.

    1. I suppose I can compute the idea of wanting to win, but not wanting to compete, but I agree - it spoils the fun for everyone. I'm happiest when the competitions are as competitive as possible - whether best photo or best tie break or whatever. I don't win that many but I'm always happy to be outclassed - it's a learning experience!