Microsoft Caught Using Aggressive Churn Tactics on Twitter

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday, 10 February 2016 |

Churn. It's the practice of calculatedly following and then unfollowing on Twitter - purely to build an audience. Churn is something in which a lot of small-time marketers have at least dabbled at some point. But what about Internet giants like Microsoft? Surely they wouldn't use this rather desperate means to build a following... Would they?

Well, on 19th January 2016 I was followed on Twitter by Microsoft's @BingAds account. Hmmm, methinks. 63.3K followers; 30.7K friends? That looks like a churn stat to me. I wonder if they'll still be following in two weeks' time?...

So I took a screen capture of the account's profile page (with the little "FOLLOWS YOU" denotation next to the username below the avatar), saved the capture in a folder, and resolved to wait for the two weeks to pass. You can see that original capture above.

In the event, I missed the deadline and didn't check to see if @BingAds was still following me until today - 10th February 2016. So I don't know whether or not the follow lasted the full fortnight. What I do know, is that @BingAds is not following me now. Somewhere in the course of the past three weeks, Microsoft's @BingAds account has unfollowed me.

What's more, the stats have changed quite markedly. Today, the same account has 69.7K followers, and 49.4K friends. In the course of three weeks, @BingAds has followed almost 19,000 accounts. (so getting on for 1,000 a day - is that even allowed?), AND it's been unfollowing as well. The gain in followers has been about 6.4K. Above, I've added the capture showing the current totals, and a distinct lack of the "FOLLOWS YOU" indicator.

Okay, so there's a lot I don't know about what's happened between 19th January and 10th February - in particular I don't know the extent of the unfollowing. I did check Wayback Machine, but whilst there's an entry for 27th January, the actual archive capture the site shows is for 9th February, meaning that there's no record of the interim period. What I was able to establish is that on 12th January - one week before @BingAds followed me - the account had a friends total of 40.8K. Therefore, it UNFOLLOWED more than 10,000 accounts in the space of a week. If that's not aggressive churn, I don't know what is. The capture for 12th January, taken from Wayback Machine, appears above.

It's clear that Microsoft's account is behaving in a manner which is not conducive to the spirit of Twitter, and blatantly, it is not following people for any other reason than to gain followers.

I don't really care whether @BingAds is deemed to be acting within Twitter's ToS or not. It's an example of a mega-multi-billionaire company behaving like some balloon fetish fan page (sorry balloon guys - no offence). What's next? The Microsoft #FollowTrain? A #TeamFollowBack tag in the bio? Guys: if you want Twitter followers, can you not just, like, advertise your account in a proper manner? I mean, yeah, I've followed people on Twitter, and unfollowed them again. But not three digits (or nearly four digits in Microsoft's case) in a day, and not indiscriminately without checking them out... And in any case, I'm not a mega-multi-billionaire. I don't have Microsoft's public profile, promotional means or limitless finances. I'm just a blogger, with no responsibilities towards the public, and far more need for free promotion than Microsoft - and yet I've never used Twitter in anything like as aggressive or unconducive a manner.

I think we're all pretty well aware that when big businesses say how much they respect the public, they're lying. But what a perfect encapsulation this is, of how Microsoft sees the public. Fancy placing an ad with Bing? No, nor me.

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