Twitter Bots to Enter Contests Automatically. What’s the Value in Running a Twitter Contest Again?

We’ve never been shy about criticising Twitter prize draws.  Hunter Scott has arguably taken our doubts about Twitter sweepstakes to an ultimate conclusion by building a Twitter contest “bot” – a Python script that automatically follows and/or retweets relevant accounts and tweets that are giving away a prize.

Why did he do this?  Primarily to figure out whether entering contests on Twitter actually yielded prizes, and they did.  From 165,000 prize draws entered via his bot over the course of 9 months, he won around 1000 prizes.  A 1:165 ratio is not spectacular, but it isn’t awful either (for reasons we will go into shortly).  Of course, having entered 165,000 prizes, there was no particular guarantee that he’d win anything he actually wanted, and the vast majority of prizes he did win he didn’t claim as he either didn’t want them, they were logistically impossible, or would have prompted him paying taxes on winnings (applicable in the US).

A selection of Scott's winnings.  Credit:

A selection of Hunter’s winnings. Credit:

Of course Twitter has limits on tweet frequency (users describe this as “Twitter Jail”), and on following/follower ratio (if you’re under around a hundred or so followers, you can’t follow more than 2000 people).  Hunter’s script was able to turn over new followers (and unfollow promotional accounts whose contests had ended) at a rate which wouldn’t hit limits, and the stream of Tweets with relevant “Retweet to win” content was of a frequency that he could retweet constantly without landing in “Jail”.

How is this relevant for people running Twitter promotions?  Hunter’s script is the first we had heard of for this purpose, but creating Twitter bots (automated scripts) is nothing new, and is extremely common.  Usually these bots are used for benign, often humorous purposes (example), but it wouldn’t be too difficult to mimic the functionality of a contest entering bot.  But it isn’t bots you should be worried about.  What is described above is achievable (perhaps on a slightly smaller scale) by humans, who, for all intents and purposes are behaving in an automated or robotic way, and it’s extremely common.

A significant portion of entrants to the classic “RT and Follow” competitions are entering the contest among hundreds of others in a short time period.  The ease with which an entry is submitted (clicking a retweet icon, and/or a follow icon) means perhaps less than 3 seconds elapses before the entry is complete.  Given access to a large stream of contests (simply searching for hashtags like #win, #competition, or #contest is sufficient), and these promotions can be batch-entered – assuming pretty fast fingers and an indiscriminate attitude to what is on offer, someone could enter 20 or more in a minute.  Now, physically few will be capable of that, but by the above logic, it is certainly conceivable that a keen entrant could enter over 100 in a day with little difficulty.  Could they recall what they’d entered, for what, and by whom?  Unlikely.

This is an extreme example.  Of course many brands and personalities run a Twitter competition and fans and engaged consumers may react specifically because they are engaged with or interested in the promoter (a valuable entrant), but if they are trawling the #win hashtag, it’s an unlikely confluence of wanting to win a prize and truly being interested in the person or entity offering it.

When we are critical of the somewhat superficial nature of Twitter promotions, at conference presentations, or on the blog, often people bring up our (pretty popular) tool to draw a random retweet, hashtag or follower called Tweetdraw.  Aren’t we telling people not to use it?  In a sense, perhaps, but contests on Twitter and Facebook aren’t going anywhere.  The ease with which they can be deployed and repeated, and the emphasis on the vanity metrics they can produce, often with little effort, means they are only getting more popular.

So what are we recommending in lieu of a standard “RT and follow”?  Well, there’s no reason you can’t use Twitter as an entry mechanism, just do it off Twitter!  An incentive (your prize) can and should win you eyeballs.  Make sure those eyes are actually viewing what you are promoting, and that would start on a landing page, and could graduate to a video, a creative competition with user-generated content, or even an instant win game.  By doing so you are able to control the level of engagement and retention of entrants through your entry mechanic and barrier to entry.  Simply put: users or customers you acquire will have a discriminate value.  We have a deck on this subject you might find useful here.

Ever since tools like Roboform, entry automation is nothing new.  Automated entry services have also been around for many years.  But could bots on Twitter be the thing that tips promoters into running more inventive contests?  Maybe.  But it’ll be a while yet.

You can read Scott’s full article on his bot experiment here.


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