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December 15, 2010


Social Media Profiles for Quality or Rank?

by Anthony Verre

Creating Social Media Profiles for Quality or RankIf you work in search marketing, then chances are good that you’ve read the great journalistic effort from Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land “Social Signals Google and Bing Really Count?” Since the story is now 13 days old in linear, real-time (translating to roughly 6 months old in Search Marketing time), you might be wondering why I’m choosing to talk about this now?

There’s been plenty of talk about the details of how Bing and Google credit profiles and what they key off of to assess that profile’s authority. But, what I haven’t heard from anyone, is the quintessential problem this reporting of this data brings with it: do you build a profile for quality or a profile for ranking purposes.

Caveat Emptor:

This post is solely going to focus on Twitter profiles. While Facebook does have relevance to the conversation, it’s not being used by more than one of the major search engines in full (via Search Engine Land’s Article) and even at that it appears Bing is back-referring to Twitter to surmise authority. Ultimately, this is going to more introspective about how I’ve used Twitter in last two years, than empirical facts.

It All Starts With Quality

We all start building our profiles with the aim of quality in mind, because, after all, our first profiles are usually personal. We follow influential people in our business spaces, friends, or people who provide amusing or great information. As your time in a given space grows, your own influence builds. Whether it takes months or years, every active profile arrives at this point where they must choose the direction of the profile.

Follower counts grow, following counts grow. The opportunities to spread your meme farther and farther is alluring. At some point you stop focusing on the quality of followers and focus on the number. Bigger is better. And Google and Bing seem to agree with that logic. What Danny was calling the SocialRank and as Bing articulated:

We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results

Nowhere in that statement does it mention quality. And, you might feel free to apply that to this statement, but I’d be careful about that. It seems to be focused on straight quantity. Followers to Following.  The measurement, it would seem to Bing, is to see a well-defined gap between Followers and Following.

Social Media Can Be Cold-Hearted

It Ends With Rank

I’ll be the first to admit, being on twitter for almost 2 years now, that I’m as interested in attaining rank, being as “influential” in the space as possible. At some point Twitter transformed itself for me into being a tool for getting messages out, highlighting great content, building relationships (i.e. Superstar mentality) and less about the quality of followers.

For the first year on Twitter, I didn’t care about counts in the least. I built a profile fashioned out the industry’s best, whether they followed back or not, because they brought great information and conversation to the table. I was of the mindset that I would rather have a succinct core of idea and information exchange, than be a Jim Morrison wanna-be. I subscribed, and still do subscribe, to Edward Lewis’ Twitter paradigm that you kill off spam profiles/accounts from followers. Because it was/is all about quality in your stream and getting the maximum from the space/tool. Then it happened:

At some point, I started caring about how my profile ranked and how much influence my profile carried. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but is was a progression over time. And, truthfully, it makes me a bit sad. I love the community of SEMs/SEOs/Marketers that I listen to and communicate with daily. I really do believe we are as tight-knit a community as there is on the web, but at some level we all see each other as a means to an end. Spreading the meme, good SERP position for queries where social has influence, and standing on one another’s shoulders to shout for authority/thought-leader status.

Just tonight I looked over my profile and found a huge surplus of spam hanging around. And, because I’m so careful to keep an acceptable Friend/Follower ratio, I explain it away. I prune obvious leaving the ones I know are spam but fake human well enough.

The Tools Reinforce This Behavior

Don’t get me wrong, I think Klout, Peer Index, and the like are innovative and genius. But they reinforce the mentality about Rank over Quality. And, yes, I use these tools to not only keep tabs on my own influence, but when I’m engineering a social attack strategy, these are first places I go to start organizing and architecting that attack.

These tools assess influence, reach, amplification. I don’t know the accounts personally, whether they’re small and have a solid following; I just know that I’m going to place Person X here and Person Z here because their influence and amplification dictate those terms. Because these are the right moments to set off the meme-explosions with the right profiles. It’s impersonal and cold-hearted.

Google and Bing Reinforced This Behavior

I’m not blaming the messenger for this. Danny did a bang-up job on that post. I’m blaming the engines for encouraging people to be more mindful of their counts than the quality of their profiles. It’s clear the engines think that these two ideas overlap, that one can’t be had without the other. In some respects, they’re right. Quality attracts quality. However, quality also attracts a boat-load of spam.

To be honest, one the hand I’m glad the engines finally admitted what most of have known for some time: influence, friend/follower ratios matter. On the other hand, it disturbs me that this information will only encourage more spam profiles to be created, and that people will not label as such because of the influence factor. I know that’s asserting a lot about the Twitter community in general, but I see this as an inevitable outcome. When ratios matter, when authoritative meme-spreading matters, spam gets a break because they lend itself to bolstering stats and occasionally helping a meme along.

What’s the Solution

I wish I had one. And, there are some of you out there saying, “And? No problem here. It is what it is.” I’d love to tell you that Tweeple will reverse course and solely focus on building quality, but I know that’s not realistic, or feasible. We’re marketers, it’s about leveraging advantages.

The solution is to let this take its course. That’s the best I’ve got folks. I think since there’s still some mystery around how engines are viewing what’s authoritative and influential and what’s not, there’s no reason to get jittery. Yet. But, if “links” have taught us anything, it’s only a matter of time before exploitation of the system becomes a premium. And it is my sincere hope that the engines have enough sense to adjust fire when it becomes saturated into their SERPs.

Overall, I’d like to see our community eliminate the spam profiles following them now. I know that you kill off one, three more takes its place, but if we remain steadfast on eliminating these profiles, eventually we’ll be left with quality. I can hope can’t I? (Starting with me)

  1. Dec 15 2010

    I think the balance is a lot simpler than people make it out to be. I’ve been saying for at least the last five hundred years (in SEO time – love that joke btw), know the technical, and apply it to genuine conversation and information delivery. Be the authority in your niche, and promote through welcomed channels, and you’ll thrive not just today, but in the future when the algo changes.

    We all knew what Twitter was for and how to use it to everyone’s benefits. Those that did are now seeing a benefit. Much easier than trying to get a quick fix, which is to always be chasing a ghost.

    • Dec 15 2010


      That’s really insightful and very well put. I couldn’t have said it better:

      Be the authority in your niche, and promote through welcomed channels, and you’ll thrive not just today, but in the future when the algo changes.

      Thanks for dropping that wisdom down here, this post is 100% better because of it. Now if only, we could actually get folks to follow that advice! 😀

  2. Dec 15 2010

    Thought provoking post, Tony.
    I don’t wear rose-colored glasses, but I guess my outlook is a little more optimistic. Yeah, there’s plenty of spammers tweeting out there, and more behind every tree. But personally, I don’t worry about them. I keep my followers and followed trimmed down to only people I’ve had interaction with, and the rest doesn’t clutter up my deck.
    Like you say though, if more people would do that (okay, MOST) then it might take the profit potential out of it, and the spammers might go find an easier game to play.

    • Dec 15 2010


      I think I’m getting more optimistic about the situation. When hear what you and Chris have said, and I see good folks like Jill Whalen hunting down spam profiles, it’s encouraging. And, as always Doc, you’re about the sharpest shooter I know. We’ll have to catch up in the Dojo tomorrow. Heh. 😀

  3. Dec 15 2010

    Nah, I’m glad they don’t. I’m happy there are spammers – it makes my job easier, thins out the competition 😉 Turns my professional reputation to crap, and makes it nearly impossible to find solid freelance gigs (everyone wants a black hat masquerading as a white hat), but I have this unicorn-and-rainbows idea that it’ll all work out in the end; both for me, and for the web.

  4. Dec 15 2010

    I have a solution: do what you think needs to be done and succeed with (or in spite of) that strategy.
    This doesn’t mean you are being oblivious about what works and what doesn’t. From your description of how you measure, monitor and utilize influence it seems you are doing a good job. As long as you keep conversing with real people and keep contributing useful and interesting information to your follower’s stream.

    Contrary to you, I don’t see such a big problem with spam accounts. “Block & Report Spam” button is just a click away. My big problem are people that only tweet their own stuff, they will not even retweet information that they find interesting, not to mention engaging in conversations that do not concern their company. These “community managers” are everything but community oriented, they are brand pushers and have no place in my stream.

    To summarize, just like with everything else, the Golden Rule will prevail here as well: don’t do onto others what you don’t want to be done to yourself. The attentive and intelligent parts of your audience will know how to reward your sincerity and that will turn out to be a winning long term strategy, even in Search Engines.

    Thank you for a great read. (And kudos for how the site renders on my phone, its perfect)

    • Dec 15 2010


      I’m very wary of that “Block and Spam” button. Sure, it removes the follower, but what does Twitter do with it? Does it go into a warning system? Do they eject the profile immediately? Does anyone really know? Here’s what Twitter has to say about it:

      Twitter Support keeps an eye on block reports to see who’s getting in trouble on Twitter.

      They perform a “spam investigation”, and, again, who knows what that is? I suppose all any of us can do is to keep the block + spam and hope that Twitter is keeping up it’s end of the bargain.

      I love the idea of the Golden Rule, or in this case the Reverse Golden Rule. Thanks for the tremendous comment Branko; I knew there’s a reason you’re one of the smartest people I know. 🙂

  5. Dec 15 2010

    I think you’ve taken an honest approach to this idea. I think many of us in the seo/social cross over arena have thought the same thing. I do enjoy the trend in hearing more and more people talk about reporting the spam they find. Unfortunatley there will always be those that try to game the system. But not really unfortunately right? Cause with every ‘game’ comes a response making the whole thing better!
    As for the gaming of follower numbers, I’d have a really hard time believing that they didn’t take into account the quality of each of those followers. It wouldn’t be hard for them to do. Just as it would in turn be quite easy for them to “penalize” (re: discount) those accounts that were followed by an abundance of spammers. Maybe they’re not doing it yet, but I’d bet it’s not that far off. So yes, while quantity is separate from quality, we’re moving towards there being a merge of the two. IMO of course. 🙂

    • Dec 15 2010


      Thanks for the great comment. You’re the second one not to mind Spam/Spammers because the “whole system will get better”, or makes your job easier. I think that’s such an interesting perspective, and one that I like personally, as I apply that mode of thinking to SEOs and SEMs. However, something in me doesn’t want to fully subscribe to that. But I do believe when things get rotted to the core, the industry steps up to rebuild it right way.

      And, I agree that GOOG and Bing had to of taken some measure of quality beyond just quantity, and I’d love to hear about that. I think had they put some quality ramifications out there (i.e. having half of your followers as spam and half as trusted individuals will hurt you) would have been more effective that what they’ve put out there now. I also agree that sooner rather than later, there will be a convergence of quality/quantity.

  6. Dec 15 2010

    I am going to make a confession here, and not sure if others have started to do this: I have stopped receiving email notifications when I receive a new follower. Trying to decipher what is legit vs. spam has become too time consuming. Every once in a while I will go to my Twitter profile and look at my followers, sometimes I delete, sometimes no, sometimes I’ll follow back. And it’s not because I have a chip on my shoulder, I still follow others that may return the favor, or engage with people outside of our community. I just couldn’t keep up.

    My point? We are beyond being part of a popularity contest. Your post reminds me of that saying, “You can count your true friends on one hand.” Our Twitter relationships may be more than on one hand, but I can assure you that the benefits of those relationships outweigh any kind of rank.

    • Dec 15 2010

      Mon, (can I call you Mon? 🙂 )

      I too shut off those notifications a long time ago. Like you the the email alone wasn’t enough to determine if it was spam, unless it was obvious (for example a person calling themselves WyomingAcaiBerry. Then it’s pretty clear. :P) And, you hit the nail on the head, I couldn’t keep up with the notifications.

      But, those Twitter relationships, while they might seem superficial, and for lack of a better word, gooey, to someone on the outside looking in, I can say that I know I’ve forged some friendships that I might not have. I’m definitely with you: relationships definitely outweigh the rank.

  7. Dec 15 2010

    As I see it, the larger problem with Twitter spam is that the overall percentage of “US” on twitter is shrinking compared to the number of “normal” people who have jumped on board thanks to Oprah, Ahston and their ilke. Consider this; how is it possible that phishing scams still work via e-mail when so many of US know what they are? Because we are the minority. Too many people somehow still think the internet is a friendly place where everyone tells the truth. Oh my! An African prince wants to share his wealth with ME?!

    Spam on Twitter will get worse before (if) it gets better. Sure, WE can block and report (just like we do with e-mail), but until the rest of the world wakes up and smells the spam cooking in the kitchen it will continue.

    Hopefully, the engines will figure out a way to accurately measure what Twitter accounts are worth in the big picture, before it gets too out of control for the rest of us.

  8. Dec 15 2010

    Interesting post, Tony!

    I’m not so sure that this isn’t one of those classic misdirection plays at least in terms of how Google and Bing classify social graph data.

    What I mean is that either:
    a) they already do factor in signals of quality in some way
    b) they’re working on making that part of the process

    As for me, I try to have a balance between the Edward Lewis approach and the wannabe Jim Morrison approach ; )

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