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Updated: July 27, 2015

This post has been updated to point to the new URLs for Twitter rules on spam and commercial usage. Inevitably these rules have evolved since 2008, as they tackle new forms of spam on their system. The best new references are (1) Developer Rules of the Road (Section IV Commercial Usage) and (2) The Twitter Rules.

twitter-bird.pngTwitter has released their most detailed guidelines yet (updated link 2013) on what they consider spam within their system. Commercial users take note. Although they emphasise that commercial or promotional use of Twitter is allowed the following activities may be considered spam and result in account suspension.

1. Following other accounts in order to gain attention to your account or links

2. Creating a series of accounts in order to promote the same thing

3. Sending large numbers of @reply messages that are not genuine replies

4. Creating updates in order to show up in search results

5. Disguising links (i.e. writing about one thing but linking to another)

6. If a large number of users have blocked you (relative to those following you)

These guidelines are in addition to their standard TOS clauses.

I don’t think these will impact too many ‘real’ users but there maybe some implications. Point 3 would seem to kill off any automated response scripts for example. Some of these new guidelines do seem a little vague from my perspective, for example #4 would seem hard to prove and most Twitter users have probably been guilty of #1 at some time. What do you think?

Considering that people/companies invest a large amount of time and therefore cost into establishing their Twitter accounts, you would hope the moderators apply these rules with account history and context in mind.

Update 01.09.08: Is this the End of Keyword Marketing on Twitter?

A tweet by Scottclark just got me thinking that #3 maybe the one to watch here. This guideline could potentially apply to keyword marketing on Twitter. Companies have caught onto using Twitter as a source of potential customers, with operators using free tools such as or to alert them when certain keywords are mentioned. They then @reply the user with their marketing message or offer of support.

For example, you mention you are looking for an image and a certain image search engine will send you a note. Or less helpfully, as Scott points out, there are now Indian outsourcing companies jumping on mentions of programming languages.

You also have companies replying ORM style to mentions of their name or products. If you comment about Firefox you can expect a fairly instant response from their support team.

This adds a new dimension to the earlier comments in the Twitter announcement about companies creating “opt-in relationships”. Where do they draw the line?

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Lead SEO, Group Optimisation at Vodafone. Founder at E3 Business Incubator, a consultancy group helping enterprises and start-ups. Digital strategist and veteran SEO/SEM. Views are my own and not representative of my employer (more).

15 Responses to Twitter Define Rules on Spam and Commercial Usage

  1. Cool; #5 means that Rickrolling is classified as spam :D

  2. Ha! Good point Rob.

    It would be good to know if they are doing this automatically or manually too. My evil side was wondering if “TwitterBowling” was now a possibility with point 6. If they have 80 followers and you follow them with 20 fakes accounts, they reciprocate and then you block them – would that be enough to trigger the account suspension? (20%) If blocking can damage your account, it would make sense to watch who you follow.

  3. Scott’s point about @ replies is interesting. I’ve had accounts reply to me when I’ve mentioned a keyword that they’re tracking, and nine times out of ten, the reply is useful and not at all spammy. The best thing people do is answer my question or concern and NOT point me at their website, but at another resource. However, I also see no problem with disabling accounts that are obviously abusing Twitter search engines and spamming users.

  4. @Jane

    Agree completely. When this has happened with me it’s generally been useful. I guess this is a guideline that may need some further explanation from Twitter.

    It does suggest though that such an operation needs to be handled sensitively. This may make companies planning on outsourcing this work think twice.

  5. The way it’s worded on the Twitter Blog is “…you may be considered spam” (emphasis on the word “may”). This implies to me that there will be quite a bit of manual monitoring and analysis on their part to make these determinations. The points are still a little too broad at this point for Twitter to just start banning people en masse.

  6. Particularly regarding Jane’s comment about useful @ replies – I imagine that the implementation will involve automatic generation of the list of ‘concerning accounts’ to be followed up by a human. An Obvious employee will press the final ‘kill’ button.

    A human can tell at a glance if it’s a spammy account or not. If they show that we can trust them, then marketers will know we can press on with a Twitter strategy without worrying.

  7. It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts third-party applications that use the Twitter API.

    I put an alpha version of TwitterGrader ( out there last week. The tool doesn’t generate any automated @replies, but it does do an auto follow-back so that users can direct-message the service and get a response back by DM. Many Twitter-based apps work this way.

  8. Interesing

    5. Disguising links (i.e. writing about one thing but linking to another)

    Rickrolling can get you banned from twitter! Shock Horror!

  9. @Rob /Kari

    Yes I’d hope they do this manually too. As you say Kari, these rules are still a little fuzzy. I’m surprised people haven’t commented on #4, which seems to me to be the most ambiguous.

    Still Twitter is only fulfilling a fraction of it’s potential at the moment with 1m users.. As we all know, manual spam control does not scale well so perhaps these are the first steps they are making towards more formal, automated rules.


    I have had a few people tweet concerns about current Twitter projects. As I wrote in the post, hopefully they will look at these cases in context. Perhaps we’ll see the arrival of pro-accounts which let you bypass some of these rules.

    In general, platforms do not like finding out that other businesses or individuals are marketing themselves off the back of their resources for free. If you find yourself in that kind of situation it is often short lived. I can see Twitter wanting to capitalise on keyword, push marketing or ORM users at some point in the near future.

    Apps may come under that spotlight too. Most are for-profit business models, using Twitter’s API.

    P.S. I like One suggestion though, how about giving each profile a unique URL. That way people could link to it, or even better, you could give away badges with their grade. That would push the site as well of course.

  10. @Nickhac

    Yep about time someone put an end to that nonsense. Rick Astley was far too famous the *first* time round. ;)

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  12. Lots of interesting points. Must be a real rock and a hard place for twitter – if the platform becomes a mecca for all things spam then no users and limit to their valuation. Too much regulation and an undoubted backlash (see above.) Guidelines don’t seem too draconian though – although I must confess a heck of a lot of other users follow people to promote their profile, links etc (is there anything wrong with that, if its done within reason?)

    This (along with the recent changes to groups etc on LinkedIn) does show that web 2.0 users don’t like having new rules put on their playground!

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  14. A very interesting article. Twitter or should I say individual employees or persons that monitor Twitter daily could easily suspend accounts in a bias or subjective manner.

    I observed one user which happens to listed as one of the top tweeters based upon the number of followers appears to use some type of automated tweeting software that tweets doing certain times in intervals mostly to help promote a website.

    Be that as it may, I personally thought the links to articles tweeted were pretty good. Now apparently the user is pretty well respected in the twitter community.

    The vagueness of the rules are clearly designed to allow some flexibility for some users or again subjective review and conclusions.

    Many join or subscribe to twitter because it is free not realizing after they invested so many hours or days or years building an account with integrity, there is the potential of there account being terminated subjectively to vague rules.

    Will Twitter prohibit the use of automated tweets? How would that change the Twitter environment? Or will Twitter leave it up to the users under rule#6 to create a large enough numbers of blocks to cause account suspensions?

    Personally, I think the mission of twitter was never clearly defined from the beginning. They are modifying things as they go. If the mission is no automated tweets, then that mission should be clear from the start and even now.

    With a more definitive mission, it will eliminate common misunderstandings and keep Twitter fun and less limiting without frustrating generally the masses of good genuine users.

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