Because this article addresses a major legal issue that impacts many Twitter users, it was important to provide many facts and technical details, so readers could fully understand the matter at hand. Be assured, however, that my ultimate intention in writing this article is to look at the vital importance of the 7 Graces – most notably the Grace of Transparency – when a company is facing a business crisis, and what can happen if we fail to utilise Transparency at such critical moments. I welcome your comments and thoughts on this somewhat controversial topic.
On Friday 26 April 2013, users of the popular Twitter automation software Tweet Adder were told that Tweet Adder 3.0, which enabled users to automate many Twitter functions, would be permanently disabled as of May 24th.
This action comes as the result of a lawsuit that began 6 April 2012. Twitter filed the suit against Skootle (the developers of Tweet Adder), along with two other software companies and two individuals accused of widespread spamming, referring to them as ‘five of the most aggressive tool providers and spammers’ on Twitter.1
About the Case
The parties named in the suit were ‘Tweet Attacks’, ‘Tweet Adder’, ‘Tweet Buddy’, James Lucerno of justinlover.info and Garland E. Harris of troption.com. Twitter’s stated reasoning for going after not only some of the highest profile spammers (with allegedly hundreds of thousands of accounts set up solely for the purpose of sending out spam on Twitter) but also the software companies was to shut down ‘bad actors who build tools designed to distribute spam on Twitter (and the web) by making it easier for other spammers to engage in this annoying and potentially malicious activity’.
Early in the case, all but one company settled out of court — Tweet Adder, vehemently contested the charges for many months. In a response to Twitter’s allegations on 9 July 2012, the attorneys for Skootle (Tweet Adder’s company name) said, ‘Tweet Adder is not “spamware”. Instead, it provides businesses and individuals, including, for example, Presidential campaigns, news networks, bloggers and celebrities, with a streamlined way to manage their Twitter accounts and send automated news and updates to other Twitter users who already elected to follow their Tweets.’2 Skootle’s attorneys further argued that Twitter was unfairly prejudicing Skootle and its ‘legitimate business product’ by ‘improper[ly] grouping’ them with other defendants with ‘very differing conduct and potential culpability’. They requested that Skootle be treated as a separate defendant in this case ‘without confusing and prejudicial reference to other irrelevant “spammer” defendants’.
Skootle’s request was apparently accepted by the court and they became engaged in a separate lawsuit with Twitter until recently coming to a mutual settlement. According to Jamie (tech support in the Tweet Adder forum):
‘Twitter and TweetAdder have mutually agreed upon a final confidential settlement of their legal dispute regarding TweetAdder Software.’
What Twitter Didn’t Like about Tweet Adder
The primary issue Twitter had with Tweet Adder 3.0 was the software’s ability to enable Twitter users to follow and unfollow people automatically. Twitter states in their official Terms of Service (TOS)3 that the only automated following they permit is automated follow backs, i.e. you can automatically follow back people who follow you.
[UPDATE JULY 2013: Twitter now prohibits ALL automated following/unfollowing including follow-backs. Please see my article from July 5th, 2013 entitled ‘Is Twitter Still a Numbers Game? What it EVER?’]
Tweet Adder, however, enabled users to set up ‘to follow’ lists, using a variety of customisable parameters, users could then set it up to follow these list gradually over time.
I have to admit, until I found out this was a violation of policy, I found this capability extremely useful. Whenever I found a good Twitter list (often containing hundreds of people sharing common interests with me) I would queue it up and then follow a modest amount of people every day. Then, if they didn’t follow me back after a few weeks, I would unfollow them. This allowed me to spend my time focussing on creating good content for my audience instead of sitting in front of my PC going “click, click, click” every day (or paying someone else to do it for me).
I never believed Tweet Adder was ‘spammer’ software. But by the same token, I never believed they would ‘win’ their case against Twitter. Twitter’s TOS are clearly stated on their site, and Tweet Adder’s features were clearly in violation of them. Even if I don’t agree with Twitter’s opinion that using automation to follow people makes the Twitterverse a less pleasant place to be, it is certainly within their right to run their company the way they want to.
So, the matter is settled. There can be no further use of automated following on Twitter.
Tweet Adder 4.0 – A Lesson in (the Lack of) Transparency
Judging by customer response in Tweet Adder’s user forum since the announcement was made last Friday, many Tweet Adder users had known neither about the lawsuit, nor that there was any issue around Tweet Adder being non-compliant with Twitter’s TOS. There was no mention of the case on Tweet Adder’s website or blog, nor was there any warning to customers that this change from 3.0 (automation) to 4.0 (non-automation) would take place AT ALL.
Since the switch, the support forum has been HOT with angry customers. People have been asking why they had not been given any notice. Tweet Adder’s rather callous answer was, “This IS your notice…we’ve given you 30 days to switch over to the new version” (I’m paraphrasing slightly, because the original comment was deleted from the forum shortly after I read it).
This was no consolation to some customers who recently (some within the last week) purchased the product, believing they were buying fully-automated software. Some people who complained in the forum had their posts deleted by staff. Others complained that Tweet Adder was not responding to their support tickets if they asked for a refund.
All in all, it’s been a cyber-riot in there.
Unlike so many others, I had been anticipating something of this nature would happen ‘any time now’. A friend of mine had alerted me about the lawsuit in August 2012, during the time I was writing my book Tweep-e-licious. I had already mentioned Tweet Adder as a viable and useful Twitter resource in many places in the book. But this lawsuit put a spanner in the works, as it meant that things could change at any moment. I couldn’t just keep writing my book as I had planned without addressing this issue.
Wanting to find out if there had been any progress in the case, I wrote several times to Tweet Adder Support asking if they had any update on the status of the case. I never received even so much as an acknowledgement of receipt of my email. I was frustrated. The best I could do was to provide information about the lawsuit as transparently as possible in the book so readers would at least know as much as I did.
What ‘Could’ Have Been Done
Sadly, I have to say that my major disappointment in this whole palaver is NOT the change in software, but in how Tweet Adder has handled this whole affair. And I also think they missed a huge opportunity to build their ‘tribe’ instead of alienating and angering them:
- They COULD have written about the lawsuit on their blog.
- They COULD have kept their customers informed via email updates.
- They COULD have replied to emails, such as mine, asking for information about it.
- They COULD have gotten the community on their side (who knows? Maybe they would have started a petition and sent it to the court).
- They COULD have PULLED Tweet Adder 3.0 off the market several months ago, when it was clear they would have to redesign the software, rather than selling it up to the bitter end, trying to squeeze out one more sale.
- They COULD have changed their website to reflect the NEW features of their “soon to be released” 4.0, stressing it was “fully compliant with Twitter TOS”, so people knew what they would be buying when the product came out.
- They COULD have gathered names and emails from people who eagerly wanted to be alerted when the new release came out (I’ve done so many book and product launches myself, I’m more than shocked that they didn’t do this).
They could have practised the Grace of Transparency.
Transparency would have kept their current customers happy (and loyal).
Transparency would also have helped build a fan base of new customers for the release of the new software.
But they weren’t transparent at all. Instead, they chose to remain in the shadows. And now they are seeing the backlash of that decision. It really saddens me to see Tweet Adder – whose software I have enjoyed for a few years now — doing just about everything a company should NOT do when faced with a business crisis.
Transparency means “to shine light through”. It means to come out from the shadows. It requires the admission of our darkest fears, and finding our deepest courage amidst calamity.
Hiding the truth from your customers, no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it may be, is NEVER a good idea. But these days — in this era of customer forums, blogging and social media — Transparency is no longer merely a wise, moral choice, but a business imperative.
Being a Bit Zen About It All
Anticipating this very scenario when I wrote Tweep-e-licious last autumn, I wrote ‘Tip 106: Practise The Art Of Non-Attachment’, where I said:
“At the end of the day, the wisest thing is to be a bit ‘Zen’ about all this technology… The world of social media is a true lesson in ‘non-attachment’: if you cannot find peace amidst the constant change, you will find yourself stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated. Those who cannot let go and move on when things change are only creating more stress for themselves. With regard to automation, here’s my advice: automation tools are wonderful. They are useful and good fun. However, all of these technologies are subject to change; some will even disappear overnight….”4
And that’s what has happened with Tweet Adder 3.0. Really, the fact that any of us have become so “attached” to it in such a short span of time is a reflection of our modern world. I’ve already let it go in my mind.
Yes, I’ll have to think of some different strategies for how I run my business, but that’s the nature of being an entrepreneur.
Yes, I’ll have to do a re-write of a few pages in Tweep-e-licious (I’ll wait until Tweet Adder 4.0 becomes more stable before I do so), but I kind of knew this would happen when I published the book.
Tomorrow the sun will still rise. The birds will still sing.
“…So use these automation tools while they’re here, but be ready to change direction when needed. Be like the reed in the stream that bends with the current. When they disappear, laugh about it. Go out for coffee. Take a nap. Plant some petunias.”
30 April 2013
UPDATE JULY 2013:
Since writing this article, the folks at Tweet Adder have been hard at work improving the new 4.0. I actually REALLY like it now. Please read my Product Review of it on this website at http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/2013/07/product-review-new-tweet-adder-4-0-how-does-it-score/ where I take you through the pros and cons of its new features.
- Twitter. 6 April 2012. ‘Shutting Down Spammers’. Retrieved 16 September 2012 from http://blog.twitter.com/2012/04/shutting-down-spammers.html.
- Colt, D. and Wallerstein, T. E., LLP. 9 July 2012. ‘Skootle and Kester’s Reply to Twitter’s Response to Order to Show Cause’. Retrieved 16 September 2012 from http://cdn.abovethelaw.com/uploads/2012/07/07-09-2012-Skootle-and-Kesters-Reply-to-Twitters-Response-to-Order-to-Show-Cause.pdf.
- Twitter, 2012. ‘Automation Rules and Best Practices’. Retrieved 22 August 2012 from https://support.twitter.com/articles/76915-automation-rules-and-best-practices.
- Serafinn, Lynn. 2012. Tweep-e-licious. Humanity 1 Press. http://tweepelicious.com
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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)