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The Unintended Consequences of a Twitter Contest

The other day, we woke up to realize that we were about hit our 400,000th follower on Twitter. So we put out the following tweet, offering some swag:


Innocent enough, no?

But we had walked right into an incentive trap.

We monitored our Twitter status in order to identify the 400,000th follower. It happened very fast, as new followers were signing up at what seemed to be a rate of five or six per second. So we counted carefully and, voila, found our winner:

But then, when we went back to our main Twitter page, we found that we were below the 400,000 mark, by quite a bit. In fact, we had fewer followers than when we’d tweeted the contest.

So what happened?

If you’re a Twitter pro, you’ve probably already figured it out. Our swag offer in fact created an incentive to unfollow and then refollow our feed. Appropriately enough, our followers informed us, and promptly:


I wish I could say this was a clever experiment but in fact all it was simply a good lesson in Twitter incentives. So the person we thought was our 400,000th follower, @emeganboggs, wasn’t. We’ll still send her some swag, but we’ll also send some to a couple other people who actually were around the 400,000 mark. Even if they did unfollow us to get there :-).

By the way, our podcast about Twitter has just been updated and released as part of a new hour-long radio program called “Eating and Tweeting.” (And yes, all these hour-long programs will hit our podcast stream before too long.)

Thanks to all for a fun morning on Twitter and yet another good lesson in unintended consequences.