Skittles Proves Twitter Search Results Unreliable

There was much talk about Skittles redesigning their homepage to be more “social media” friendly and transparent. They certainly accomplished that, and generated a lot of buzz.

They decided the best way to market their product was to simply show you what other people were saying about it, so their homepage was now simply showing the live Twitter search results for “skittles”. Like other online marketing schemes involving Twitter, it didn’t take long for this to turn into a great big mess.

This was a screenshot I grabbed this morning of the Twitter search results. (Click to view larger)

Clearly, the open invitation to appear on was too much for many people to resist. Of the 9 results listed there, 5 are links to “win a free netbook” scams. Relying on Twitter hashtags to follow a popular conference, or event, is opening yourself up to seeing exactly these kinds of results.

Of course, the idea behind the new is an interesting one, and isn’t really all that new. The best marketing is having people who don’t work for you speak well of you. Social networking tools allow for those kinds of conversations to flourish, and being able to capture that can be very effective. The trick though, is to capture other people’s natural conversations without influencing them. These sort of open invitations to be seen on your homepage, or the TV news or to win a prize, is an open invitation for people to do stupid stuff they wouldn’t normally do, just to be “seen” in the search results. As we see here with skittles, it also opens up yet another avenue for spammers.

I doubt this is the last time we’ll see something like this, and I suspect that, as Twitter becomes even more mainstream, the search feature will deteriorate because it’ll simply be too easy to spam the heck out of any hashtag related to any big happenings, SXSW, for example. That will be a loss for those of us used to following hashtags, but it’s an opening for Twitter, or another company, to find a better way.

In the mean time, I fully expect to see more people posting things to twitter just to be “seen” wherever search results are going to appear, and hopefully losing followers as a result.

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