The Pirates of Nigerian Twitter

If you were looking to promote your brand, product or idea on Twitter, the most desirable option would be to get it to trend locally. Now, unless you’re very influential, getting your idea to trend organically is ever elusive. Yes, Twitter gives you the option of promoted trends but they cost a fortune. It doesn’t look like there’s any hope for the average Nigerian Twitter Joe does it?

Enter the pirates….


They go by many titles: Publicist; Online Promoter; Hypeman and – my personal favourite – Trendstarter.  They’re not difficult to find on Twitter; a simple search with the above keywords will take you to them. You often don’t have to go looking for them – they’ll always “nff, kfb” their way into your mentions, usually spotting eye-catching avatars, if you know what I mean. It comes as no surprise that their followers are usually in excess of tens of thousands.

Services offered by these guys range from sponsored tweets to rapidly increasing your (real) follower count. But nothing they do amazes me more than their trend starting services. These guys have somehow managed to circumvent Twitter’s trending algorithms with 99.999% success rate. The average trendstarter is involved in making at least 3 trending topics on Nigerian Twitter a day. They’re that good.

How they work

The trendstarting community is like a cabal. No trendstarter worth his/her salt works alone. In fact, you’ll find that they mostly follow each other. Together, these guys will get any topic trending within an hour from inception, after which it goes on autopilot, staying on the trend list for as long as 24 hours, before disappearing There are usually 3 groups of people involved in getting a topic to appear on trends :

The originator/primary influencer

  • Paid directly (between 8k and 17k) to engineer the trend.
  • Easily spotted in the ‘top people’ section of trending hashtag search result.
  • Usually the first to use the hashtag.
  • Follows up aggressively with scores of appropriately tagged, but seriously unrelated,  tweets in question format, which prove to attract optimum engagement levels.

The co-influencers

  • Fellow trendstarters who receive a share in the payment (usually in form of airtime) to get in on the scoop.
  • Usually numbered between tens and hundreds.
  • Also aggressively tweet random questions with the predefined hashtag.

The pawns

Regular users (primarily from the large pool of trendstarter followers) who are only interested in killing boredom by answering the supposedly random questions. Just like the pawns in chess, they are the soul of the endgame.

The whole idea is for the trendstarters to  leverage on their teeming followers to get as many people using the hashtag, in as short a space of time, creating a sudden buzz that causes it to trend. The number of tweets required to trend is dependent on the sense of engagement, sentiment and how many other real topics are trending around the same time. So it is very crucial that the pawns respond to questions in form of quoted retweets. From my observations it only takes as little as between 400 to 1000 tweets, replies and retweets to hit jackpot. It is that easy.

They’re ruining Twitter for us

Local Twitter trends are supposed to be a reflection of what’s truly engaging users within a given region. Not so much these days. At any given time, as much as 50% of what’s trending on Nigerian Twitter is engineered by trendstarters. That all but kills the pure Nigerian Twitter experience. I believe I am speaking for most here when I say: worldwide trends are mostly unrelatable and the default tailored trends are even worse (if I needed to know what’s hot within my circles, I would visit my timeline or lists). So it just sucks that the one reliable source of relevant information on Twitter – Nigeria trends – has been tainted by trendstarters. How many times have you curiously followed up on a strangely trending topic only to end up more confused than you initially were?

They’re also really bad for business. I don’t imagine that those who patronize these trendstarters make any tangible return on investments. Here’s what a typical organic trend looks like, on a graph VS an engineered trend (click image to view full size):

nigeria-trends

These 3 topics trended over the weekend. Notice how Rita Dominic (orange) climbs steadily, until her peak on 8th of March and continues to be discussed even after disappearing off the trends list. #PutItOnMeByFLEXO and #BBJN on the other hand appear from “nowhere” and disappear just as suddenly, kinda like a dying patient’s pulse rate. Now why would anyone shell out as much as 17k for such poor levels of engagement? The trendstarters don’t care about the product, they care about their wallets. It’s only logical that once the chosen hashtag trends, they move one to the next thing.

From my observations, the way the Twitter algorithm works, people are featured on top of search results by this order of preference

  • Verified account (if trending topic is a person)
  • Originator or influencers of trending topic
  • Person with most replied, retweeted or favourited tweets on trending topic

So when I see #MamiyoByEBLACK trending this morning, for example, I’m thinking: “oh new music? Let’s see what it sounds like”, so I click. I’m expecting to see 2 things I get from regular trends:  the E Black dude’s account highlighted in the people section – so there’s at least potential to attract new followers – and a link to the Mamiyo song. But instead what I see is 3 random tweeps (well not so random, they’re all trendstarters) featured at the top and thousands of unrelated tweets.

trenders

I still don’t know who E Black is or what “Mamiyo” sounds like. Epic fail. And this is what happens on a daily basis.

Photo Credit: Evangelio Gonzalez MD via Compfight cc

31 Comments

  • The Taichou says:

    “. . . the one reliable source of relevant information – Nigeria trends”. Dude, seriously?

    • “. . . the one reliable source of relevant information on Twitter – Nigeria trends”. Happy now?

      • The Taichou says:

        Aye, aye, Cap’n!

      • The Taichou says:

        Muyiwa Matuluko, very well written piece.

        This underbelly you have exposed is really interesting and like you, I do not see their efforts as a sustainable model. They use brute force to create short-lived trends. This is both the reason for their consistency and their Achilles’ heel. Building organic trends takes some serious hard work and it’s still always a crapshoot with no guarantee of success.

        It used to be that the most difficult step was to actually create consumer experiences worth talking about. These days the world belongs to storytellers. So long as corporates and brands keep looking for ways to ship more product using social media, we all have to accept that this situation will not go away. Every time you find yourself an unwitting “pawn” in the low stakes game of ‘trendstarting’, look at it as a form of community service.

        • Lol @ “community service”. Yes this situation isn’t going away anytime soon. I believe it’s just a reflection of how much mediocrity has eaten deep into every facet of our society. N

          • Havilah says:

            Sorry to disappoint you, it’s not peculiar to Nigeria. It’s done all over the world – although modus operandi might differ. I’ve read marketing materials (from respected experts from The US) who will advise you to pay for that service. What do you think happened during the last Academy (or is it Oscar?) Awards with Samsung and Ellen? It’s exactly the same thing, in a different approach.

            The Key is in finding a way to ensure you achieve your own goals using them (if you have to).

          • The Taichou says:

            “The Key is in finding a way to ensure you achieve your own goals. . . “. @disqus_P1Mv2klRI4:disqus, is that even possible? More importantly, what is the actual measurable goal that trending topics on twitter help advance?

          • Havilah says:

            @TheTaichou:disqus it is. However, not everything will work the same for every business. For businesses that events organisation is part of their marketing strategy, it will work for them. If you are in the entertainment industry, it works too. However, ‘trending’ may not and shouldn’t be the goal for other businesses like @ifeanyi_abraham:disqus stated. Remember that we’ve already admitted that we can’t do anything to stop it, we should therefore do what we can to make them work for us. Or what do you think?

          • Brands will always important personalities to endorse their products through every available media. There is no problem with that. The problem is when it’s done in the tasteless way these guys operate

          • Paul says:

            I think the brands that just give money to some of these social media promoters without setting ground rules on what needs to be kept sight of and metrics of measuring success are doing themselves a great disservice. most of the trendsetting antics on Nigeria twitter is a bad way to spend marketing money ; the major goal doesn’t get accomplished, the brand’s story gets lost in a mishmash of hastags and sour jokes etc

  • Aimlegend says:

    Well written, i guess i wasn’t the only one thinking this, thanks for beating me to the pen. A week ago I dove into my TL and saw a tweep say something like this “If you want to ask questions ask questions, no dead artiste is gonna trend under my watch”… apparently he refused answering questions from those query handles because it was laced with a #tag with the name of a dead artise… or whatever. So many are catching on the trick.

    The funny thing is that some of the folks who answer the questions do not know their replies are exploited to create trends for something not really useful … and that they are being preyed on…
    The truth is our twitter is full of mediocres, yet i do not blame them for it is these mediocres that have time to and they tweet sh+t. The rather reasonable folks are just beginning to embrace ‘continual-tweeting’, and me i do my lil bit but always with my hand on the trigger to block/unfollow any perceived trendsetter or participant of nonsensical trends. .

  • Ezinma says:

    Very well written – I had no idea this existed. It only goes to show that the market determines that one mans pirate is another mans service. Question is – Is it value for money?

  • Segun Akiode says:

    Very interesting ‘eye-opening’ post. A ‘scale practically fell off my eyes’ while reading through this post. Great job!

  • Tailor the trend. Tailor the tweets. Lead the trend.

    These are very important factors that are missed out during some of this so called trends. I work every week with these influencers, and the first thing we agreed was how how every trend must give me back three main ROIs- i. Brand equity/Interest, ii. Direct conversions(traffic to my content), iii. trend

    As a person or brand that a trend is about, you cannot just be silent, you have to tweet as regularly as possible and dominate that trend. If you see any reports from the twitter trend apps, the always say “This trend started at ______, the first tweet was by ______, the most popular tweet was by _______”

    I can also tell you that the influencers are of different quality, so as a brand you have to choose wisely and this affects any agreed payment.

    Overall, Twitter pays people well $$$

  • Isola-Osobu Jerome Adejuwon says:

    Muyiwa, you really went into back alley to dig this out. On the point that it ruins the experience of other users, before the ‘trend voltrons’ came into play, trending was a lot easier but because they work through syndicates they have raised the bar meaning organic topics are finding it harder to trend. I once had a trending topic on twitter in 2012. I’ve done more “powerful stuff” on twitter since then but trending isn’t gonna happen.

    And these guys are extremely powerful. They create accounts with names of celebrities and gain enormous followers with their names. They also tweet jokes and prayers will ensure they grow exponentially. Also, a trendsetter can have direct access to more than 50 accounts per time.

    It’s mind-boggling really!

  • upnepasocial says:

    I feel like people who hire these guys have no idea what they’re doing. You’re right when you say a large number of those tweets don’t even relate to the hashtag. Eventually Twitter users don’t get to see what this noise is about.

    Waste of money.

    UP NEPA Social does not waste your money like that 😀

  • ChikaUwazie says:

    This is a great post and I am relieved to find out that I was not the only one wondering what was going on with certain words trending in Nigeria. Maybe you can help me answer two more questions. I noticed a lot of blogs will have 20+ accounts that RT their blog post and I always wondered are these bots or they pay these people to RT from their timeline.

    I have also noticed a lot of naija celebs have all these people that follow them, but I am starting to wonder if they are bots. I tested out my inquiry and found out if you follow some of these random accounts that follow them they automatically follow you back. There seems to be a lot of controlled accounts out there in the twitterverse for Naija.

    • To answer to your first question, yes, most are paid. For a certain monthly charge they give blogs access to autoshare new posts to their social media accounts

      As for the autofollowers, it’s a possibilty that they’re bots. But Twitter is a lot stricter about suspending bot accounts these days so it’s very risky business. I like to believe it’s mostly real people behind those accounts. There are actually Twitter publicists who will charge a certain amount to get you a certain number of followers monthly. What they do is take over your account in the course of the project, employing all means necessary to increase your follower count. It’s not impossible for them to run multiple twitter accounts simultaneously.

  • *Applause*
    This is the best post I have read on this phenomena and it is FREAKING annoying! When I see those questions I would actually like to give an answer to, I conveniently edit the hashtag out before tweeting.

    Too bad a lot of artistes / brand managers have no idea on how to effective drive people towards the goal they paid someone to score for them. Seems a lot are just interested in trending.

  • mcchegzy says:

    All I do is to remove the hashtag before answering the question(if at all I answer).

  • Leye Makanjuola says:

    Interesting piece. This is something I’ve been telling business owners. Stop wasting your money on trends that ask irrelevant questions that have nothing to do with your brand. Twitter now has affordable advertising that can increase your engagement and give you more reasonable traction. You can also ask relevant questions tied to a give away. Need more help? @ipublicizenaija is always ready to help!

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