Warning: How Not To Monetize Twitter On Autopilot

So you’re building a passive income?

What if I say that you were loosing your money all the way from the start?

And it won’t return, I’m sorry…

There are hundreds of “proven” recipes to build a passive income online and you’ve decided to try Twitter. Why not? Sounds easy and fun!

While there are tons of information on what to do to succeed, what about the things you should avoid if you want to see the green bucks?

The path to monetizing a Twitter account is filled with decisions that can derail your project. What are those wrong decisions?

It all starts with…

Lots of followers + pay per click = $$$$

This was my rationale at the end of 2010 and it was wrong. I had been reading The 4 Hour Workweek and apart from using its learning for my PhD research, I decided to use it to generate some money on the side.

I was drunk of those fashionable ideas everybody was talking about: alternative passive income, autopilot money generation, social media, pay per click, amazon affiliates… you name it.

It seemed so easy to monetize twitter followers in autopilot, just collect thousands of followers, tweet some sponsored tweets and amazon affiliate links and cachink! Money will flow.

In a recent post by Tim – “How I Got $500 Worth of Tweets and Reached 900k People for Free” – there’s a guy who sells his tweets for $300 each! That’s where I wanted to be.

Work hard for 3 months, a bit of automation here and there and you can become the next lifestyle designer living in Phuket while earning big bucks.

Unfortunately it did not work as my followers were not “true fans” & I almost ended up becoming a social media douchebag.

In this post I will show you how in 3 months I went from 0 to 15k followers and how much money did that bring me.

Monetizing Twitter On Autopilot

I had everything studied to the detail. Focus was the key, so I decided to target men looking for cool gadgets. Needed a name, let’s look which Twitter and Gmail accounts were available … CoolStuff4Guys. Got it!

Next thing was to create a Facebook account, otherwise I would have looked like an amateur.

Next, a Posterous account to post articles on the gadgets (with an Amazon affiliate link, of course).

Automating Content

I needed to generate content to tweet about if I wanted to grow my follower base, but I didn’t feel like writing it all by myself.

What about reusing the content from famous blogs? I already knew some blogs that provided good content to tweet to my targeted male readers (Mashable.com, Coedmagazine.com, Wired Gadgets, Uncrate.com, among others).

What I wanted was to turn their RSS feeds into tweets. This piece of my workflow was implemented with?TwitterFeed. This service automatically generates tweets from feed updates without your intervention. Autopilot World Domination was on its way!

Building relationships

It was not easy automate, so I skipped. I did not build relationships, no RT, no @replies, no DM, I did not allow them to know me. Why should I make the effort? I just wanted to have a transparent and automatic account.

Twitter is like an extension of human beings. Your presence in the twitterverse is determined by the interactions you have with other tweeps. If I would kill my account, nobody would care.

Mass Following

Unless you are like Charlie Sheen, you got to sweat to get followers, or pay. To start off, I paid 3 times 5$ someone on Fiverr to add each time 500 followers to my account.

Each increment lasted a week and effectively I got 500 new followers at the end. Unfortunately, some of these followers were from automatic accounts (even more automatic than the one I was setting up).

Tired of waiting a week each time I wanted more followers, I decided to find them and add them in a semi-automatic way. For this, I designed the following process.


From 0 to 15k Followers in 3 Months

  • Step #1: Mass Follow People That Follow back

Following lots of people does not give you an equal amount of followers in return, just a fraction reciprocate. So I searched for tweeps that would almost automatically follow back.

Tweeps that had in their bio the #followback, #autofollow, #teamfollowback, and other variations, were my target. These guys would follow you back some days after you follow them. It was an easy way of acquiring new followers, at the expense of having enlarge the list of who I am following.

I also tweeted a lot using these tags myself to attract people practicing the same stuff.

I searched for people that had a similar number of followers than people they follow. This indicates that most of the times they reciprocate. I added only those that had several thousands of followers, to be sure it was not a coincidence. And it also gives you a nice amplification if they would have retweeted my stuff.

What about Facebook? Ay ay ay, this was real bad. I just added people randomly, I just wanted as many people as possible to notice my stuff. I did not take much care of the Facebook side, I must admit.

  • Step #2: Automatically Follow Your Followers

This is a very tedious task to do, specially when you are getting hundreds of followers a week. I needed to automate this and therefore I used Socialoomph to auto follow whoever followed me, with the hope that they would stay for the long run.

Another thing that Socialoomph allows you to do (and that is as annoying as a kick in the crotch) is to auto DM when somebody follows you. It automatically sends a message, usually saying thanks for following, because we are in the “Thank You Economy”(aff link), right Gary Vaynerchuk? Allow me to disagree. If you want to thank me, just click and retweet my stuff.

  • Step #3: Flush Who Doesn’t Follow Back

Tweepi and ManageFlitter are great sites that list which of your followers are not following you. I removed everyone who didn’t reciprocate for a long time. The same fate awaited for those that did not tweet often (you don’t want to follow inactive accounts).

Flush your followers with measure. Twitter can ban your account if you unfollow thousands of people very often. The same applies to following new people. Twitter likes organic growth.

  • Step #4: Repeat Steps 1 and 3 Every Other Week

Since you want to grow your following base in an automatic, or semiautomatic way, you can redo steps 1 and 3 every other week (so Twitter doesn’t flag you as spam) or sooner, depending on your growth rate. Ideally you should groom your following list daily, in little amounts.

Here is where I partially lost focus. It was easy to see it as a game. Adding new followers was like a competition, everything was allowed, the more the better.

Do you remember the account was called CoolStuff4Guys? At this point I was adding followers that were not men, were not cool, and were not talking about manly stuff. Basically I followed everything that moved.

You see the 15k followers? And the 98 times listed? A ratio of “followers / listed” above 10 indicates a possible spammy account. My ratio was 150!!! (if this “ratio” is something new to you, why don’t you check Tim’s “Ultimate Guide to Twitter Marketing“?)

What about amplification? The only tweets that I got retweeted were the ones coming from well known websites, like Mashable.

Mistake 1: I had a loosely defined audience.

Getting Paid For Tweeting

Mylikes and SponsoredTweets?pay you some cents for each click on the link you tweet (thousands of dollars just for a tweet if you are Kim Kardashian). It all boils down to the quality of your account. Ideally you want to have lots of followers and to follow very few people, this flags you as a leader, an opinion maker, influencer.

Guess what? I was not yet a leader. This meant little cents for each click plus having to promote things like stupid twitter bots, wannabe rapper videos, or close to spammy websites. Wasn’t I supposed to be promoting Nike??!!

“In 4 months I made a total of 27$”
At least half of the clicks were made by me or my friends. You can argue that I should have stayed longer to see higher profits. I don’t think so. The quality of the ads was decreasing and the growth of my click through rate was as flat as the whole Kardashian clan’s encephalogram.

I also tried to tweet some Amazon affiliate links to cool products. But again, my audience was not interested in my niche, so I ended up getting little clicks and selling nothing at all.

Mistake 2: I was promoting products that did not interest my audience.

Present Situation

I left the different accounts running on autopilot, which keeps my followers steady around 15k, but I do not use pay per click on my tweets anymore. Basically, I use CoolStuff4Guys to retweet and amplify my own website – juliopeironcely.com?and my twitter account (@peyron).

My website is a display of my interests, namely science, social media, and lifestyle design. My hope is that visitors will keep coming because they are attracted by any of these three topics.

For @peyron account, now I hand pick who I follow, although I still have to flush some of them. No more tweets are pulled from a RSS feed, everything comes from my site or from sites that are interesting for me.

Organic growth allows me to build relationships with my followers. I get a kick of excitement when somebody RT my content, or they send me a message saying they found a post useful. Then everything makes sense.

I still use some automatic tools, mainly Bufferapp. This great web service + plugin allows me with just one click to buffer tweets and post them at the times that my followers are most active. Highly recommended tool.

And I lost money!

I’ve wasted lots of my time doing all above and all I got was $27. If only I could go back in time and put all these efforts into something else (less shady, perhaps) I’m sure I could’ve easily earned ten times more!

That’s where the money is lost…

Julio E. Peironcely is a Spanish PhD student living in The Netherlands. On his site juliopeironcely.com, apart from science and graduate advice, he blogs on social media and lifestyle design. He eats cookies and drinks Muscat and Malbec wines.

Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, a leading tool trusted by hundreds of thousands of SEOs and marketers worldwide. His SEO-related data research studies have been cited by media giants, including Inc, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat. He's also a regular speaker at some of the largest industry conferences around the globe, such as PubCon (US), BrightonSEO (UK), and the Digital Marketers Australia Conference (AU).