Twitter Racketeering For Fun And Profit
Suddenly, with the pitching of a pet peeve the size of a pebble, the tenuous world of the so called "Twitter Twins" - brothers Chris Rauschnot (@24k) and Bill Cody (@VegasBill) - has descended in blinding avalanche upon their Social Media Empire.
It's not like they didn't have any warning. In fact, we warned them almost two years ago (on July 16, 2009 to be exact) in a feature article entitled This Is Not A Sponsorsed Conversation, that what they were doing - exchanging positive social media postings for freebies or cash - was disrespectful, fraudulent and possibly criminal. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires that "consumers have a right to know when they're being pitched a product" and not reading an unbiased review by a supposedly impartial source. These rules apply to everyone, be it martial arts ass kicker Chuck Norris, mixed martial arts ass kicker Chuck Liddell or Jim Murren ass kisser Chuck Monster. Even if it weren't required, opting in favor of full disclosure is always the right thing to do, at least if you really give a shit about the people who read your work.
So, happily along it went for the next 12 months, with Chris and Bill publicly exchanging Eats for Tweets, filling their bellies daily in exchange for 1 or 2 #ultranom shout outs amidst their 120+ hash infested retweets per day to their 40,000 followers. The casinos - slow and cautious about new technology to a fault - coddled, watered, fed, fondled and fertilized these fruit bats by offering up unparalleled access to parties, luncheons, restaurant openings, nightclubs, shows and red carpet events normally only reserved for legitimate media. The unspoken understanding between the resorts and the brothers is that the two would share positive content to their legions of followers. As long as they toed the party line and didn't take advantage, they'd be taken care of.
And what a great plan it was - for all sides - the joints would get a non-employee, non-official, non-journalist, third party Twitterer gushing great things about whatever, hopefully igniting conversational excitement that could manifest itself into measurable metrics - click through rates, increased follower trends, number of retweets, number of participants in hash tagged conversations. These metrics are then used to justify the very existence of the resorts' burgeoning social media departments as they tried to figure out how the hell this social media thing is going to affect the bottom line. We've seen internal marketing department documents for one Las Vegas Strip resort that contain line items that outline goals for Twitter followers growth, quarter over quarter, reducing social media to the incredibly antisocial metric. And who better to help us get from 2,000 followers to 3,500 followers this quarter than two opinion-free "social media experts" that have amassed 90,000 followers between them! All we have to do is invite them to an event and feed them a coupla times a week? As if Jesus himself had walked down from the mountain, with a slot machine in one hand and a roulette table in the other, the entire casino marketing business cried out in Handelian harmony: "Where do we sign? Where do we sign? Alleluia Alleluia Where do we siiiiign??!?"
24K: @CaesarsPalace Can we check out Serendipity3 on Friday or Saturday 4 lunch?
CaesarsPalace: @24k @VegasBill - we'd love to have the two of you for lunch on us.
24k: @CaesarsPalace Awesome, let's set it 4 sure. :) DM'ing you deets.
CaesarsPalace: @24k awesome - :)
When Serendipity3 time came, both Chris and Bill tweeted their thumbs off, regaling the tales, Twitpics, and 12 Seconds of #nom #ubernom and #ultranom until they went into a #nomabetic coma. Never once did they mention to their followers that the conversation they were reading was a commercial paid for by Caesar himself to the order of @24k and @VegasBill. In fact they only started using the hash tag #comp when they realized that they weren't being invited to dinner as a guest, but as an entree.
When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed.
To their credit, Chris and Bill put in a lot of time and effort amassing their followings. They obsessively track, tweet and retweet based on trending topics and popular hash tags, they target keyword tweet bots that love to auto-follow, they network with other high metric Twitter users (mostly Tech and Travel blogs / purveyors) and always press the virtual flesh of anything that retweets, quotes or comes within a 100 yard circumference of any of their posts. Some say that they may have "bought" their gigantic following or discovered an algorithm to find auto-follow Twitter accounts, or abandoned ones. There is currently no evidence to prove any of these theories, and my gut feeling is that they earned every one of their followers one by one by targeting conversations and being hyper responsive (to the degree of it becoming annoying.) It didn't hurt that they were smack dab in the middle of the conversation between twentysomething Las Vegas casino Twitter accounts and the rest of the world.
Yes, the Twitter Twins' tactics are deceptive, specifically when measured up to Federal Trade Commission guidelines, but let's call a spade a spade here, the casinos were complicit in this. So what happened? What caused this seemingly sudden explosion of animosity between casino marketing and the beasts they built and fed?
Perhaps the Brothers Rauschnot became too prideful in their self appointed (and casino anointed) role as 'Las Vegas social media brand spokespersons.' Or maybe the casinos envied the Twitter Twins' follower numbers and, secretly, how these doofuses completely worked the system for glutton busting freebies. Perhaps Chris and Bill's lust for access and accolades (not to mention their resulting fortunes) might catapult them from nondescript real estate agent and a part time Mac enthusiast to being influential and important yapperists like the Robert Scoble or Robin Leach. Even a sloth has goals.
There is the wrathful anger of @VegasBill too, which - according to numerous sources we've spoken with - erupts in volcanic virtual fury when he feels even remotely spurned. Recently, @VegasBill went into a tirade when he discovered that @StationCasinos had unfollowed him, grandstanding to all within Tweeting distance that Station was foolish to unfollow him as he is Vegas social media kingmaker of brands. @StationCasinos responded the next day stating that their unfollowing of @VegasBill was an accident. Not surprisingly, Bill didn't apologize or publicly admit that he goofed, hardly the behavior one would expect from an expert in the ways of social media.
Perhaps more disturbing is how @VegasBill reacted to critweeque leveled upon him by other members of the Las Vegas social media graph in response to his bullying of @StationCasinos. One such tweet, a verbal enhancement of my screen grab of @VegasBill's Stations rant, was posted by local food blogger @TastingLasVegas. This was promptly retweeted by Twitter user @donnieg75 and countless other folks who find @TastingLasVegas' wrathful wit appetizing. Happens all the time, sharing does. The good and the bad. @VegasBill, tracking all of his mentions, sees this comment and noticed by the bio that @Donnieg75 works for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Whereas a normal person might just take their lumps for rightly being called the fool, @VegasBill responded by complaining to @Donnieg75's boss at Cosmopolitan. This is the actual email:
This unbecoming piece of misdirected indignation elevates the nastiness way beyond garden variety playground kerfuffle. In some extreme circumstances, this could've cost someone their job. There is always an alternative to bullying: buying your duck tongue tacos at China Poblano with real actual cash. Are hissy fits a requirement to having a real estate license?
Chris and Bill have never been bashful about soliciting invitations, but as their perception of their own influence has grown, they've become brave, tactless and almost devious in their attempts.
The Direct Approach:
VegasBill: We hear [ entertainer ] is coming to town, backstage passes, full access. Not Kidding.
The Obtuse Approach:
24k: @DamHelicopterCo Thanks for asking about @Cosmopolitan_LV restaurants. Unfortunately, we have only had snacks at STK & a slice of pizza.
Experts tell us that tell us that when Twitter Twins are prowling for invitations they do it by responding to their followers with non recommendations and cc'ing the casino in question's Twitter account. The subtext is "Cosmopolitan, if you want us to recommend your restaurants to our 50k followers, you need to invite us to try it first. (For free)" I hear the truffle tater tots at The Henry are great.
The Punitive Approach
Experts also tell us that when the Twitter Twins are mad at your property (usually because of a lack of feeding - belly and/or ego) they refrain from using the casinos Twitter handle and refer to it by different names. For example Palms Las Vegas, instead of @PalmsLasVegas, Planet Hollywood Resort or PH Vegas instead of @phvegas, MGM Grand instead of @mgmgrand or Wynn hotel instead of @wynnlasvegas or Venetian hotel instead of @venetianvegas. And you thought talking to a teenager was difficult.
And finally, there is the 'slightly less direct than before' approach:
24k: It's @VegasBill's birthday next week. Any #Vegas hotels/venues want to help us celebrate?
Upon seeing the above tweet, local journalist Steve Friess, who played a huge part in legitimizing the Twitter Twins via a supremely nauseating puff piece profile penned for the Las Vegas Weekly last year - suddenly joined the chorus of naysayers and started taking @24k and @VegasBill to task for their antics. So moved was Friess, that he unleashed his Kracken all over @24k's ballsy birthday request right onto THEfacebook where embers of discussion steamed, followed by selective deletions by Rauschnot. This proved to be the last straw for previously supportive Friess, who fired a cannonball across the bow of the S.S.#hashtag wrapped in a mea culpa for his endorsement of The Twitter Twins (née Twerps.)
But before we let Mr. Friess swim away from the T(w)itanic unscathed, pointing fingers at outlines slowly sinking on the poop deck, he needs to bear the weight of his baggage. Steve's talents lie in areas beyond technology, he fastidiously panned Twitter as waste of time until he saw how it affected change during the Iranian protests of June 2009, roughly at about the same time VT called bullshit on the Twitter Twins and their Tweets for Eats scam. I felt then and I still do now that his initial Las Vegas Weekly puff piece was the journalistic equivalent of a comped dinner, show tickets or event access. He opted to not do his homework on their profile piece and instead give them shred of legitimate press credibility which the Twitter Twins pedaled as a USDA stamp of approval. This resulted in a Las Vegas Weekly getting decent amount of traffic to the article (a metric a publisher uses to decides if the author is worth keeping on staff) as well Tweet pimping the authors Twitter handle and his blog. Did Steve pull this punch on purpose? Only he knows.
Abandon ship all ye who enter here, the deserted triangle where local media phones it in (scroll down to "Best Tweeters"), recession pummeled casinos reach at marketing straws and two enterprising young rip off artists play all sides of the fence to their advantage.
The facts are that this situation didn't plop from the sky readymade. It was built tweet by tweet, comp by comp, day by day, meeting by meeting, mixer by mixer by the same smoke and mirrors marketing system that Vegas casinos have been using to pull the wool over their customers eyes since the get go. Now, it is faster, smaller, nimbler, younger and infinitely more deceptive. So what happens now that Ouroboros has awoken to find its head, tail, teeth and balls in its mouth? Tweet about it. And hopefully learn the lesson that social media is about people, the real life living breathing things that post photos of their dinner, tweet every play of the game, give fashion tips to celebutards, start all their Tweets with 'Dear (whatever is annoying them)' and end them with #justsayin. They're the people who will tell you how successful your property is with a greater accuracy than a spread sheet, but only if you listen. They're the people who tell two friends who tell two friends who tell two friends and so on and so on. If you show them honest endearing respect, they will reward you forever.
This is NOT a sponsored conversation.
Oh and we didn't forget to mention the cease & desist order, the mis-appropriated White House press passes, cancelled web tv show and the incredibly the hysterical @24kmedia iPhone app (leave a review!)
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