If you spend any amount of time on Twitter then you’ve probably had a few contest tweets pop up in your news feed from time to time. Most of the time it’s someone trying to organically grow their group of followers by asking people to follow them and retweet their original tweet. In response, they’ll be entered to win a specific prize.
Hunter Smith, an electrical engineer at Motorola, saw these and asked himself if anyone actually won these contests. Well, rather than sitting around and pondering something he’d never know the answer to, Smith decided to program a python script that would enter these contests on his behalf.
Smith’s Twitter Bot
Over the course of nine months, Smith’s Twitter bot entered him into 165,000 contests on Twitter, but he only won about 1,000 of those.
According to Smith’s blog, the Python script would log into Twitter and begin to search for tweets that mentioned anything about retweeting to win and retweet them. Smith said that he saw plenty of other users manually entered into these contests, but never saw anyone else running a script like his.
Cheating the System
The key to Smith’s Twitter bot was finding the perfect balance between following, unfollowing, and tweeting. You see, Twitter actually tracks various statistics it considers shady and use them to ban users from the site. Tweeting too often, aggressively retweeting, and following too many people in too short amount a time are all things that could lead to a user being banned from Twitter.
Most of the contests that Smith entered required him to follow and retweet the original tweeter, which is around 611 tweets and follows every day. After a lot of trial and error, Smith found out that a user with only a few hundred followers can only follow around 2000 people. To skirt around this limitation, he made sure that he would only follow the most recent 2000 people, and would only unfollow them when the contest had ended. As luck would have it, the number of contests he could find on Twitter never allowed him to exceed this amount.
What Does Winning 1,000 Contests Get You?
You can check out the entire list of items Smith won on his site, but Smith says his favorite prize was a cowboy hat autographed by the cast of a Mexican soap opera.
“I love it because it really embodies the totally random outcome of these contests,” said Smith in his blog.
What was his most valuable find? A trip to New York Fashion Week. It included a limo ride for Smith and a friend, $500 for spending money, and some tickets for a few shows. Smith decided to not claim the prize since he didn’t live near New York and didn’t want to pay for the taxes on its reported value ($4,000).
Nowadays Smith says he’s putting his Twitter bot to good work by retweeting people who are raising money for charities.