I Picked a Fight with Guy Kawasaki

Last night I picked a fight with Guy Kawasaki on Twitter. For those who don’t know, Kawasaki is a marketing genius, former brand evangelist for Apple and current venture capitalist. He’s a big name. One of his current projects is Alltop, a cool little site that offers the best of the web for any particular subject (say, church?).

I called Kawasaki out over the Alltop Twitterfeed, where anyone can sign up and let Alltop post tweets to their Twitter account. It’s essentially handing over the keys to your platform and ceding your voice to a commercial. A handful of people I follow on Twitter signed up when Kawasaki offered a signed copy of his new book. I started to notice when I saw friends posting tweets about stuff they normally didn’t talk about:

Is it stork time?: http://pregnancy.alltop.com is for you.

Mostly for lawyers: Electronic Discovery news: http://ediscovery.alltop.com

If you love bags, you’ll love this site: http://bags.alltop.com

And then different friends tweeting the exact same thing. I smelled a skunk. And it was Kawasaki.

Why It’s Lame
I understand the allure of a free book. A signed book, no less. (Note: Not everyone signed up for the free book.) And Alltop is a cool site worth talking about. But my problem is that it’s not authentic conversation. If you want to tell me about Alltop, do it in your own words. Otherwise it’s spam.

For Alltop this means all they care about is spreading the word. As Kawasaki asked me, “What’s lame about 450 people helping me reach 125,000 others?” Apparently big numbers trump real conversation.

For my Twitter friends who signed up this means they’re flushing their voice and their hard-earned respect down the toilet. They’ve sold access to their followers for a book. For as much as the new media marketers talk about permission based marketing and earning the right to be heard, this boggles my mind. It’s the antithesis of authentic. You didn’t earn your right to be heard just to hand it over to some company commercial.

How to Do It Right

For companies:
Go ahead and ask people to plug your products. Nothing wrong with that. Heck, bribe them if you must (free book, free shirt, exclusive access, etc.). But make sure it’s authentic. Ask people to write about your product in their own words. Giving them a framework is fine, but know that boilerplate copy from corporate isn’t going to be as effective as a customer’s own words.

For individuals:
Go ahead and plug products you like. But do it in your own words. Do it naturally and authentically. You don’t let a marketer speak for you when you talk to your friends in person, so why would you let them do that on Twitter? Your followers on Twitter or subscribers to your RSS feed or e-mail newsletter are people who have given you permission to talk to them. You earned that right. Don’t squander it by handing access over to a company.

The Conversation (for posterity)
I do have to give credit to Kawasaki for replying to me. That’s authentic. How cool is it that I could even have this conversation? Below is the Twitter thread:

kevinhendricks: Discovered my friends tweeting about #Alltop aren’t doing it. Bribed w/ a free book, they give access to their followers. Lame, @guykawasaki

guykawasaki: @kevinhendricks What’s lame about 450 people helping me reach 125,000 others? Have you seen http://church.alltop.com/?

kevinhendricks: @guykawasaki It’s lame when it’s not my friends telling me about #Alltop in their own words. The topic doesn’t matter.

kevinhendricks: @guykawasaki Asking people to spread the word? Cool. Doing it for them by putting words in their mouth (or tweets in their feed)? Lame.

guykawasaki: @kevinhendricks You’re jealous :-)

kevinhendricks: Did I seriously just pick a fight with @guykawasaki?

guykawasaki: @kevinhendricks It’s good for more followers for both of us. :-)

hardlynormal: @kevinhendricks : yupper that’s what it looks like LOL

kevinhendricks: @guykawasaki Not so much jealous as lightbulb: That’s why everyone keeps plugging Alltop w/ exact same lingo. Meh. Antithesis of authentic.

guykawasaki: @kevinhendricks Only if you assume perfect information and that “everyone” follows more than one person who has signed up.

kevinhendricks: @guykawasaki I follow 3-4 who are auto-tweeting for #Alltop, seems likely others are in same boat, but I’ll grant you not a huge percentage.

kevinhendricks: @guykawasaki What gets me is the auto-content. If you like #Alltop, tell me what you like. Don’t cede your voice & platform to a commercial.

tinkugallery: @kevinhendricks @guykawasaki Since we are all opting in, I don’t see it as being a problem. I will shill Guy in xchange for a signed book :)

kevinhendricks: @tinkugallery @guykawasaki You opt in but u basically sold advertising 2 Alltop. Want to plug them? Do it in your own words. That’s my take.

tinkugallery: @kevinhendricks Good point.

kevinhendricks: For the curious, I called out @guykawasaki & #alltop for asking people to auto-tweet for them: http://is.gd/2XB7 I think it’s inauthentic.

kevinhendricks: Thanks for the conversation, @guykawasaki – That’s at least authentic (and surreal!)

mattsingley: @kevinhendricks I’ve plugged Alltop dozens of times, I’ve never been told what to say.

kevinhendricks: @mattsingley Then you’re being authentic. More power to ya. I’m talking about this: https://twitterfeed.com/alltop

RadicalBender: @kevinhendricks I’m with you. It’s link spam. It’s maybe 1 step above those faux search result link farm spam things you see all over.

guykawasaki: @kevinhendricks Must be slow night in Minnesota. Do you play hockey?

joshlewis: @kevinhendricks Good on you for picking fights with Guy. I haven’t liked his work in 15 years.

41 thoughts on “I Picked a Fight with Guy Kawasaki”

  1. I haven’t seen them but I’d agree with you to some extent unless it was disclosed originally and then well it is what it is.

    I just don’t understand why so many people are so willing to give away a sitewide link to all top for an inclusion? It’s the way most reciprocal directories gain strength by taking from those they are supposedly trying to help.

    Curious if the average AllTop user sends more traffic to all top or receives it…

    Clever idea, definitely not new but definitely a new spin.

  2. As a person who signed up to the twitterfeed, I agree, the “spam” messages were quite annoying and I ended up deactivating the feed. However, you really cannot blame Guy. Blame your twitter friends for selling out (hey, I did). Maybe after reading Guy’s book I can learn to make enough money to not have to twitterfeed advertisements to get a free book.

  3. You’re right, it is just the same as allowing advertising in your Twitter feed. I wonder how the costs compare to Magpie? I bet Guy is getting the better deal.

  4. I am with you on this. There seems to me some intersection between _evangelism_ and _spamming_ nowadays. I’m surprised folks would be so open to adding twitterfeeds for alltop just _because_.

    It’s one of the signs of the downfall of twitter. Much like other platforms that have gone the way of the bot overload.

    I wrote about this same topic here:


    I guess some folks have a take no prisoners approach to getting their $$$.

  5. I guess I am a lame writer follower of Guy. Now I am a follower of you too. I am all about the link to others when I can’t write as good as others. I really don’t think authentic is what everyone looks for. I think some people are just trying to show how clever they really are and don’t always write their own ideas either. I cheer on all of you great writers as a reader who likes to share what I found.

  6. If this were me, my beef wouldn’t be with Guy or Alltop, it’d be with the friend who allowed Alltop’s twitterfeed to spew from their account.

  7. I got to agree with you here Kevin. No one wants spam, it is a shame when someone decides to sell their twitter credibility for a mere book. Come on folks, I want to hear what you really think about something… not some canned message. That’s just plain lazy.

  8. Kevin,

    I understand your argument & I can appreciate Guy’s position; unfortunately, tweeters are accustomed to the barrage of unauthentic tweets. Besides, many of the 3rd-party add-ons proliferate automated responses.

    What I would suggest is that a secondary identity be incorporated to advertise that specific cause. When individuals get a follower that openly lets you know it is for business ads only…then it becomes more acceptable.

  9. Let’s be clear here- most of the people who twitterfeed alltop did so way before Guy published his book. I’ve been retweeting for 6+ months because I love Alltop and think it’s a phenomenal resource. I would auto-twitter the topics without a book.

    Alltop adds new topics daily and I don’t have time to go into the site every day and Twitter the new topics myself.

    Let’s also remember that you choose your followers. If you don’t like the auto-twitters…UNFOLLOW, dude! I have no problem losing followers because of the auto-tweets.

    As far as calling those who support Alltop by promoting their progress “sell-outs” does that mean everyone who promotes a product is a sell-out? If I twitter that I like this blog post am I a sell out? Twitter is what you make of it…

  10. This is what happens when it cease to be a conversation (read: community building / reputation management) and starts to be a sales pitch.

    I am fond of neither the Alltop ads nor Magpie.

  11. This could be done right. What Guy needs is a hashtag approach. Folks sign up for the book and then plug alltop in their own words. A little app listens for the plugs and, after the requisite number of plugs, rewards the plugger for their authentic words. You’ll still get spam but it will be authentic spam. If the watcher app was smart, it could also identify “likely plugs” and, upon review by someone, offer free copies to those loyal “truly authentic” pluggers. These unrequited gifts would truly create positive buzz.

    Guy, let’s do this right! :)

  12. Great comments, thanks everybody.

    Breanne Potter: I made the point that it’s fine to promote products you love. That’s not selling out. I think it crosses that line when you cede your voice to a company. If I’m following you, I care what you think, not what Alltop thinks. If you love Alltop, tell me about it in your own words.

    And if you have no problem with giving them your voice, then that dilutes your platform. I might or might not un-follow my friends who are doing this, but I do think it’s a hit on their credibility. (Honestly, I don’t want to un-follow them because they’re my friends.)

  13. Kevin,

    Guy has found yet another way to effectively market something. Good for him.

    However, your points about this are excellent. You would think people would be smart enough to see the reality of this and how it devalues their own activities.


  14. I think you should be less upset at Guy and more upset at the people you follow who are subjecting you bland tweets. There *are* entertaining ways to pimp things. For example, “Alltop cured my herpes and I can’t stop singing about it”.

    (It didn’t, by the way, but probably just because I don’t have herpes. If I did have herpes I’m pretty sure they’d be gone now. Thanks, alltop!)

  15. Although I don’t like the tweets, I have to disagree with you about one thing: They’re not spam.

    What they are is paid advertising through a channel you can turn away from.

    That you don’t like it and don’t want to turn away doesn’t make it spam. It makes it annoying, sure, but that’s not how we define spam.

  16. Recently I stopped publishing the Alltop feed [http://twitter.com/EmailKarma/status/986216649] and had a conversation over Twitter with Guy about why I stopped. I stopped for some of the reasons your post talks about. My friends and followers were unfollowing me (not that having more followers is important) but I also got several emails from people saying “Why do you post these – they look like spam?”.

    I’m not saying I won’t support Alltop, I will because I think its a great site and offers a number of great resource links grouped in one place, but going forward if I like something new on the Alltop site I’ll post it in my own words.

    Great post.


  17. @Matt Kenigson: I have seen the hash tag approach used by other “marketers” out on Twitter. I began following one and promptly dropped the user after two hours of unreal spam. Every tweet had a hash tag with the username prepended to it, and most of the tweets were useless. The hash tag is useful, but should also be used with discretion and not turn into a spam-fest.

    @Kevin: Good discussion going here. I like your thoughts on the Twitterfeed experiment. I signed up with Guy to try it out. It results in no more than two Alltop tweets per day. I may lose some followers over it, but then again, I have gained 10 since it started, so I’m not sure what the gain/loss is. I agree that it is not authentic, but our society is not authentic.

    Anybody who wears an article of clothing with a huge ad on it for the designer is basically doing the same thing… only worse. They are paying for the clothing and then giving free advertising. Not a perfect analogy because the wearer chooses to wear that article which is often not fashionable, but rather an attempt to show off some sort of perceived style.

    In any case, my personal tweets are authentic, so I suppose that’s all I can expect. I do like the Alltop site (and I’m not listed on it either), so I have referred people to it before, but I also like interesting Web 2.0 experiments so this was right up my alley.

  18. This is permission marketing. He asked for permission from the user. Don’t blame Guy, you should blame the people who signed up for it.

    Guy is a superstar, and he has taken it upon himself to send a copy of his book to all his fans/followers/readers. Even if he didn’t ask, I’d say they (we..I) would do it.

    I agree on some of the messages though, it seems really weird, I’m a guy and I have plugged about Pregnancy and Stork babies. That is not so cool.

  19. Kevin and Guy,
    Thanks to both of you. Guy for trying something new (even if your spammer alarm should have gone off) and Kevin for, not only bringing it to our attention, but for so succinctly enunciating why it was misguided. If the internet is going to survive with its character and soul intact, we must build it’s monetization on a new model. A model that realizes it’s not just another form of television or radio.

  20. Ian: The big difference for me is that these Alltop tweets are indistinguishable from a person’s regular tweets. It’s not like advertising. Heck, I’ve got Google ads on this blog, but they’re easy to distinguish from my actual blog posts.

    What people are letting Alltop do is comparable to letting Google post blog entries on my site instead of having an ad in the sidebar. I wouldn’t do that on my blog, so why do it on Twitter.

    Everybody: I agree that the people letting Alltop do this deserve some blame. But I also think Alltop & Guy are enabling it. They came up with the idea, bribed some people to do it and it’s easy not to think it through and just go along with it. I sympathize with those people (partially because they’re my friends). I don’t sympathize with Alltop & Guy.

  21. Hi Kevin,
    Here’s my example, http://blog.80percentmental.com/2008/09/four-sites-you-have-to-visit.html of an authentic post promoting Guy’s stuff and others. My motivation was to thank these folks for their support and hoping to build a mutually beneficial relationship. Guy did offer to send a book, but I had already bought one at Amazon.
    I agree with the opinions above that the answer is to stop following Tweeters that annoy you, for whatever reason. If they are your friends, then tell them that this annoys you. They were the ones that chose to put this in their feed. I don’t like all of the advertising on the TV screen during an NFL game, but I have to make a choice: either watch the game or turn it off.

  22. Dan: There are lots of folks legitimately plugging Alltop. I’m all for that.

    And again, these Alltop auto-tweets are inherently different from commercials or advertising. It’d be like watching an NFL game and suddenly Budweiser is running the game. OK, football is a weird analogy, but it’d be like letting General Motors write an episode of Heroes.

  23. You may just be too close to see that it’s an inevitable “parasite” on a new entity. (Parasite not intended to have negative connotation at all) The ecosystem is still new and will evolve to kill off some parasites and support others.

    This looks like a feature opportunity – filters for tweets.

    Wasn’t impressed by the “jealous” and “good for both of us” responses. Sounds like he concedes to your point though.

  24. I would not mind them so much if they adhered to some decent transparency. If each tweet started with “Alltop:” or “Sponsored:” I would be fine with it. Just like banner ads 1 in 100 might be worth following up on, but are also easily ignored.

    It is the fact that they are stealth advertising that I object to.

  25. Kevin,
    I see what you mean, but then there are product placements in many TV shows and movies. The producers sell out their “screen space” to “insert” a product in the actual show, rather than wait for a commercial. Its alot more subliminal than the direct Tweets, but I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t like it, but then I do like the rest of the show, so I put up with it. Guy just puts the offer out there. If only 450 of his 20,000+ followers do this, obviously only a small percentage have agreed to use their Twitter feed that way. On a side note, you mentioned you’re writing a book? Releasing any chapters online? Would love to read it!

  26. You may just be too close to see that it’s a nearly inevitable “parasite” on a new entity. (Parasite not intended to have negative connotation at all) The ecosystem is still new and will evolve to kill off some parasites and support others.

    This looks like it presents a feature opportunity – filters for tweets.

    His defense was pretty weak, though. I think you won the fight. Except he’s right that the publicity surrounding the fight matters more than the fight itself.

  27. Under the heading of you are what you eat(or more specifically do you eat your own dog food?). Here is my question – Has Guy himself signed up for the auto tweets from Alltop? If he has, then that demonstrates he does not think it is an abusive practice! If he has not perhaps he should sign up for it? Either way the real proof will be if Guy himself loses followers from the auto tweets.

    Scott Phillips

  28. Kevin, all due respect to your position, but I find your comments re the “authentic” promotion of brands and products – “make sure it’s authentic” hypocritical.

    Could you please provide an in-depth description (in your own words) of the “authenticity” of the Google ads on your blog, that forcefully impose on the white-space and take away from your prime blogging content???

    Secondly, is Guy the spammer because his team built a viral widget and combined it with a simple yet effective incentive? Or are the people who employ that widget, in this case, your “twitter friends” – the spammers? They didn’t have to sign-up…Oh, of course forgive me, they suffer from a well-known widget addiction called “anything for free stuff.”

    By the way, I’ve interviewed Guy for an upcoming article (spent a great hour on the phone with him) and I have to say…he’s a great…well, “guy” and he claimed in that interview that he gets more out of twitter than anyone else “in the world.” Later he also said, “Techcrunch is a bunch of angry little people still living at home with their mothers, who have never even french-kissed a girl….” but you’ll have to read the full article and accompanying blog post when they come out to understand the entire context of that statement…

    I have to say, like the widget’s purpose or not, it seems to be working…here we are talking about him, his widget and alltop.com

    Kevin I agree with you in philosophy, but you’re savvy enough to know that spam only exists because people buy the viagra online via email ads (myself not included, no need YET)…no willing participant audience no widget…your attention should have been directed solely at the audience in my humble (slightly sarcastic) opinion. That said, as you and I both know, you then wouldn’t have been able to say you had an exchange with Mr. Alltop.com himself – Guy Kawasaki.

    Guy – you win again BUT I’m not interested in your widget either, see how that works Kevin?

    Follow me if you like, authentically yours – @fusedlogic

  29. fusedlogic: Advertising is different. I’m not pitching the stuff advertised in Google ads with my own voice. What Alltop is doing would be comparable to letting Google write my blog posts. Or, as I said above, letting GM write an episode of Heroes.

    Advertising, like the Google ads on this blog, are clearly labeled as ads and not written in my voice.

    I’d say Alltop, Guy and the people who signed up are effectively spamming. I wouldn’t label them all as “spammers,” but they’re getting awfully close to that line.

    In general, I think it’s always good to consider the methods you’re using and their impacts. Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s smart.

    And I’ve got no grudge against Kawasaki. He is a great guy. He engaged me in this conversation instead of blowing me off. That is authentic.

  30. Can I point out that some of us signed up for the Twitterfeed well before the offer of the free book came up. I did it to help spread the word about a great site and to help out a twitter friend. Not everyone with the feed is doing it for the free book.

  31. Fran: Someone raised that point before. I’ve amended my entry to reflect that.

    But it doesn’t really change anything.

  32. Kevin,

    So your point is that it’s ok for people to “push” ad’s on you all day long on twitter as long as they say it themselves. That’s not considered spamming because it’s not automated and in your opinion “authentic conversation” correct?

    Further, it’s not the ads themselves so much as it’s the automation and misalignment of the ad content and audience on twitter streams that you object to? In effect, they’re “dumb” not intelligently targeted ads and that’s what is really urking you, yes???

  33. fusedlogic: That would definitely be taking my statements out of context. If all you do is push other people’s crap, that’s going to be pretty suspect. As in all things, there’s a balance to be had. But no, I see no problem with promoting something if you like it. That’s authentic.

    Furthermore, I think there can be a place for appropriate advertising. This isn’t it.

    What irks me is people ceding their voice and platform to another company.

  34. Good posting. Although we can argue whether it’s spam or not, I think its over the line. I originally signed up to promote alltop (because I think Alltop is good) but I have since decided I don’t want these types of messages coming from my account.

    I’ll promote stuff in my own words when it makes sense to do so…


  35. Say what?!
    Steven Fisher said

    They’re not spam. What they are is paid advertising through a channel you can turn away from.

    Steven – they’re spam. Spam is unsolicited info on a channel I subscribe to, be it email, IM, or Twitter.I want words typed by the person I follow, not ads injected into the stream.

    This is spam. At least magpie has the grace to include a #hashtag.

    Filtering out alltop as of now. Blech.

  36. I found the #alltop tweets rather ubiquitous and confusing, as well. I agree with Kevin, I’d love to hear about it from the people I follow, but I’m not interested in automated chatter, be it Magpie or Alltop. There’s enough material to filter through in Twitter as it is, why would I want to subject myself or others to more useless fluff?

  37. Kevin,

    Ultimately, you’ve started another interesting crowd-sourcing exchange, that in this case Guy Kawasaki is getting the benefit of right now, if he’s monitoring. Interesting case study tidbit…

  38. Excellent post!

    A friend of mine who is passionate about Twitter as a social, not a commercial medium, wrote a very thoughtful piece on why she is annoyed by Guy’s Tweetbots. (Citing many of the same issues as you.)

    Guy responded with nasty Tweets to the point of calling her a “female dog”.

    As a former fan of Guy, I was incensed and wrote this post: http://leftcoastcowboys.com/2008/12/04/the-one-where-i-call-guy-kawasaki-a-cyberbully/

    Both of us are now being flamed by some of his more avid followers (which we can’t blame him for), but, disturbingly, he’s continued to make snarky comments about our responses.

    Not the Evangelist Guy who used to encourage people to engage with their customers (and we are “customers” of his on Twitter) and bring them, with enthusiasm, into loving the product.

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