Why Is @Rentokil Following Me?


A line of marching ants, following one anotherSo on Twitter you get a message saying: “You are now being followed by Pest Control (Rentokil)“. The most common responses, so far, seem to be:

  • Why are Rentokil following me?
  • Crikey!
  • I am confused
  • What have I said to deserve a follow from @rentokil?
  • Is that a hint?
  • Is it because I mentioned a rat/mouse/pet cat catching mice
  • Oh and their friends laughing and retweeting their response saying “maybe its because you’re a pest”  seems to be quite common too

Yes, we have started to increase our online presence even more by focussing on our twitter account to gradually increase numbers. @rentokil is a significant part of our social media strategy for 2010 under the direction of our social media partner Wonderful and actually our social media policy will be finalised soon too. (Watch this space for a link.)

What amuses me is the number of people who are genuinely surprised when @rentokil follows them. Phase One of our twitter campaign was to find pest control related people to follow. Tick, complete.

Phase Two is to move outside of the field of pest control and find experts in other fields including social media, websites, PR, facilities management, I.T., etc. and others who are not experts but who just seem to enjoy using Twitter (there are still quite a few of us that do – despite the 109 million hits on Google which state Twitter is dead!)

We have had a few nice messages, but also a few rude ones – which personally I think is a little bit unnecessary. I know it’s not the same, but if say the @bbcnews started following you, or @nikesportswear, @hmv_getcloser or @WHSmithcouk would you automatically think:

  • What have I done that is newsworthy?
  • But I’m a couch potato
  • I never buy CDs – I only listen to the radio
  • No stationery required for me right now thank you very much

Mingling with @rentokil at a party - a bit like meeting new people on TwitterSo why think a pest control company are following you because of pest control if you haven’t mentioned any pest control in your tweets? If your recent stream of tweets is interesting and your bio confirms this, it’s a follow – be flattered not worried.

The beauty of Twitter is that you get to meet all kinds of people online, and not all of them with something in common with you. And that’s why you need to start talking to people, a bit like when you go to a party and know no-one but the host. Remember that thing called mingling? Try it, you might like it!

[Update: Please read Caroline's comment about this blog post in Learning the hard way]

Category: Debugged - the lighter side of pest control
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  1. Mike
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi Danusia,

    You’ve mentioned that “We have had a few nice messages, but also a few rude ones – which personally I think is a little bit unnecessary”

    You might want to reflect on why this is, and whether or not following people who aren’t your friends is a good online communication stratergy.

    Also it might be worth reviewing Twitter.com’s policy on what it calls “Follow spam”. They say:

    “Follow spam is the act of following mass numbers of people, not because you’re actually interested in their tweets, but simply to gain attention, get views of your profile (and possibly clicks on URLs therein), or (ideally) to get followed back. Many people who are seeking to get attention in this way have even created programs to do the following on their behalf, which enable them to follow thousands of people at the blink of any eye.”
    They continue:
    “As you can imagine, this is a problem. In extreme cases, these automated accounts have followed so many people they’ve threatened the performance of the entire system. In less-extreme cases, they simply annoy thousands of legitimate users who get an email about this new follower only to find out their interest may not be entirely…sincere. On rare occasions we may see a person who is mass following and actually cares about every tweet—there is an opportunity for us to learn more about this use case and work to provide a better experience. ”

    Follow spam is a problem and people don’t like it. What you are doing is contributing to it.

  2. Dave
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Re your statement: “Remember that thing called mingling? Try it, you might like it!”

    People on twitter use it to talk to their friends or share information. People follow companies because they are providing useful information on their products.

    It seems you aren’t really doing this, and you are engaging in a PR exercise which will backfire.

    Also: you are comparing talking about pest control products to mingling at a party. Do you really go to parties and then tell them about your great range of products available at your company and how they might want to purchase them? Is that really being sociable and friendly?

    As the previous commentor stated, ‘You’ve mentioned that “We have had a few nice messages, but also a few rude ones – which personally I think is a little bit unnecessary”’

    Would you want someone to come to your friends house and instead of getting to know you they told you about the excellent product line at their company? Would that really make you want to do business with them?

    You may want to reflect on this.

  3. GrrAargh
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Yes,if @nikesportswear, @hmv_getcloser or @WHSmithcouk started following me(or asked in may case, as my tweets are protected), I *would* think those things! That is because so many commercial tweeters have followed, or requested to, purely on the basis of the odd word or phrase I’ve used.

    So, it’s hardly surprising that other’s have been reacting the same way based on similar past experience.

  4. Adam
    Posted March 11, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    This differs from good old-fashioned follow-spam how?

  5. Posted March 12, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    As a blogger its always great when you see whole host of replies to your blog post. Oh, except this time they aren’t exactly positive comments. Never mind, in the spirit of good blogging they will all get approved and I will respond to each one in turn.

    Mike – I disagree. If you had an individual/personal Twitter account the way to make new friends would be to listen and find some new people to talk to or engage with outside of your immediate network – why is this any different for a corporate brand?

    Dave – hang on, there’s a slight contradiction here. On one hand we are being criticised for following people we don’t know (by others not you) and on the other we are being criticised by you for not offering spam-y sales messages.

    Philip – Fair point if you have protected your tweets.

    Adam – See comments re Mike above.

  6. Matilda
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I think Twitter all about ‘meeting’ new people and engaging with a community not about only ‘talking’ with existing friends.
    With a Science and pest control background I’m pleased to be followed by @Rentokil and to follow them back and am enjoying the banter. Keep up the good work.

  7. Sarah
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I second some of the comments above – people don’t like follow spam. I’ve been drawn to this following the absurd spectacle of not giving a journalist the information he requires on twitter.

    But my main concern is with follow spam. If you read PC World’s article on the subject here:

    “Fed Up With Twitter Spam? It’s Going to Get Worse

    As every Twitter user knows, the popular microblogging site has become a hot spot for spammers intent on carpet bombing users with the usual pitches for government grants, debt-reduction services, and penile-enhancement pills.

    The situation is pretty bad, particularly for naïve users who automatically follow people who follow them. This activity, which many newcomers undoubtedly do just to be polite, opens the door to an onslaught of sales pitches from sleazy marketers.”

    You talk about “starting a conversation”.

    In reality many journalists describe this follow spam as an “onslaught of sales pitches from sleazy marketers.”

    Is this really good PR for you?

    Here’s a link to the original article:

  8. Dave
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    The balance of comments above seem to be strongly opposed to what you are doing. People don’t like follow spam.

    How would you like it if I cam round to your house and told you about “how great my company is!” and “all the great services my company provides!” Wouldn’t you tell such a person to get out of your house and not bombard a personal private space with commerical messages?


  9. Dave
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Also: “we are being criticised by you for not offering spam-y sales messages. ”

    You’ve completely misunderstood what I’m saying. You are offering spamy sales messages. Even if you aren’t directly saying “buy this new Rentokil product”, you still have as the ultimate aim the desire to promote your brand and by extension, ultimately to build the business and increase profitability.

    So your ultimate aim is to make money from the people you are following. Either by getting them to talk about your products or by increasing brand recognition. You aren’t trying to “start a conversation”, you are trying to build the brand and make money.

    This isn’t nice, and the slew of hostile comments from users and journalists should perhaps give you pause for thought.

  10. Posted March 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I saw that long list of “Why is Rentokil following me?” tweets the other day.

    I thought it was a weird question to ask. I’m never really aware of whose following me, just that the numbers are slowly creeping up. God, knows why :)

  11. Adam
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Surely what you say could apply to all follow-spam. Fact is, you’re a professional marketer being paid to get publicity and ultimately cash out of this. You’re following people (I allege) not primarily in order to read their output but to bring your advertising to them. That’s spam in my book.

    • Posted August 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      Holy Toledo, so glad I ccilekd on this site first!

  12. AG
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    This is brilliant. You’re doing a cracking job, Danusia.

    Incidentally, regarding Dave’s “slight contradiction” – if you ‘spam’ your own message feed, only people who are following you see it. As in, people who want to see it. What you’re doing is coming to people who’ve not asked for anything to do with you.

  13. bovvin
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    “…and actually our social media policy will be finalised soon too. (Watch this space for a link.)”


    I’ve block-cleared my diary for this one. (Hope the wedding insurance pays up.)

  14. Posted March 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Don’t think this qualifies as Twitter-spam, personally. Rentokil’s feed looks like a lot of effort has gone into it: they’re engaging with their readers and posting links to all sorts of stuff.

    There’s a lot of material about pest control… but what do you expect? It’s Rentokil.

    @Mike Of course it’s a PR exercise. But how much info can they really provide about pest control. They’re answering questions as they come up, and the rest is really creating a ‘real’ persona.

    @Danusia They might not all be positive comments, but at least they’re intelligently put together and willing to discuss the subject. Don’t be so defensive!

  15. Posted March 12, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    The jousting with Ben Goldacre has been quite amusing, so I expect lots more people are familiar with Rentokil and Entotherm now.

    Rentokil’s Twitter stream seems to have some entertaining and interesting things among it, so I certainly don’t think it’s all PR doom and gloom – the ‘five books Rentokil would have ruined’ is a very nice idea and made me chuckle.

    It would amuse me further if you sponsored things *like* the Pestival festival, or the creepy crawlies exhibition at the Natural History Museum, got involved with entomological societies and equivalent things for small mammals. Obviously there are times when these creatures are useful and times when they’re being annoying, laying eggs and chewing through the wiring or making off with the contents of our grain silos. Sometimes they’re interesting, sometimes we want to exterminate them.

    Were I going for a quirky social media strategy I’d probably suggest this, and possibly include in my tweets lots more interesting, vaguely sciencey facts and figures about insects and mice etc. Perhaps links to videos of some of those weird cordyceps fungi which infect insects (I’ve posted a couple of videos myself of how I deal with ants in the kitchen, basically supply them with sugar so they don’t crawl everywhere looking for food – there’s an even better one that someone posted on YouTube where he fed crisps to ants, where cochineal comes from, something about fleas / humans being able to leap over St. Pauls – that sort of thing. You might even include advice on how to discourage mice from scuttling round your skirting boards, information about humane methods used in killing, the use of rat-killer warfarin as a blood thinner in medicine.

    Basically… ‘pests in popular culture’ would be my suggestions, rather than chicaning around with the information that journalists want…

    Just a thought :)
    P.S. *Fantastic* name for a blog by the way.
    P.P.S. You may be already doing some of the things I’ve suggested but I just looked at a couple of pages of your tweets and not at the blog posts linked within them, so apologies if I’ve misrepresented your tweetstream.

  16. Alastair Cannell
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Ben Goldacre has just written a very interesting article that talks about your Twitter policy


  17. Tim
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    So I read an article about Rentokil’s dodgy press release antics. Fail.
    Followed a link to a blog post about why it’s OK for a company to follow/harass twitter users (I’m not a twitter user but I don’t understand why it’s useful for a company twitter account to follow anyone, other than to get attention). The comments appear to be overwhelmingly negative. Fail.

    Yesterday I thought nothing about Rentokil. Maybe, if pushed, “they have a slightly disturbing name” (what was wrong with “pestaway” or something). Now I think Rentokil are rubbish. So you just keep up the good work with that social media policy now.

  18. Michael
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    *Any* company following me automatically gets added to my “Spammers and < ****> and < ****>, oh my! Some of the scum of Twitter. :) ” – group on twitter, then blocked (which won’t remove them from the list, btw).

    I rather have only a handful of followers than to artificially raise the number with marketing people. :D

    Best thing ever happened yet was one guy having only “get rich quick”-type messages in his timeline demanding to know *why* I added him to that list and almost ordering me to remove him from it…

    As for rentokil: Congrats, you’ve just become the latest member of this exclusive little community! :)

  19. Posted March 13, 2010 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    What good is the search on twitter for if you’re going to get slammed when you use it. You use the feature to look for those who you find interesting or that may have an interest in what you are doing. I don’t search for bankers per se but if one mentions a rat in his vault why wouldn’t I follow him/her.

    I dare say most of the complainers have hundreds if not thousands of people they follow and that follow them–does everybody on their list fit this strict criteria they are trying to saddle rentokil with?

  20. Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    @Sarah, you have chosen to enter this thread (presumably of your own volition) and posted a link to a credible source of information which develops the theme.

    Do you think that you have spammed Rentokil by doing this? I imagine that you don’t and you probably intended to add value to the conversation. You’re right on both counts. If you had ended your post by offering a sales pitch then that’s different.

    Following someone who posted something relevant to your interests is not spamming. Getting a single follow notification email from Twitter isn’t intrusive spam, it’s part of the tiny price we pay for the value we derive from being part of social media.

    I have no connection whatsoever with Rentokil or any of their agencies.

  21. Derek Johnston
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    What I would like to know is why is this company publishing false and misleading advertising in the guise of “news”. Rentokil attack public transport for the sake of a publicity campaign in order to create fear and mistrust in the service just so you can sell your product better. Thouroughly dishonest!

  22. Linda
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    follow me and I’ll block you and report you for spamming before you can blink. Nothing personal you understand – just what I do to all companies that clutter up twitter. Ironically enough I use a service to ‘clean up’ my followers :P

  23. MaggotBrain
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I will NEVER be using the services of Rentokill, and I will certainly make sure that everyone knows of the deceipt that Rentokill made over the claims of public transport being swarmed by pests. I only hope that the humble power of word-of-mouth will be sufficient to bring this immoral company down.

  24. Socrates
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink


  25. Farad Tweeds
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    MaggotBrain. I’m sure that the consumers of the world won’t pay a single bit of attention to your thoughts. The feeble (not humble) power of word of mouth only works if people actually care about the subject. Does anyone really care about whether rentokil have tried to follow you? I wouldn’t. I love it when people think that a rant online will change the world…

  26. Posted March 16, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I think everyone’s getting a bit over-excited about this aren’t they? As far as I can see, Rentokil have at least tried to be transparent about their SM policy – hardly a reason to put the boot in.

    I have to agree with Nigel, above – SM is there for everybody. Some people seem to be of the impression that Twitter and social media should be free from all commercial activity – in that case, we’ll be watching it die quicker than it’s taken off.
    Following someone is hardly the same as bombarding them with junk emails – in fact, if it weren’t for the notification from Twitter, would you even notice? I’m sure I follow plenty of people who couldn’t give 2 hoots about me, but do they block me? no. it’s all part of the game. And if you don’t like that someone’s following you, there’s a thing called the block button…

  27. Tim
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Farad. Actually I think you’ll find MaggotBrain doesn’t complain about following, he complains about false and misleading media claims.

    And actually I think you’ll find that’s how most readers of this page have ended up here.

  28. Curtis
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Last time I checked, sales pitches weren’t welcome conversation themes at any parties I’ve been to. And no, expositions do not count as parties.

    Oh, and this whole PR campaign is ridiculous. Of course trains have bugs on them. Unless i’m very much mistaken, they aren’t hermetically sealed. My house probably has over a million ants in it. That doesn’t mean they’re going to take it over.

  29. Posted November 29, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi welcome to twitter!
    With a platform that is used by individuals for VERY personal use and businesses using it to connect with people that share some form of interest there will be conflict.
    It is a shame that some people treat some followers as spam when all they do is follow you – that is a little “OTT” – sure block by all means but there are many populations here.
    The only people I report as spam are those that @message me with sales based links. It is a free world to follow or unfollow.
    Maybe twitter should allow accounts to have a “personal” or “business” tag – and in our profiles we select who we will allow to follow us – of if we are that way inclined have a locked, private account.

    The works spammy people on Twitter are not the “big” businesses – but those running business from home promoting affiliate links. Thats must be the worst of twitter – no value add, no engagement, just advert broadcasting.

    Keep up the work, grow it slowly, make sure that you reply to all messages directed at you and make sure that you add value – that way people will follow you
    @rapidbi ( http://twitter.com/rapidbi )

  30. Posted February 3, 2013 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email.
    I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

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  1. [...] claim to be just finding their feet in social media, hence cute posts about why they are following people on Twitter. Spam follows are, strangely enough, annoying. I get followed by an increasing number ’social [...]

  2. By Rentokil ruffles feathers over ‘Twitter-spam’ | Lakestar Media Industry News on March 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    [...] response, Rentokil posted a blog entry, ‘Why is @Rentokil following me?’ attempting to explain its [...]

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