How I won 4 Twitter contests a day (every day for 9 months straight)

This is the story of how I wrote a Twitter bot to automatically enter contests and ended up winning on average 4 contests per day, every day, for about 9 months straight.

If you’ve ever used Twitter, you’ve probably seen a tweet that looks something like this:

rt2win

Maybe you’ve actually retweeted it, maybe not, but everyone wants to know: does anyone ever win those contests? To discover the answer to that question, I wrote a Python script that logs into twitter, searches for tweets that say something along the lines of “retweet to win!” and then retweets them. I’m not sure if anyone else has done this before, but I didn’t see any evidence of other bots that were behaving like mine. I did however see evidence of real people who were manually doing the job of my bot by retweeting hundreds of contests over several hours.

Some contests require you to follow the original poster, so after discovering a candidate tweet I made sure it wasn’t an entry to a contest, but the original contest itself, and then checked to see if they wanted a follow. If so, I followed them and retweeted. The most difficult part of this project was preventing the bot from getting banned by Twitter. They have rate limits which prevent you from tweeting too often, retweeting too aggressively, and creating “following churn”, by rapidly following and unfollowing people. Twitter doesn’t publish these numbers, so I had to figure them out by trial and error. Twitter also limits the total number of people you can follow given a certain number of followers. If you have below a few hundred followers, you cannot follow more than 2000 people. Since a lot of contests required following the original poster, I used a FIFO to make sure I was only following the 2000 most recent contest entries. That gave me long enough to make sure the person I unfollowed had already ended their contest and it kept the follow/unfollow churn rate below the rate limit. I got lucky in that the rate of new contests launched on Twitter is less than the rate that I could retweet, meaning I was able to enter every contest I could find. How many was that? Well, over the 9 months I ran my script, I entered approximately 165,000 contests. Of those, I won around 1000. So that means my win rate was just over half a percent, which is pretty miserable, especially when you consider that a good portion of those winnings were things like logos and graphics, which is Twitter slang for a customized image for use in a gaming or YouTube profile. They tend to look like this:

rIC3v1lzAnother very large percentage of the things I won were tickets to events. I did manage to go to an event that I won tickets to, but the majority of them were for concerts and events in other countries that I obviously couldn’t go to. I also won a lot of currency to online games (like FIFA). And when the game Destiny was giving out beta codes, I won about 30 of them through as many contests. I won a lot of cool stuff too though, and getting mysterious things in my mailbox each day was pretty fun. It ended up being a free way to get this effect:

packages

from http://xkcd.com/576/

Here’s a picture of The Haul:

rsz_img_0876

My favorite thing that I won was a cowboy hat autographed by the stars of a Mexican soap opera that I had never heard of. I love it because it really embodies the totally random outcome of these contests. The most valuable thing I won was a trip to New York Fashion Week, which included a limo ride to the show if you lived in a state near New York for you and a friend, and $500 spending money each, and tickets to some of the shows. That had a retail value of $4000, but I didn’t claim it because 1) I don’t live near New York and 2) I didn’t want to pay the taxes on a $4000 prize.

I ended up not claiming the majority of the things I won because I wasn’t able to use them or attend them. In those cases, I just messaged them back and told them to give the prize to someone else. And before you report me to the IRS, yes, I reported and paid taxes on all of the winnings I actually accepted/received.

I had a lot of pretty interesting interactions with the unwashed masses of Twitter, like this:

Capture

Most contests informed the winners by direct message, and a lot of people have an automatic direct message sent to you when you follow them (like the one above), so I had to spend a decent amount of time going though my DMs to find legit winner notifications.

In a strange turn of events, I even encountered an example of someone offering MY autograph as a prize. I have no idea how they were going to pull that off, because I had never even heard of this person.

wait what2

Some people thought it would be hilarious if they mimicked contests by tweeting things like “RT this and you could win absolutely nothing!!”. Naturally, my bot found those tweets and dutifully retweeted them. So there were several instances of me winning “absolutely nothing”. Another variation on that was this guy who offered a unique prize:

lidsYes indeed, I won this contest and the fantastic prize of warped “tupaware” lids. Unfortunately, like lots of other contests, I never got anything in the mail.

After a while of winning contests, I realized I could use my bot for good too. Lots of people raise money for charities by asking people to retweet. Something like this:

Capture

Sometimes they’re fake, but what do I care? I added search terms for tweets like this and had enough bandwidth to retweet every tweet of this kind without going over the rate limit.

If you want to see the full list of stuff I won, it’s here. There are a few gems in there I’ve leave it to you to discover.

141 Comments

  1. You’ve opened up a world of retweet hell by publicising this.

    Brilliant idea though!

  2. Mandeep Bhatia

    I assume the answer would be NO, but still I would like to try to request, would you share the script with me? It will help me learn and win some prizes along the way.

    If not, please guide me/show me the path for how to write such a script so that I could write one on my own.

    Thanks,
    MB

  3. Thank you for this interesting article !
    Would it be possible to view the source code of your python script ?
    Regards,
    Tony

  4. Yep… I wrote a bot (in PHP) that uses the Twitter API to search for competition tweets. I tried to use the streaming API, but that just went insane…

    Three little searchers out there, one hitting the top 1,000 UK brands, one that’s a general ‘gatherer’, and one that goes through my ‘following’ list.

    It filters out the stuff like ‘RT for a Solo DM with Teen Boy Band’ and all the MTV hottest stuff… then it sends the tweets to a buffer where they get retweeted in a human-like way.

    I tried to use the streaming API, but that just went insane… the main problem is filtering out the other compers who do manual RTs (when a lot of brands start their competition tweets also with ‘RT to win’)….

    I check it daily at the moment and un-retweet stuff I can’t attend or don’t want, goodness knows what will happen when I decide to just “let it loose”… anyway. It’s a fun little thing!

    • PS – I actually found this article because my competition retweet bot picked up on it 🙂

  5. We found the same thing with the first iteration of our SAAS product Follogro – we won A LOT of things 🙂 So this article made me smile. And I do think that there is something in this whole charity RT angle – but Twitter’s new laws will ban such work.

  6. Wow. 😀 Would be great, if you would highlight greatest, the most epic prizes in the list.

  7. Destiny Beta codes, FIFA coins and absolutely nothing + a cowboy hat. Sounds great! No really, cool idea though and you´re right, there is nothing more satisfying then packages in the mail 🙂

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    • Holy smokes, I can’t believe you saw this! Haha I had been wondering about the story behind that. Thanks for commenting, that’s amazing.

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  21. any chance you can share what terms you searched for and how often you posted?

  22. I’m curious, did he do this using the twitter api and registering the app with twitter, or did he find a way around that. I feel like an official twitter api/registration would be a lot easier to get banned.

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  26. Is there a tutorial how to code this bot? Love to learn how to do it! Great job!

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  48. I’d say those Dude Wipes were the most valuable thing in the haul. Every walgreens around Dallas has been out for like six weeks since the Chili Cook-Off.

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  62. I wonder how long did it take you to write the script?
    I am not a programmer but I’m really peculiar about it 🙂

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  76. Loved this story. I have done sweeps and contests with varying intensity at different times in my life, usually after reading a “this guy won 7 cars” story, and I have entered both the ‘old-fashioned’ way pre-social-media and post-social media. I actually prefer the old way, which was directly on websites or by mail. It’s time-consuming, but you also eliminate the dud giveaways and won’t bug your friends, assuming you use your actual account. I won’t enter FB contests anymore.

    I’ve won a lot of junk — sipper bottles, unneeded “phone cards” — but also have won a tv, a $250 exercise apparatus, a mini Sphinx statue, books, software, $100 gift certificates. Then I went to a local sweeps club where mostly older people share tips and brag about their wins. One couple has won so many cars they must have lost track. They would rattle off dozens of prizes — usually trips — won in the previous month, and even they don’t win as often as you did. For them it’s a hobby they do with their kids.

    BTW, these aren’t contests, which are things you have to compete for, such as writing the best jingle, whereas sweepstakes or giveaways just require submitting your entry. They are strictly luck and much more common.

    I also would like to see the code for this. Please link if it’s on github! I know there’s an API and I can write it myself blah blah but why reinvent the wheel. Thanks for the post. You may have inspired me to sweep again!

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  84. Wow, that’s a lot of contests won, haha. It seems like Twitter could easily be abused for one’s profits.

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  87. Well written and humorous…How long did it take to write the script? And do you plan on continuing to use it?

    I imagine thousands more of these bots are about to appear

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  93. What a complete waste of time and knowledge.
    You could have painted a picture of you girlfriend in the meantime.

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  102. all of you that think this is ok— what do you tell your children -that it is ok to cheat -you should be ashamed

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  104. Howdy, I’m teaching myself Python and would like to know if you have posted this script on github? I have an idea for my first project that has a lot of similarities to your twitter bot, thanks!

  105. Thank´s for sharing! Very interesting to realize also, that this is not used by different bots already? Maybe this will change very early now ;o) I am curious if you really will put it on github ;o)

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  111. I wish when these bots win, contest hosts would pick someone else.

    The reason is I have my suspicions people are cheating by making multiple twitter/ bot accounts. Eliminate all of them from winning, and there would be no problem. Also many ppl do the work of manually retweeting, and its kind of unfair to them.

    As a side note there are 3 categories:
    1. People with normal twitter accounts who find these contests themselves and RT

    2. People who made a seperate account just for entering sweeps, but also manually RT

    3. these bloody bots

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