There is no shortage of bizarre behavior in the world of twitter. People go to great lengths to attract followers in order to market products or just to feel famous. However, there is one particular twitter account that is much more peculiar than most. Like Jonathan Ames, the white wine sipping private detective from the HBO series Bored to Death, I set out to investigate the man known as “Darin Armstrong”.
According to his twitter bio, Darin Armstrong provides Professional Public Relations, Marketing and Communication support for Lance Armstrong, Team Livestrong and Livestrong. His background images and avatar are as official as it gets, full of yellow wristbands and images of Lance in the full black and yellow Livestrong kit out of the saddle and hammering away.
It seemed odd to me that Livestrong and Lance would require additional outside assistance in order to promote their work. Lance has a spokesman and manager, Mark Higgins. Livestrong has an entire staff. Why did they need Darin Armstrong and how does his twitter marketing benefit them? Is this a friend or relative of Lance?
Darin does tweet about Livestrong from time to time, but for the most part, Darin, who has 44,200 followers on twitter, seems solely focused on achieving more followers. How does he do this? If you are a pro triathlete and you will agree to “mutually follow” Darin on twitter, he will agree to promote you via twitter via a Follow Friday tweet. Darin has promoted thousands of athletes and brands this way. Pro triathlete Doug MacLean sarcastically referred to Darin’s twitter account as the “Who’s who of American High School Students for triathlon.”
Darin is best known for the following 5 tactics:
1. Follow Friday promotions
Every Friday, Darin posts multiple tweets promoting various endurance athletes, usually triathletes. The posts generally include images and links to the athlete’s website. Often times, the athletes share these #FF tweets with their followers.
Why is this an effective tactic for building a twitter following? I’ll explain with an example. First of all the #FF tweet that Darin crafts is flattering. In this example Meredith Kessler is recognized for being a 12 time Ironman 70.3 champion. Next, Meredith Kessler shares this tweet with her 12k+ followers. Then, some of Meredith’s followers notice this tweet and decide to follow Darin. Everybody wins.
2. Email solicitation
If you are a professional triathlete with a twitter account, you have probably received a version of this email featuring lots of hashtags (seems rather unnecessary for an email) and red lettering.
From: DLADOC@aol.com To: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSubject: Attn: XXXXXXX From: Darin Armstrong #TeamLIVESTRONG Re:Triathlon/TwitterTo: XXXXX #Ironman #Triathlete From: Darin Armstrong #TeamLIVESTRONG ***Special #FollowFriday #Shoutout To: @xxxxxxxxxxxxx #Ironman #Triathlete (#Swim #Bike #Run) http://xxxxxxxxxxxx
Hello xxxxxxxx, The above is what your #Twitter #FollowFriday #Shoutout will look like this Friday should you do a ‘mutual’ following with me on twitter.(‘Smart Individual Marketing/PR’)
Just a quick message to ask if you would be interested in a ‘mutual’ following on twitter that will benefit you. (#FYI I do RT’s ‘ANYTIME’ for all #Triathletes #Cyclists #UltraRunners #Marathoners #FitnessProfessionals who follow me on Twitter and have something important they want mentioned for support…(Over 41K folks at your access…)
I am currently following you now and am awaiting your follow-back… All the very best to you & xxxx for the rest of 2013 & beyond xxxxxxx. Look forward to hearing from you… (PS. xxxxxxxx, should you follow back, I’ll be mentioning you ‘Including Your Website’ in a ‘Stand Alone’ #FollowFriday #Shoutout this Friday…)
Darin twitter.com/DarinArmstrong #TeamLIVESTRONG
3. Spamming blog posts
4. Following and Unfollowing
Darin has probably followed and subsequently unfollowed me a dozen times or more. This is a common strategy for some twitter marketers. They follow a few hundred new twitter accounts every day (following more than a few hundred per day may result in twitter shutting down your account due to spamming). Then the marketer will unfollow everyone that does NOT follow them back. This strategy can be executed using a number of applications such as Manage Flitter.
Darin is a prolific follower/unfollower and his tactics are widely ridiculed.
Anyone want to take a guess who just followed me for the 1,000th time, Yep you know the name, plays of some “strong” guy……………….. — Brad Williams (@BW_Tri) June 22, 2015
5. Blocking the Haters
If anyone points out that Darin has followed them again or if they make fun of this ridiculous process, they will be immediately blocked. Also, unfollowing Darin may result in a block.
I contacted Livestrong to learn more about their partnership with Darin Armstrong. Something smelled fishy. After a few referrals, I received an email from Ellen Barry, Executive Vice President – Strategic Communications of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. What she told me was shocking:
“Darin Armstrong is not affiliated with The LIVESTRONG Foundation.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was shocked and hurt. How could Darin misrepresent himself like this? I responded with more questions, but I didn’t get many answers.
“As I said, we appreciate your bringing this to our attention. I have sent a note asking Darin to refrain from using LIVESTRONG in his social media as he is not affiliated with the organization. That is the extent to which we will be commenting about this.”
But what about Lance Armstrong?
After learning that Darin is not in fact associated with Livestrong, I had to wonder if he was actually associated in any way with Lance Armstrong. I contacted Lance’s manager and spokesman, Mark Higgins, and this is what he had this to say about Darin Armstrong:
“I do appreciate his enthusiasm and support, but we do not have any association or contact with him.”
Conclusion and Speculation
This is a strange case. It reminds me of the Manti Te’o catfishing incident because we have someone on the other end of a computer screen pretending to be something they are not. I don’t know who Darin is or if Darin Armstrong is his real name. I don’t know if Darin is a man, woman or robot. Some people seem to think he is a real person living in Utah. I could not confirm this, as Darin did not respond to any of my emails requesting an interview.
What’s most troubling to me about this case is that I cannot understand what Darin’s motive is. I see no evidence that he is attempting to monetize his twitter following. “Darin” does not seem to tweet advertisements for cash. This is as close as it gets and I really doubt Jeff Gordon payed.
Like Manti Te’o’s fake catfishing girlfriend, Darin might be enjoying the excitement of mixing it up with pro athletes online. Perhaps there’s a rush associated with being somewhat twitter famous. Maybe it’s something else. In one of his emails to an athlete Darin attempted to answer this question:
“So why am I contacting you and offering this to you? Because hopefully one day, you may consider doing an event for LIVESTRONG in the future to help support the fight against cancer.”
If Darin is providing special #FollowFriday and #retweet support to athletes so that someday they will participate in a Livestrong event, this seems like a really misguided and impractical way to go about accomplishing that goal. I have no idea how many years he’s been at this, but I’d estimate he’s spending over 1,000 hours per year on this twitter venture. Has a single athlete participated in an event because Darin Armstrong retweeted them? Has an additional dollar been raised as a result of this twitter frenzy? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no.
In fact, what he’s done is repeatedly annoy the living shit out of tens of thousands of people on twitter with all of the following, unfollowing and blocking. His aggression, spamming and lying is an embarrassment to Livestrong. If I were running Livestrong, I’d do more than send a polite note asking him to stand down. I’d contact twitter and ask for the account to be shut down. It’s clearly violating rules relative to misrepresentation and it’s harming their brand.