The simple answer: it’s literally just free coins just waiting for you.
The method behind the madness, though, is a decision regarding marketing strategy. As a way to spread awareness to the relevant audience of potential investors and eventual enthusiasts, coin teams will, from time-to-time, do airdrops.
Coins have been doing this for a while — pretty much since the first Ethereum ICO. If you check your wallet on Etherscan (which I totally recommend doing — never open your wallet with a private key just to check your balance, it’s riskier than necessary), you’ll know there’s a row up top named Token Tracker. If you see it, then there are also tokens in your account; if you don’t, then you don’t have any tokens or airdrops — yet.
Some of you ETH wallet holders that have had wallets with balances for a while now might’ve noticed this — one day you just see an extra random token in your Token Tracker. No, someone didn’t randomly deposit some obscure token into your wallet address on accident; instead, the coin’s team decided to send a small amount to a population of Ethereum wallets in order to spread the word.
After getting the token, one of the first things you might’ve done is Google what the coin is. Or you might’ve taken it a step further — asked someone else if they knew what the token was. Also, you could just choose to ignore it.
Of course, in the last scenario, the airdrop failed its intention. But scenario 1 means that you have now learned about the coin, and scenario 2 is even better — you’ve just told your friends about the coin, too. In both of those scenarios, the airdrop did its job for a small price (well, potentially a larger price if it moons).
Eventually, airdrops became a method beyond marketing. As a method to pump coin value, coins would announce airdrops where coin holders would receive bonus coins proportional to the amount of total coins they hold. Coin investors that wanted to get the airdrop would have to buy the coins if they didn’t have any yet, or buy more if they wanted a larger proportion of the airdrop. That being said, I want to emphasize that this airdrop strategy won’t be examined further in this article, since my article is focused on how you can get coins for free, not on how you can get coins by buying coins.
Recently, with Facebook’s new advertising policy explicitly stating bans for ICOs, many ICOs have turned to airdrops as an alternative method for pay-per-click advertising. With many ICOs being consumer-focused products, they focus on one metric: viral growth through the network effect. In layman’s terms, they want to spread the word to you and hope that you spread the word to your minions, too. They address this by using a strong referral system method.
Usually, it takes about 1–2 months after the end of the airdrop before you receive your tokens. This is primarily due to the fact that many airdrops occur before or during token sales, in conjunction to spread awareness. And tokens are not distributable until the end of a token sale anyway (I’ll write a separate piece on Token Sales, or ICOs).
Circled in Red is the area you want to look. If the token is available in your wallet already, it will show up in the token tracker dropdown. If you don’t have a token tracker appear on your result, then you don’t have any tokens in your wallet yet, and it also means you didn’t receive it.
Once you actually obtain the tokens, you can withdraw them directly through a services like My Ether Wallet (MEW). All you have to do is access your wallet (through MetaMask, Ledger Nano, or some other way — direct private key pasting is not recommended) and select the token you want to withdraw.
With all the promises of free coins out there, it’s easy to lose track of everything and just start a clicking frenzy. Here are some tips to avoid getting scammed:
This is an example of a scam airdrop. The first red flag is the fact that the Twitter account is asking you for an amount. But these scammers have become pretty sophisticated. If you check the comments, you’ll see there are 8 responses to this. 7 of them are from fake Twitter accounts pretending to have participated and being “super stoked” about receiving their coins. The other one is from me, tweeting that it’s a scam to try to warn people.
If you look at the Twitter account, you might see that it has 3,000 followers (or maybe even more) but the tweet history is less than 24 hours long. Does that make sense? A coin that just supposedly raised 8m euros has only tweeted for 24 hours? If the story seems fishy, there is a disgusting, rotting corpse somewhere. Don’t believe it.
The image is a terrible Photoshop job with font that doesn’t match the rest of the announcement. This scam is a metropolis of red flags. A simple Reverse Google Image Search shows that the logo actually belongs to Thrive.
As a best practice, always look for reasons why an Airdrop would be a scam. With that mindset, you are more likely to be able to sniff out the rotting fish from the sushi.