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Twitter Automation: Just Say No

twitter-automationMany tools have popped up that (cl)aim to make Twitter engagement easier, better even. Using these third-party extensions, users can create rules that will spur Twitter actions automatically on their behalves, thus reducing or eliminating the need to manually update accounts.

I firmly believe that in almost all cases, automating tweets will do more harm for your brand—personal or corporate—than good.

Let’s take a look at three common types of Twitter automation—auto publishing, auto responding and auto curation—to see what they are, example tools that enable them, and why you might want to think twice about using them. And so you don't think this is all me talking, I've included some insight from other industry pros

Auto Publishing  

What it is: Setting your Twitter account to automatically share newly published content, such as blog posts.

  • Some would consider tweet scheduling to fall into this realm. I think that’s a debate in itself, and if you want to start that conversation, let’s do it in the comments. Both personally and professionally, I use tweet scheduling in some cases, largely when I read a bunch of things at once and don’t want to go all "weapons freeon my followers.

Example tools: Twitterfeed, dlvr.it; capabilities within Feedburner, Sprout SocialHubSpot and other social management tools (Note: At PR 20/20, we use and love Sprout Social and HubSpot for their other features, just not this one.)

Why not? When auto-publishing, you lose the opportunity to personalize the message that goes along with the content shared. In addition, you’ll sometimes run into formatting issues, problems with character counts when titles are too long, etc. And, may the internet gods help you if you experience RSS feed problems, or leave a company without disabling corporate blog auto-publishing functionality on your personal account.

A better way: Take the time to read an article, think about whether you really want to share it, and personalize the message that goes out with it. Bonus: if you’re clever / shocking / interesting enough in your tweet delivery, you may actually increase the number of clicks. 

A caveat: There are certain types of accounts where auto publishing makes sense, such as those of news outlets and public service organizations.

Auto Responding

What it is: Setting your Twitter account to automatically perform an action given a set of variables, such as:

  • Send auto DMs to new followers.
  • Automatically follow users that mention your brand or competitors.
  • Send promotional @ messages to individuals who mention your company name, service area, etc.

Example tools: SocialOomphTweetAdderSend Social Media 

Why not? In my opinion, this is the worst kind of Twitter automation, as the messages are fully intended to appear to be personal—they come directly to you, directly from “someone”—but in fact, are anything but.

A better way: Use social media monitoring tools, such as Radian6, capabilities within SproutSocial and HubSpot, and even Twitter searches and Google alerts, to find opportunities to engage instead. Then, if something is worth responding to, or if you personally want to reach out and welcome a new follower, go for it. 

Auto Curation

What it is: Automatically organizing, publishing and sharing content by your Twitter connections, with your Twitter connections.

Example tools: Paper.liTriberr 

Why not? If something is really worth reading and sharing, isn’t it worth your time to really read and share it?

A better way: There is a time and place for curation tools to help you sift through the noise (one I’m particularly interested in is Percolate), but for curation to be truly valuable to your audience, I believe there should always be a layer of personal filtering. In addition, if thought leadership is the goal, you should be sharing your own opinion on the information as well. For an example of this, see our 100% manually curated Inbound Industry Reports

It Takes a Little Time, Sometimes (Or A Lot) 

You’ll see that the common thread in my recommendations is to devote the time—or in business cases, potentially a person or team—to active social media monitoring, engagement and publishing.

Auto tweeting goes against what social media is intended to do. By trying to make engagement easier through automating messages, you cheapen it. And in some cases, when followers realize that the “engagement” was false, you’ll lose your credibility, and their trust.

In addition, per Twitter’s Automation Rules and Best Practices, automating tweets can cause your account to be filtered out of search results—decreasing your online visibility and reach—and potentially even suspended.

I hate to break it to you, but social media is hard work. However, when you do it right, you can reap many benefits.  

Don’t Just Take My Word For It

Following are some articles and excerpts from voices I respect, who agree that automation isn’t the way to go.

Mitch Joel (@mitchhoel), Social Media Automation, Respect, Credibility and Robots 

“I’m not a robot. I don't want to automate my tweets … it seems disingenuous to recommend something automatically to my connections without spending some time with a piece of content and thinking about if it would add real value to the people I am connected to.”

Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) As For Auto Posts...I Take It Back. Almost. 

“There are people out there like me that are really hoping that you’re still out there somewhere, clacking away on your keyboard, ready to reply and chat … if it’s important to do, it’s important enough to do personally. After all, how else will I know how truly charming and fascinating you are?”

Steve Radick (@sradick) Stop Trying to Take the Easy Way Out 

“We're reducing relationships to impressions. … Be the guy who values actual relationships and conversations over likes, impressions, and followers. Instead of trying to game the system, take some time and actually enjoy the people you're getting to know. Being able to blast your generic press releases out to 10,000 more people isn't a good thing. Focus on sending it to the right 1,000 people instead.”

Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) Mannequin Networking – Why Twitter Automation is Bad 

“Automating tweets is like sending a mannequin to a networking event … The problem is when people ‘think’ it’s you tweeting to them, but you’re not even there. Once they find that out, it could hurt your relationship and your brand. That tweet tells people ‘I want the benefit of a relationship, but don’t want to put the time in to nurture it.’”

After all this, if you’re still interested in checking out automation tools, here are a couple resources I used to create this post (there are a few good services in these, too):

But Enough From Us, What About You?

Do you use Twitter automation tools? Why or why not? Do you have any personal stories about how automation has either helped or hurt your brand? We’d love to hear them.

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