Does Twitter Engagement Fail When It’s Automated?

By January 10, 2012Social Marketing
Does Twitter Engagement Fail When It's Automated?
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What makes social media different from other marketing is its potential for robust engagement. Therein lies the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of social media. Once upon a time we’d converse with or respond to customers and prospects on the occasion that they specifically contacted us with a question, comment or complaint. But social media has changed the landscape of relationships and put us in easy, instantaneous contact not just with customers and prospects, but with people we’d never have met or engaged with otherwise. This increases our circle of influence exponentially and puts a significant demand on our time and energy.

If you gain Twitter followers slowly, at a pace of a few each day or each week, it’s not so difficult to interact one-on-one by responding to each person. But what happens when that number mushrooms and you’re adding dozens or hundreds each day and week? Keeping up with your new followers and engaging them individually becomes more than difficult; it becomes nearly impossible. Time is an asset that you only have so much of and as your list grows at an increasing rate, you may not have enough time to engage new followers.

Response Automation

So what’s a marketer or Twitter fan to do? One solution that presents itself is the automated direct message. Twitter does not allow users to create automated messages that are triggered after a new follow, but many third party applications do. I use a service called Pluggio to deliver my automated response to new followers. As of this writing, my automated message reads:

Howdy {FIRST_NAME}, thanks for following. Sign up for free updates at our marketing blog {Web.Search.Social}

An automated direct message is not in and of itself engagement, but can be part of engagement. It should also be part of a greater marketing plan. In other words, no one should consider the automated message to be the sole marketing outreach in social media, but it can be helpful

when you’re short on time and still want to present as human a face as you can to new followers.

But the technique is controversial and there are generally two camps of thought.

Camp A: No automated responses should ever be sent. All responses should be initiated by a person and personalized.

Camp B: Include automated messages as part of a personalization mix. It’s important to note that typically, automated responses use “short codes” or replacements for variables such as name. So instead of receiving a message that says “Hello”, you’ll receive a message that says “Hello, Ralph”.

My Life In Camp A

For a long time I was in Camp A, but as my following gained momentum it became harder and harder to respond to every follower and ask each one of them to take a specific action (depending on what campaign or promotion we were running.) Life was good, but then something interesting happened; my follower growth rate stalled and began trending downward.

Oops.

Declining follow rate coupled with standard attrition made me lose sleep and my life spiraled into a pattern of crime and debauchery in dimly lit alleys.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but no one likes watching their Twitter follower count trend downward.

Thus began…

My Life In Camp B

New followers began to get my automated message almost instantly and my follower count began to climb again. I still communicated with people, but at my own pace with the comfort of knowing that I had “touched” them almost immediately. That’s just Marketing 101: touch your customers and prospects early and often.

The difference between my life in Camp A and my life in Camp B was that I could now reach out to new followers around the clock regardless of where I was or what I was doing. Additionally, they had almost immediate feedback with a specific call to action; “sign up for free updates.”

Almost immediately, I saw a chain of communication that didn’t exist before because now I had extended my reach to every single follower. People signed up for our newsletter, started conversations about posts and sent the link to friends.

Not bad.

Why The Rivalry Between Camp A And Camp B?

I was recently engaged in a conversation by @redtype who received my automated message after following me and objected to it. @redtype is decidedly in Camp A. In our exchange, he tried to convince me that Camp A was king, but the conversation itself was initiated by my automated message which seemed to imply that the true champion was Camp B. @redtype writes:

Automation of repetitive tasks is a great idea but when you automate personal notes to your fans, friends and others, this is when you’ll run the risk of alienating them.

IMHO, this is a basic “Branding 101” faux pas.

So What Have We Learned?I think that those in Camp A dislike Camp B for mostly emotional reasons. The idea that social media must only be human powered is romantic, but not practical. To be clear, I am not opposed to Camp A or Camp B; I believe that you should visit both camps and see which one works best for your message.

I think that Camp B can work fine under the right circumstances without diluting a message or a brand. In fact, it can generate almost immediate feedback and responses to calls to action when human powered interaction is not available. How you finesse and deliver that automated message is key.

The practical reality is that as with every marketing campaign or strategy, some people will like it, some will not. Humankind has yet to invent any singular thing that is universally loved. Well, except for the squagle. I mean come on it’s a bagel that’s square.

I digress…

I am going to continue to call Camp B my home for the short term. If nothing else, being in Camp B has earned me a new friend in @redtype. We spent a bunch of time debating the issue and he has made it onto my coveted Zombies Who Eat Brains list. I may even let him into my Bunker when the machines become sentient and take over the world.

twitter-direct-message-automation-camp-a-b

 

So What Now?

Well, for starters, follow me on Twitter at @ralphmrivera. Seriously. Do it. You know you want to.

Then follow @redtype and tell him to buy me a mojito and that my automated message is awesomer than a squagel.

And speaking of my automated message, how about signing up for our free newsletter?

You’ll be glad you did.

Ralph M. Rivera
Hi, I'm Ralph! I'm a web developer at Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company that I founded in 1999 with my wife and business partner Carol Lynn. In January 2012 we created Web.Search.Social as a branded service offering that brings enterprise-level services to small businesses in an affordable way. I'm also founder and CTO of Podcaster's Toolbox, a SaaS platform designed to help podcasters plan, produce and promote their shows. I teach web development at Manhattan College in New York City. Carol Lynn and I are home based near the Jersey shore but we're currently location independent and traveling the country for a year, working and podcasting. I'm also trying to build a flux capacitor, but that's not going as well as the other stuff I do.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera