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Does Twitter Engagement Fail When It’s Automated?

By January 10, 2012February 1st, 2018Social Marketing
Does Twitter Engagement Fail When It's Automated?

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.


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.



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.

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Ralph, thanks for commenting on my blog

    Automated direct messages (autoDM). It has been my experience that most who send autoDMs never reply to DMs from recipients (me). You are one of a handful who have responded. 

    Expectation. If one sends an autoDM then they should expect a response which should be replied to. Unresponsive one-way autoDMs don’t engage followers nor do they help us feel warm, fuzzy or “romantic” inside.

    On the issue of Camp A vs B. Growing follower counts doesn’t prove level of influence. A parallel question to this is the ratio of follower engagement. You can have 100 fully engaged people following you vs. 1000 followers of which only 10% are fully engaged. Both numbers end up equal, 100 fully engaged followers.

    My other question is on long term retention of engaged followers. My experience was different from yours. My follower count has not dropped, in fact over time it’s grown. In fact I even tried to stem the exponential growth by curating and sharing less, which has worked (somewhat). My validated hypothesis is that if you consistently add value to your community’s tweet stream, the growth and engagement will increase.

    Automation has its place (as you’ve described, how it plays a part in an overall strategy), but social media isn’t mass media and the key here (for me) is building a niche specific community around long term social engagement.

    I think it’s great to hear from both sides of the fence and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so.

  • Social media is mass media. It may not be print or
    television, but it certainly is mass media. Open any magazine and see how long
    it takes to find social media. Watch television and do the same. Go to a movie
    theater and watch the previews before a movie and you’ll be hit with a handful
    of Twitter and Facebook addresses. Go to the supermarket and try to buy any
    product and see how many times you are given an address or asked to zap a qr code
    that leads to a Facebook page or Twitter account. News agencies now report not
    only to the end user via social media, but get their stories from social media.

    Not only is social media mass media, but it’s becoming the dominant
    form of mass media. Already a significant proportion of people get their news
    from social channels than traditional channels such as print.

    And let’s be clear that the dominant use of social media is
    advertising and not engagement. “Engagement” is a goal, not a reality – at least
    not yet. Once you filter out all the “OMG Harry Potter rulz!” messages, what
    you are left with is “buy my stuff” messages.

    Arguing that social media is not mass media against the
    facts strengthens my argument that there is a romanticized notion about social
    media – almost exclusively by developers and marketers – that social media is
    different and detached in some ethereal way. The same was said about the
    internet and the printing press.

    Social media is an evolution of communication that needed
    other forms of communication to precede it in order to mature (BBS anyone?).
    Eventually, social media will evolve or be replaced by something else, and
    whatever that “something else” is will be used predominantly to sell sell sell.

    • Ralph, it depends on the definition of use, i guess you’re saying that based on a bell curve chart on audience, it seems like social media is leveraged by brands to communicate to customers & clients to “buy my stuff’, but I would hypothesize that the segmentation and use of social media has far reaching effects above and beyond just “buy my stuff”.

      • “Stuff” doesn’t have to be limited to a tangible good. “Stuff” can be an idea or a service. Ultimately, social media is not predominantly a two way channel; at least not in practice. This may be a result of pure free market capitalism or a result of social media’s infancy. Right now, social media’s best use is as a hook to entice action in some other way. Most companies and organizations don’t measure success based on how many interactions social media generated, but how many “sales” were distilled from those engagements. A “sale” could be anything from the sale of a good to the submission of a donation to the receipt of a political vote.

        • Which is really the Q on qualification/quantification of social media ROI that is being discussed repeatedly. I’d like to see hard “sale” data where the origin is purely based on interaction and not some “Like Us” get 10% off discount coupon, because that drives a different sort of motivation.

          Where I’m seeing social media deliver on ROI is really participation in the community of existing consumers as well as building awareness for newcomers and addressing service related issues and more so for B2C.

  • I’m am of the Camp A type.  In fact, I wouldn’t mind automation, but it’s very spammy to me.  I take time a few nights a week and use the app SocialBro and my inbox to respond to those people that have followed me.  Sure there are sometimes that I click on their profile and they are no longer following me, but that’s ok.  

    I may not have the most amount of followers, but those that I do, I have a rapport with and engagement with.  I’ve found that people have issues with spammers on twitter.  I’ve never had this issue of “porn” and “giveaway” bots following me on a massive level.  I think this is mainly because I don’t interact with them.  If one follows me, and you can usually tell by a quick look at their profile on Twitter, I don’t even respond to them as a part of my initial engagement.  Most of the time, when I use SocialBro and look at my unfollows, it’s those spammy type of accounts that unfollow, rather than the humans out there.

    If these automated services had conditional logic in them where you could have the new follower profile “looked at” and determine whether to send that autoDM or not, I think that would be good.  Likewise, when someone follows me, I tend to review their profile and latest tweets and tailor my Thank You DM back, whether it’s a local, web dev, sports nut, etc.  So if those services had that conditional logic to evaluate a Twitter profile and then choose the appropriate DM to send back, that would be useful.

    Until then, I don’t mind reaching out at a “manual” level for now.  If there was a reason for me to get that mushroom cloud of followers, then I may change my thinking, but I honestly don’t see a reason for that mushroom cloud at the moment.