Oct 22, 2009

Rise of the Robots (Twitter Strategy)

When we use social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, many do so with the intent of creating an online portal into their personal world. We share what matters to us, and the more private things we tend to keep to ourselves (with some exceptions to this rule). But the overall trend we currently see today is that the social media sphere is becoming too large for an individual to manage on their own and thus they are overwhelmed in trying to keep up and often times what could have been an excellent outlet for a message turns into a mediocre experience at best.

If you are one of the many social network gurus (experts, specialists, etc), you often contend that in order to be successful in social networking, you must drive your following into the stratosphere. There are many methods which are in use which do this, from the automated following routines of software which follow other people en-mass based on your selection of interested keywords to search for, to more humble and, albeit more involved, approaches such as being yourself and tweeting only what you have time to tweet.

With the automated approach, we're not really garnering new followers in the manner which we seek. Instead we're actually exploiting the fact that a majority of twitter users are using automated methods to determine following of other people. In this sense, we're using the Rise of the Robots to our advantage, because all of those automated robots managing multiple twitter accounts and social media networks on our behalf are following other accounts which more than likely are also automated in turn.

Unless you are a celebrity, simply being on a social network really isn't going to give you a massive audience. Being @Oprah, for instance, and having a Twitter account almost guarantees a massive following with each and every follower hanging on your every tweet (Oprah has nearly 2.5 million followers at last count, yet she is following only 17 people). But for us mortals, there isn't much of a following for our accounts and so we are in the position where we must figure out the best method by which to build a following.

If we look at the social media experts, they often claim they know the secrets to building a huge following on Twitter, or how to build a successful social media campaign for yourself or your company. For any intelligent person, it is soon understood that there is a fair amount of automation involved with this process to build a following, and quite honestly the line blurs between what it is to be successful and what is not.

In the digital world, are you a success if you have tens of thousands of followers? This question applies to any social media platform past, present and future, because we must realize that quantity doesn't always equal quality. In the Rise of the Robots era of Web2.0, one cannot help but think that a majority of the "people" who are following you are automated software agents looking for search terms at the request of their operator.

So we ask again, is this following worthwhile? Sure the numbers look impressive, and yes you are certainly reaching a large number of people (regardless if automated software is making account decisions for them). But in the end, the question is whether or not that large following has a sufficiently high ROI to warrant the numbers.

To this end, it's a toss up as to whether you should be a purist (posting all of your own content), or if you should automate the process and kick back as your numbers begin to skyrocket.

My personal philosophy on this matter happens to be a combination of the two as a strategy.

In the beginning, you are most certainly going to need to build a following sufficient enough to warrant the account as a marketing tool. In this regard, it is safe to say that you should initially get a twitterfeed.com account and send at least one or two RSS feeds to your twitter on an hourly basis. Nothing obnoxious like 5 posts each per hour, but something low and reasonable in order to vary your twitter content while automating the activity level of your social media space. You should also during this time feel free to actually add tweets of your own to the mix when you find the time, something relating to you personally (work, entertainment, etc).

Instead of being completely automated, we're looking at a hybrid approach to the process which will alleviate the workload on your side and offload much of that to automated processes.

In as much as following and unfollowing people, this should be a process which you do manually. If you are using an automated process to cycle RSS to your twitter feed, then those who are searching for like minded content will inevitably follow you. When this happens, take some time periodically to go through your list and choose who you wish to follow as a reciprocal. Don't be worried if some of those followers inevitably unfollow you, as this is simply a normal fluctuation (as well as a byproduct of other less scrupulous methods for gathering a high following in twitter)

What sorts of RSS feeds should you use in Twitterfeed?

I would suggest your Blog RSS feeds for starters. If you have a Facebook account, then I would suggest finding an RSS for that as well and adding it. The idea overall is to create an integrated network whereby updating one updates the rest via inter-connectivity. Also, look for news and blog RSS feeds which are relevant to your social media message and include those as well, in order to stay on top of the leading edge news and happenings of your field via twitter.

When you've reached a number of followers which you feel is sufficiently high, this is the time when you begin to prune your list of followers in order to create a more targeted audience.

You will more than likely find that much of your following would not be interested in your message, and therefore those are the first to go. Some of these followers would be WebCam Girls, Home Marketing, SEO Experts, and generally any home based business or social media spam accounts. If they aren't being sincere, then chances are they aren't interested in what you have to say.

The reason you wait until your following is sufficiently high before doing this is to give yourself a buffer of loss during the process which will ensure you are refining the following to a more targeted group, while keeping your numbers high enough to entice others to follow you. As your following becomes more targeted, and the numbers are remaining high, that is the time when you begin to reduce the twitterfeeds and instead put more effort into your twitter account with more tweets from you as a person.

That isn't to say that you shouldn't have been tweeting all this time to begin with, but you should be weening the RSS feeds off of the account which will result in more tweets and content directly from you as a person.

One thing to keep in mind is that your twitter account should also be branded to reflect what you or your representing entity. Design aspects for this are very important, just as building a website would be. So take the time to understand your audience, and how exactly you wish to brand yourself.

The last thing to remember is to be sincere. You're trying to sell something, whether it's yourself, your services, or a product, but you must keep in mind that you are dealing with a community. This isn't a hard sell Tupperware party or car lot. While people are interested in you or what you have to offer, keep in mind that being human isn't a bad thing, and showing that you are just a normal person like everyone else will put your followers at ease while increasing your credibility. Don't be afraid to talk about something not involving or related to work.

In short, loosen the tie and have some fun. Try to balance being serious with being silly, and you may find that something you've said ends up going viral, thanks to your massive following ;)


  1. Thanks for including relevant theory and practice on this emerging trend. I'm not against automating methods of twittering just as long as you are able to express your curatorial expertise to your tools.

    That is why I use the feed tweeter software agent from the open source KATO project. KATO agents give me a lot of flexibility in specifying what to look for and where to put it.

  2. I'm not against automation tools myself, but I adhere to a moderation school of thought. For instance I see no real benefit to services which allow you to buy twitter followers, etc. In my opinion that is insincere.