Online conversations: is automation worth your while?

A while ago there were plenty of blogs, including my own, reporting on the ways (fake) Likes, fans and followers on social media were at the heart of a commercial industry. Bloggers and heavy users of social media tend to automate or streamline at least part of their interactions.

Can you automate part of your actions without appearing – or being – ‘fake’ in the human sense? Should you?

Levels of engagement in conversations

Visitors and commenters: to automate - or not?The level of engagement involved in an online conversation can differ enormously. Dealing with online conversations can cost you hours upon hours. ‘Likes’ don’t seem to get a lot of follow-up by companies. However try to check up once a week or so – getting zero response is discouraging.

Related posts: Twitter automation, and A Clone War.

The role of automation in online conversations

What actions can you safely automate?

  1. Standard replies like “Thank you for the follow!”, “Thanks for the RT”, “Thanks for the mention”. This category was hit by Twitter’s decision to make automated actions by tools like IFTTT difficult. Meanwhile tools like Commun.it still collect new followers and interactions and compose standard messages for you to send. My advice: edit them.
  2. Messages on repeat thanks to tools like Buffer, like “Read my post on subject X” for the umpteenth time. My main problem is with people who quote at me when they’re not even online 🙂

Automating your responses to questions

While it’s up to you to decide what to automate, here’s my tip:

Try not to fool people into thinking they have a personal and meaningful relation with you when they don’t.

Answering questions literally on autopilot is tricky and that’s why not many businesses are doing it (yet). I once asked a new follower who had sent an automated “Thanks for the follow” tweet if they’d had a busy week, and the response was something like “Busy week! Check my FB page…”

I can’t tell you how to do this type of automation on Twitter without IFTTT but it’s probably either down to your budget or your technical abilities. But that’s beside the point.

Questions indicate a sincere interest in a topic or in you. Personally I would say never automate this type of action. Not even to seem polite.

Comments – the life blood of conversations

This is what you can’t yet leave to an automation tool (unless you have a really big budget). You don’t need me to point out that all comments are not equal. I suppose you could automate replies to really short “Great Post!” comments but is saying “thanks” really that much of a time waster?

For the more relevant comments: if you’re used to putting yourself on the stage through blogging or on social media, don’t forget others are not. The important thing here is to have a heart 🙂

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Why Twitter Automation is Not a Matter of Set and Forget

There has been a lot of attention for fake followers on Twitter lately. A week or so ago I tried one of those tools for finding out “How many fake followers YOU have”.

It turned out I had 1% fake followers. I don’t have that many followers yet so that would have been 1.3 follower at the start of August.

Dog chasing hashtags dropped by birds

Finding followers – who’s snapping up your tweets?

Since I make a point of checking new followers’ bio and tweets before following them back, I knew which follower it was. You might describe this particular follower as “one of those companies that have heard they should be on Twitter but don’t know what to do there, apart from putting up a poster in their shop window”. Calling it a fake follower is going too far in my view. It’s just not a very desirable follower.

If (?) you’re on Twitter you may have noticed some pretty odd accounts popping up among your own new followers – if you’ve taken a closer look at their accounts and tweets. Have you?

Check if these 4 types of followers sound familiar – and what to do if YOU’RE that follower!

4 fake, fraud and odd follower types on Twitter

  1. The unlikely follower.First up are followers who have absolutely nothing in their description or tweets that matches anything you do. This type of follower isn’t a problem unless any of the following points also apply. They may be looking for information about a topic and find YOU. Lucky you.
  2. The absent follower. Followers who have 4000 tweets but the last one is over 100 days old. Is this someone who got tired of Twitter? Or did their spouse grow tired first? Perhaps a sabbatical… I hope.
  3. The silent follower. These followers literally have NO tweets at all. Just a link to a website, and possibly a description of the amazing products or services they offer on that website. Selling stuff the lazy way is not against the law. Is it?
  4. The zombie follower. These followers do in fact tweet on a regular basis. But something is wrong with those tweets, especially if you look back over a couple of weeks. They may:
    • Retweet from a limited number of other accounts. As you review those retweets you may wonder why on earth anyone would want to retweet these particular tweets.
    • Share information from some news website that add a flavour of relevance. But if a news item is too long it lacks a link to the website. The text just stops mid-sentence.
    • Tweet highly similar messages that link to a website that promotes a product or service.

What to do if you have the nagging feeling your Twitter account resembles any of the above – which you never intended when you first started your Twitter adventure?

#1. Are you someone’s unlikely groupie?

If you want to be followed back – if your goal is to find readers and sharers for your content, consider updating your profile regularly to reflect shifts in interest. Show your interest in the topic by (re)tweeting or replying. If you’re just looking for information, being tolerated on general principles may be all you need. Otherwise make sure you don’t end up either without new followers, or hidden behind a filter.

#2 Are you still active on Twitter without realizing it?

Are you all right? If so, you need to assess why you’re on Twitter since the only thing that is still happening is your little tool finding interesting accounts for you.

  • Is it time to delete your account because you’re not even reading your tweets anymore?
  • Are you following people who have little to say about topics that interest you? In that case, start following people based on your interests. Put them in a couple of lists so you can check up on your favorite subjects anytime.
  • Can’t think of anything to say? Somehow if you managed to get to 4000 tweets I can’t imagine how this could happen. Perhaps you have zero followers who are interested in your tweets. Does the content of your tweets match the interests of your followers? If there is a match but nobody who replies or retweets your stuff, perhaps you need to improve your tweets. Find information on how to get your message across in 140 characters. Add links to articles about your topic. Add hashtags, 3 max. Use a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite not for scheduling, but in order to find out if anyone actually clicks on (the links in) your tweets.
  • Or perhaps you were overenthusiastic when you first started out? In that case you may have ended up spending way too much time and energy. If you’re eager to share information, consider setting up a Buffer account and set it to three tweets a day. Skip the weekend. Use your online reading time to sniff out the best content and collect it in your Buffer. When you’re on Twitter, use your time to reply, and tweet & retweet only stuff that is fresh and new in the sweet knowledge that your Buffer will do the rest.

#3 Are you quietly following people around?

Consider getting busy.  A Twitter account is NOT the same as real Twitter presence. You need to take action to earn people’s trust. Unless you are absolutely sure that your customers are looking for a lazy entrepreneur to show them how to get rich while they sleep.

#4 Are you that zombie on the hunt for followers?

People prefer to connect with people. Automation is a great way to make our social networking lives easier. But many people would like there to be a person in there with all the automated stuff.
If you don’t have time to find great stuff for sharing, consider tweeting less, like 4 times a day. Don’t inundate your followers with rubbish.

Tips to escape premature zombiehood on Twitter

You may have set up instructions to make your life on Twitter or any other social network easier and less time-consuming. Or you’re considering it.
Remember whatever you do in real life, those instructions which will keep going forever. Make sure you can stop or alter whatever you started. Start here:

  • Get organized. Document all the stuff you ever started. Social networks and apps can clutter your online desk.
  • Take control. Review your goals and decide to:
    • Get rid of social accounts you haven’t used for a while;
    • Make changes that will make those accounts valuable to you (again);
    • OR put a text in your bio or in a message that indicates you are at present busy elsewhere. If you choose to do this, be helpful and indicate how you may be contacted. Don’t just get up and leave.

Do you have more useful tips and suggestions for inactive or zombie accounts? If you do, please share them in a comment. Or find me on Twitter.

More about this subject in this article by Lisa Buyer on SearchEngineWatch.com and on Mediabistro.