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Tuesday
Jun142011

On Twitter It’s Humans vs. Robots

According to Poynter, the New York Times is running a new social media “experiment” in an attempt to see whether an automated or human-run Twitter account will be more effective. Tweets written by social media editors Liz Heron and Lexi Mainland will replace the automated feed of headlines that usually makes up @nytimes’ Twitter stream.

Although the New York Times will be implementing this human-based approach temporarily, its benefits are already apparent. With increased opportunities for replies and retweets, which an automated system is not fully capable of, followers will experience a higher level of engagement. This approach takes full advantage of the Twitter platform, taking the @nytimes stream beyond a basic RSS feed.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for automation in the world of Twitter. Pre-planned tweets that are automatically posted at a pre-specified time through platforms such as HootSuite can complement real-time tweets. Automated headline feeds, especially when they concern breaking news, also add valuable content to a Twitter stream. The key here is to balance automation with real-time content and follower engagement.

PRNewswire’s Maria Perez offers some advice for tweeting as a brand and incorporating real-time content and follower engagement. Although different brands and companies will find an approach that works best for them, Perez offers a few overarching tips to keep in mind: keep your tone positive, respond to negative feedback, and stay true to your brand—all of which require more than just automation.

And now that Twitter allows you to view other accounts’ timelines—so that you can see the tweets of the accounts a brand or company follows—it’s even more important to reconsider automatically following those that follow you. This new feature creates an opportunity to engage your followers not only by providing them with your timeline as a resource of relevant and interesting information beyond your own Twitter stream, but also by rewarding those followers who themselves post relevant and interesting content by following them and featuring them as a part of your timeline.

So is an automated Twitter stream enough? Should the New York Times make its “experiment,” permanent? And what tools do you use to engage with your Twitter followers? Different approaches work best for different brands, companies, and people—what works best for you?

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