The Great Twitter Automation Debate

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Two great Twitter heavyweights had a detailed conversation over Twitter a few hours ago about the purpose of Twitter, and where automation fits in.

The way Scott Stratten (@Unmarketing) sees Twitter is for real-time conversation:

However, for Michael Gray (@GrayWolf), Twitter can be more efficient:

By carrying on a live conversation, both showed they valued Twitter as a communication platform, but they differed over to what degree. And, boy, did they differ!

More Than One Way To Communicate

Of course, communication can take many forms. For example, you can reply to emails when you have time, rather than chain yourself to a device to reply to every one when it arrives.

In that vein, Gray compares Stratten’s insistence about using Twitter primarily for real-time communication to be “like saying all conversations should be on the phone.” He further points out that email or letters (what he calls asynchronous communication) are valid forms of communication.

Automated Tweets: Best For Sharing, Not For Talking

Stratten critiques automated tweets as follows: “Trying to have presence without being present [promotes laziness and] becomes a habit, and soon you’re barely here.”

This obviously makes the point that if you are using Twitter for real-time communication,  automated tweets are fine as long as they don’t interfere with that.

Stratten says he gets the greatest value from Twitter almost exclusively as a real-time communication platform, and feels strongly that other users badly miss out on that value. For example, he states:

“If you’re not here for replies, you lose the conversation potential.”

To which Gray replied,

“You can receive automated alerts when someone @’s u.”

So automation can also help you in some cases to be available for real-time communication when you need to.

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I think a fair summary would be that you don’t want to miss out on the value of real-time engagement on Twitter, and anything that gets in the way could be a bad thing.

Sharing Information Efficiently


Twitter, the company, emphasizes the value of sharing information in tweets. And if you’re tweeting when no one is listening, what’s the point? This is why free users of Buffer, for example, find their Klout scores increasing by nearly four points once they start buffering some tweets: more people see the tweets, so more people can engage with them.

For example, through my @TweetSmarter account my tweets get the greatest engagement during the hours I am usually asleep, because we are so popular in other parts of the world.

Gray emphasizes that using scheduled tweets allows you to

“…batch schedule during non peak times and stop attention shift loss…scheduling late at night/early morning saves maximum brain power times for “hard thinking” stuff.”

He also points out that “I love BufferApp and am a huge advocate of the product … I am a paying customer not compensated.”

Helping People By Sharing


I think they’re both right. (Full disclosure: Scott and I were recently in an interview together in Canada’s Sun Newspaper chain about minding your manners online.)

I would not want to stop sharing important Twitter news and tutorials just because I can’t be awake 24 hours every day. And I love catching up on conversations with people after I have to be away for awhile.

In particular, I try to answer all questions that come my way (but sometimes fail) as quickly as I can. However, I don’t let the lack of real-time engagement stop me from getting back to people whenever I can.

Twitter can be a filter for the internet, helping us find the best information and news. As important, Twitter is a great place for experts to share their expertise, both by scheduling content tweets at a time when most people can see them, as well by engaging in real-time conversation.

My opinion?

Twitter, like life, is what you make it. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is only one right way to use it.

Back To You

Do you use Twitter for real-time conversations when you can AND schedule tweets, as most of us do? Is that okay? What is your best advice for getting value from Twitter? Leave a comment in the box below. We’d love to hear from you!

  • Anonymous

    I’m with you. I pre-schedule things…mostly so I don’t forget to post them when they need to be posted, or when I’m not going to be able to be there to post them at optimal times. HOWEVER, I am still present a lot of the time for real-time conversations. I think there is a healthy balance and I hope I’ve found it. I also think that Twitter, like every other too available, is changing and adapting to new people, new ideas, and indeed new tools. So while automation may have been a big no-no (and in many circles still is), I think the tide is starting to change on that because people are starting to realize they simply cannot do it all.

    I think a lot of what Scott really hates are the automated DM replies that ask you for something when you’ve just signed on to follow someone and I agree with him on that one. Don’t send me a DM that says “thanks for the follow, now check me out HERE”. I just checked you out on Twitter…leave it at that for a while.

    My .02 worth.

    • http://davidglarson.com Dave Larson

      He (and me) are not big fans of the auto-DM, for sure!

      A related story: I used to have a boss that hired cheap labor, and he always told the next hire not to do whatever the big mistake of the last hire was.

      The result? People were always confused. He wasn’t good at explaining what you SHOULD do because he was always so busy explaining what you SHOULDN’T do.

      Bad things always stick in our memories longer, but we need to be clear on goals, not problems. When folks say “don’t use automation on Twitter,” we often find most of how they explain it has little to do with automation. Scott doesn’t like
      • Bad auto-DMs;
      • People who use automation to avoid real conversing;
      • People who don’t try to converse.

      None of those things have anything to do with whether you should schedule content tweets. I read all Scott’s tweets, and chatted with him directly for a bit, and he never addressed the topic of scheduled content tweets!

      So “avoid Twitter automation” may be his message, but possibly he, like my old boss, needs to focus more on telling people what they SHOULD be doing instead of what they should NOT.

  • http://palter.ca/web/ Jay Palter

    Automated vs. manual tweeting is a false debate in the context of Buffer.

    Personally curating content via Twitter and using Buffer to distribute those Tweets is just smarter sharing. The manual options are poor: Tweet all at once, or all you do is Tweet.

    Now, there’s some automation that isn’t so smart: DMs upon following is not my favourite. I even find that Triberr can become dicey if you don’t monitor some of your tribemates carefully for appropriateness to your followers.

    As for Twitter as a real-time conversation tool, of course! Who ever said it has to be one or the other? 

    I curate manually, then automate distribution with Buffer and and converse/respond manually.

    • http://davidglarson.com Dave Larson

      “Tweet all at once, or all you do is Tweet.”
      “Curate manually, then automate distribution with Buffer and converse/respond manually.”
      Particularly well said, @JayPalter! I’ve saved your words so I can quote you later :-)

      • http://palter.ca/web/ Jay Palter

        If you’re going to quote me, please fix my grammar and mistyping (and and). Thanks ;-)

        • http://davidglarson.com Dave Larson

          Done!

  • David

    You summed it up here “Don’t let anyone tell you that there is only one right way to use it”. I do both and I do not forsee a time when Buffer will be the only way that I Tweet.

    • http://davidglarson.com Dave Larson

      Yup. I own a car, a bike…and a several pairs of shoes. I take an airplane when convenient.

      There are always several ways to get from here to there, and it’s great to have options ;)

  • http://aimee.mychores.co.uk aimee

    I love the pictures you choose! that one with the brains sharing information is amazing! do you know who made it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/SarahJonesLarson Sarah Jones-Larson

      Glad you like the art! That one is by Francesco Santalucia. :)

  • http://twitter.com/spolu Stanislas Polu

    Twitter is the platform of choice for realtime communication. We all remember that product that came out a few years back that would tweet you when you needed to water your flower. Well this is pure automation and this is really awesome. Twitter is imposing a lot of limits that go against that trend for good automation. This is too bad, but still understandable as they seek to limit spam… 
    There’re probably some thinking to do on that subject…

    • http://davidglarson.com Dave Larson

      Yes, Twitter is setting more strict limits, and some accounts can be suspended if they don’t engage, or aren’t engaged with. Which is too bad; there should the possibility of registering more automated types of accounts, with stricter limits on potential spam. Spammers would never register themselves as such, and so more cool uses would be allowed.

      • Anonymous

        Whoah!! Totally agreed. An ‘Automated Badge’ Exactly like the ‘Verified Badge’… Will open a discussion on dev.twitter.com…

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  • http://twitter.com/michelledkeyes Michelle D. Keyes

    I definitely do both. Because I work full-time, the idea of being able to tweet all the time just doesn’t work. And if I’m tweeting at midnight, most people (at least in the US around that time) will be asleep. So unless I want to attract a lot of overseas folks, I’m talking to… no one. So I pick and choose my content and schedule it at times that are ones during which many people are more likely to see it. I’m still learning the buffer tool but am starting to really see some advantages with it. For me it’s all about trying to reach my audience with valid and real content they can use. If that means scheduling it or communicating in real time, if the audience is responding to it, that’s all that matters to me. And from the looks of my follower growth (60 people in 3 days), I’d say it’s working pretty well. 

  • Grant Carlile

    Definitly agree that twitter, along with all online communication tools, are tools. They are ways to communicate. They are what you make them and first they are communication tools, from there, the power is in our hands.
    ifttt allows me to do the communication that I know I want to do and Buffer allows me to have communication when I want to have it.

  • http://www.buildandbalance.com/ Michael_N

    I do both: Automate and have live conversation. I think it’s the best of both worlds. I find that automating takes the pressure off to try to share content all the time I’m on Twitter. Instead, when I have some time I can jump on and really take a look to see what others are doing and engage with them. 

    This truly is the fun part for me though I don’t mind seeing my website traffic numbers steadily rise due to smartly scheduled automation. 

    • http://mattg.is/ Matthew Gallizzi

      I’m curious, what do you automate, exactly? Thanks Michael!

      • http://www.buildandbalance.com/ Michael_N

        Matthew, I automate the sharing of evergreen blog posts and videos. Don’t check my accounts now because I don’t have a schedule loaded right now, but that’s something I’ve done several times in the past with success in terms of building a following. I believe Jeff Bullas does this regularly.

        • http://mattg.is/ Matthew Gallizzi

          Thank you for the quick reply, Michael! I see. Have you used IFTTT in the past for automation?

          • http://www.buildandbalance.com/ Michael_N

            I do use IFTTT, but just for a very specialized task. Any time I favorite a Tweet it will move it over to a folder in Evernote. That’s my way of storing articles I want to refer to later.

          • http://mattg.is/ Matthew Gallizzi

            Aha! I use twitter favorite to copy items to Pocket so I read later. Cool! Thanks for sharing. :) I use Kippt to store web pages and only keep my notes in Evernote (that I write).