The hazards of auto-piloting your social media efforts

As social media outreach becomes more adopted as a marketing tactic, companies have naturally gravitated toward ways to make it less time-consuming to manage.  So, applications that allow you to schedule and publish updates on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other platforms have emerged.  There are even applications for auto-following and auto un-following people on Twitter.

But, did you ever discover a short-cut that didn’t have a downside?

The problem with these applications is that they fail to take into account the real-time nature of these social media platforms, in particular, Twitter.  Just as you cannot pre-program what you are going to say at a networking event (although I suppose you could draft notes!), you should be wary of the idea of scheduling tweets. Because it can backfire, and when you backfire on Twitter, it seems like then everybody notices, doesn’t it?

Twitter, as you know, is a highly news-oriented.  Facebook is touchy feely, relationship-oriented.  I’m not saying people don’t discuss news on Facebook, or that you don’t develop relationships on Twitter, but speaking generally, that’s how it goes.  That’s why I don’t think it works to share Twitter streams on Facebook.  Two different kinds of animals.

So, say you have a company or nonprofit, and you want to add an update to Twitter that will be interesting and relevant (and useful) to your followers.  However, you know that your update has a small chance of actually being noticed in the stream.  So, you might invest less effort. You might decide to pre-write a bunch of updates, and have an application schedule and post them for you.  Like on a Saturday, when you’re not working.

Like this past Saturday. When Congresswoman Giffords was shot.

The story was breaking on Twitter.  Everyone was going crazy, trying to figure out what happened, and reacting in shock or anger (or both).

Meanwhile, auto-published Tweets kept appearing.  And when they surfaced on Twitter, they were so dissonant to the stream of what was happening and so unrelated to the importance of that moment, that some people, including Twitter influentials like Amber Naslund, were starting to get a little mad, and pointing out how inappropriate it was.

Not good for your brand!

I can think of half a dozen ways when innocently intended auto-tweeting can go horribly wrong, depending on what develops on Twitter that day.  For this reason, I do not recommend that you auto-publish a stream of updates on Twitter (with the exception, perhaps, of blog post announcements).

Twitter has just become one of those things you (as a marketer) have to keep tabs on, daily.  As I’ve mentioned before, for most of us (who don’t have national brands or high customer service needs), it would be a mistake to spend too much time on Twitter.  But it would be equally egregious to ignore the crash and burn potential. Handle with care!

On the other hand, companies can recognize and capitalize on the newsy nature of Twitter, but only when appropriate.  The tragedy this weekend is NOT appropriate; I think we all recognize that.  In fact, if you are tweeting in the name of your company or organization, you might not tweet personal reactions — possibly condolences, however.

But there are instances of news developments that could work for your company Twitter account.  For example, if everyone is talking about an impending snowstorm, that might be some way for you to work in a tweet about that, if it’s relevant.

We all use Twitter as a billboard — we tack up our announcements and hope someone sees them.  But Twitter is a conversational medium, and when breaking news develops that is more true than at other times.

During those times, I’m going to try and remember to say something timely and relevant,  just as if I were part of a group carrying on an important conversation, if I feel the need to contribute.  When breaking news develops that affects everyone in an emotional way, the convention is to say something related to the topic at hand, if you say anything at all, not verge off into completely unrelated territory.

About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince ( Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on January 11, 2011, in Twitter Tips and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I realized that commenting about poor Congresswoman Giffords on my corporate account was a little off topic, so I created another Twitter account (@MaryFletchJones) and will move my non-marketing/social media/PR updates over to my “personal” account. So @FletcherPrince will be all Fletcher Prince stuff, but on @MaryFletchJones I can be Mary.

    I think this is the right way to go about it. If you tweet for your company, how do you handle it?


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