Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TUES TIP Twitter Basics - Revisited (6 Ways to Play Nice with the Bots)

Throughout the Twitter Series, I've done a lot of chatting about how to get set up effectively in Twitter from the 3 basic tools necessary for minimal communication to how to present your authentic self and how to manage your community. I went over how to consistently brand your tweets using what I call "purposeful tweets" rather than sheer promotional salestalk fed into your Twitterstream.

Now that I've started moving into automation tool discussions, I realize that some of my earlier comments might be breezed past by some of you, thinking that this or that doesn't apply to you--and you'd be wrong! Whether you use the automation tools or not, there a lot of other tweeps using bots and you need to present yourself to the bots as much as to the real people.

So today, I'm going to review 6 basics points and illustrate how bots and other automation tools might see you if you don't pay close attention to the details. The devil's always in the details, isn't it?

1. Crack that Egg

It's amazing to me that I even have to say this but you really have to have an avatar picture. Don't leave the Twitter "egg" pic as your avatar. When auto-followers and auto unfollowers look at an account, one of the first criteria used for evaluation is whether or not the account has an avatar picture (avi).

Lack of an avi could get you spammed, could get you dropped from a followers list you really wanted to be on or could even get you reported as a potential spammer. It's one of the first criteria I use when manually examining accounts for potential spambots.

If you lack for ideas on what to use for your avi, please feel free to take this cracked egg photo and use it. The photo is in the public domain and free of copyright infringement issues. At least it's a photo!

2. Location, Location, Location

Don't try to be too cutesy with this. I've seen some people putting snarky remarks into their location--since it's allowable to type in whatever text you want. In fact, over on Blogger (not on this blog but on one of my other 5 blogs) I actually gave my location as "Rim of the Volcano, Sacrifice Mountain, Virgin Islands." It seemed funny at the time.

Now that I see how automation tools evaluate accounts, however, I realize that location can be used to determine not only follows and unfollows, but also who receives specific tweets and when. You can set up some tools to send people in one time zone a tweet during their "prime business hours" which may well be while you're sound asleep at home. If your location is bogus, you may think you're being smart, but chances are, it'll come back to bite you in the you know what (over on Sacrifice Mountain, we call it the last thing we see of you and your brave soul.)

3. Be Someone

That is, don't leave your description blank. Don't make it up to sound "good." Actually be someone. Describe yourself. Be a unique and special snowflake -- and tell me about in 100 characters or less *haha* Yeah, you get a few more than that but when I get a notice in Gmail that someone new is following me, I see about 100 characters of your description. It's weird but for some reason, part of the description gets cut off. I checked by looking at my own accounts :)

If I see a new follower with a whacko name and no description and few or no followers but a high number of tweeps they're following--regardless of how many tweets they've sent out or what was in those tweets--I'm pretty sure that's a report/block for spam candidate. If I read a description that sounds too "sales pitchy," I'll click to view their stream and judge them on how "sales pitchy" their tweets are. If they just promo themselves or anything else for more than 50% of the time, *bzzzt* not getting a follow back. If I were a bot, the lack of a description or the presence of certain keywords in the description could get them  reported/blocked for spam.

Just be you. Describe you. Don't be too cute, don't be too smart, don't be anything more or less. Just you. Your uniqueness--and imperfections--will make you special enough to stay in the blizzard that is the Twitterverse.

4. Say Please and @Thank You

I kid you not. Be polite because some of the basic good manners are actually checks the bots can use to determine if you are a human or just another bot. Many people set up a bot to send out an automated "thank you" tweet but many real people don't bother to do an @reply saying "@newfollower thanks 4 the follow" or something along those lines. When @newfollower runs their "unfollow" bot, guess what? It's going to check and see if you said thanks or not. This is why the @mention is one of the barest essential 3 tools you must master to exist on Twitter. If you can't figure out how to @mention someone or find your own @mentions (so you can @reply to them) then you're going to get dropped eventually.

It's a little less common to get unfollowed for not @replying with a thanks for the #SO (shout out) or #FF or #WW or whatever @mention, but it does happen. It's also amazing to discover just how often bots look for "Pls" and "Please" in their parsing of messages - as in peeps who tweet a link and put "Pls RT" or "RT?" at the end asking their peeps to redistribute it for them. Bots can check for that and disregard those as HUMAN generated tweets. Yeah, you can program your bot to put "Pls RT" into your auto-tweets *LOL* but most people don't even think to say "please" normally, let alone automatically!

Although most bots do not actually parse the messages for "Tks" "TU" "tanks" or other variations of "thank you" in Twitterspeak (mostly because there are just too many variations), they do typically look for the @mention of their owner (the person running the autobot) within a certain timeframe after their fellow bot (the auto-follower bot) has followed someone new. Often, just in case I've missed anyone, I'll use the #WW mentions as another opportunity to create an @reply record between myself and these new followers.

If you get a new follower and don't thank or otherwise @mention them within a day or three, you might get unfollowed just for that. It might be an automated unfollow. The person running the automated bot might not even notice it. You might never get them back. I know, I know, it's just one person, right? Wrong.

These bots and the folks who use them are scanning thousands, if not tens of thousands of accounts. There is a massive amount of automation going on around the Twitterverse. I had no idea just how extensive it was until I started investigating which automation tool(s) I wanted to try out or start using myself. It's pervasive among all of the major accounts. I'm currently doing the tasks manually, and the system is working for me (and doing it manually is sure teaching me the subtle nuances of what to do or not to do) but I can see the scalability of this. The tasks I'm doing manually are totally designed for automation--and the list of bots out there to do it for free or cheap is LONG, not short. More on that, with tools reviews, in coming weeks. Promise!

5. Reciprocate

I know you might not want to read everyone's tweets in your stream all the time but guess what? That's why I told you about filtering tools way back in managing your community. I'll go over some new methods and specific ways to use the tools at hand in the upcoming weeks as I start digging into the usage of Hootsuite but you don't even need a special tool. It's fairly easy to set up lists using the Twitter web site interface, so don't toss away good manners for the sake of keeping your stream clear. That's pretty much the antithesis of what Twitter's all about. It's not about making the stream quiet. It's about starting and/or joining conversations! You can't have conversations alone. You must reciprocate follows.

Even if you don't see the basic good manners in this, guess what? Yep, it's another criteria the bots use for determining who to unfollow and if you don't follow back *bzzzzzt* You're gone. You might even get blocked! Just follow people back. If they followed you first, what's the harm? If they're a spammer, you have other tools available to recognize and weed them out--and block them from following you again. If you want to have more followers than peeps you follow, you can always use one of the tools I mentioned previously to "clean" your Twitter community of dead weight (I really like TwitCleaner but it doesn't actually weed out spammers, just dead weight).

I'm still manually checking the new follows each day but I'm getting about 30 new follows a day now (amazing to think that in June I was getting one (1) a day isn't it?) and I'd guess that at least 15 of those are just spammers I want to report/block. On average.

There are tools to evaluate new followers and make this determination, but they do automatically what I'm doing manually. This daily sifting through the new followers to weed out the spammers is how I've noticed what criteria I use to quickly and efficiently determine who's a bot, who's not. Certain hashtags (forex #TEAMFOLLOWBACK) are surefire giveaways that this is a fabricated user created to spam people. Do NOT follow back the "team." Ugh. Add that hashtag to your filters if you're using an automation tool ^_^

6. Engage and Don't just Sell

One of the things I've said repeatedly, when discussing branding and promotion, is that you cannot actually just sell sell sell and expect people to hear anything but a lot of noise eventually. You have to actually join a conversation, be an authentic person, have something interesting to say or share. You can even just discuss your favorite television show--or the one you love to hate--but say something that contains no selling at all.

If the majority (or more than 50%) of your tweets contain links, guess what? *bzzzt* The bots think you're another bot and they not only unfollow you, they block you. I'm pretty sure you can set the content percentage (I think 50% is a benchmark number though) and I don't think any of the bots will report spammers for you, but I haven't finished my investigations yet. If there are some that do, the heavily-linked tweets are sure-fire signs of someone needing to be blocked and reported as a potential spammer.

Twitter is a community which is self-moderated so if people do not want to hear you shouting (or singing) Buy my book! Buy my book! day and night, enough of them might click to report/block you to make you stop showing up in their streams and hey, you know what happens next? You're going to get booted if you keep doing it.

Perfectly legitimate people who didn't understand this and promo'd their stuff incessantly while not actually having any real conversations with any real people, have actually been DELETED by Twitter. Yes. Not melodrama, actual procedure that the Twitter site follows. If you get reported (or auto-reported) for spam repeatedly, Twitter might just delete your account.

They investigate it first; they'll check out your Twitterstream before deleting your account. Your tweet history is permanent, you know? It's on the internet and does not just "disappear" when it gets hidden behind the "older tweets" link. It's still there. If it's all links and sales pitches, that's what the Twitter site investigators will see and is that really how you want your authorial presence to be received? I think not. Do a little personal care and feeding of your tweeps and you'll be amazed at how much more appealing your links become. It's just like creating a successful protagonist for your book. You have to give the reader some reason to care about the person before they'll care if the person does or does not succeed in achieving their goals. You'd be amazed at how supportive some readers can be with just the tiniest bit of effort.

What's Next....

I was going to do a fly-through Hootsuite's Scheduler for "automated tweeting" but felt it was important to have the above discussion before handing you the tools to shoot yourself in the foot *smirk* Okay, now that we've reviewed Twitter Etiquette, next Tuesday, I'll start to take a look at some of the automation features of my favorite Twitter tool, Hootsuite.

Next on the blog is Freebie Friday and this week I have a return guest, Sara Collins (@buttaflii) followed by a new arrival Paul Fenton (@p_fenton) and I have yet to figure out who's in the 3rd spot. Life at the day job is crazy--we're doing our physical inventory and then our entire store is getting reset for guess what? Yep, automation. The bots are everywhere!

Cya Friday.

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