Auto Responding on Twitter: A Do or Don’t?

Spam Owl
Image by Life in LDN via Flickr

There is a hot discussion going on down at Chris Brogan’s blog. Chris argues that social media is no place for robotic behavior. I agree. Being a valuable human being is important in life and social media…go figure.

Specifically, he expresses his loathing for auto responders like Tweet Later which allow one to automate messages to their followers. And looking at his comments, it seems like many agree with him. Lots of Amens. While I deeply respect Chris and 99.9% of the time agree (vigorous head nodding and all) with him. This time, I disagree.

Like all tools, I think auto responders have a place. They can be used intelligently and with good intentions OR they can be used as tools to spam people. It’s about the choice isn’t it?

Auto responders are akin to wearing bright colors in fashion. Done right, it is a definite do. Done wrong and it’s a major fashion disaster.

I use Tweet Later to do a few things…

1) Automatically follow anyone who follows me. Why not? If you can take the time to follow my tweets, why can’t I do the same? By following me, you show me a sense of trust and respect. I appreciate it that, which is why I use it to…

2) Thank you. Yes, I do automate my gratitude. What’s wrong with that? I am GENUINELY grateful when someone decides to follow me. They have chosen to give me the time of their day. Whether it’s a second, a minute, or an hour. I am honored. When my entire family calls me at midnight on my birthday, I email them ALL in the morning thanking them for their love and thoughtfulness. No one minds. I am sincerely grateful.

3) Provide a link to my about Shama page. NOT a sales page. The most COMMON direct message I get from new followers is: So, what do you do? Or, tell me about yourself. Can I do this in 140 characters? Ummm..I can try. But, a link is more efficient and a fairer answer. I don’t make money when people click. This is also a sincere form of sharing.

My feeling is that when someone says they HATE receiving automated messages, they are really saying they hate not being acknowledged as an individual. And I think, herein lies the culprit. We judge intentions.

Automated Message (same content) = You don’t care about me! You are only trying to spam me!

Personal Message (same content) = Ah, you do see me as a person!

So, is TIME how we measure intentions now? If I take the time to personally write out the same message I could have automated, it some how becomes more valuable? And valuable ENOUGH to you to justify hours of my time? Because, if I reply to you, I want to make sure I reply to all.

I don’t get offended when someone I follow says thank you. Perhaps I am too optimistic in my approach to life, but I like to believe in people’s innocence and good intentions until proven guilty. Spam me, and you WILL irk me. I think there is a fine line between disrespecting someone (spamming them with innane links or continuous irrelevant questions) and using auto responders to share something worthwhile.

And with that ladies and gentlemen, I must conclude that auto responders are indeed a DO. But you must be careful not to abuse the tools.

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  • Grace Mauzy

    When I was a kid and answering machines were first invented, people thought they were an incredibly rude device. Now of course when some one has no way to leave them a message we think it difficult and at tomes rude. We have learned how to use or answering devices to everyone’s benefit.

    I see a similar phenomenon with automated messages. As a receiver I already know who is spamming me with their automated messages and who is genuinely trying to communicate a few things to let me know more about them. As we become more savvy with digital social media we will become adept at screening these messages as quickly and easily as we screen our phone messages.

    If you use social media as a “get them” modality in any form you will most likely do just the opposite. When I use any form of social media I behave as if I am talking and sharing with friends in my house. I am always so pleased and appreciative to have these new connections.

  • Marla Tabaka

    I couldn’t agree more Shama. If these tools are used courteously they are great tools. Both of them could get “spammy” but someone who’s walking that path will do it with or without the automation.

    What’s worse? Knowing a message is automated or getting added to an individual’s newsletter list as soon as you click the “follow” button? Now that’s annoying! :)

  • Flowersbyfarha

    You nailed it by acknowledging it’s recipient’s perception of being acknowledged as an individual. It FEELS more heartfelt sent if recipient doesn’t recognize a (bot) assistant sent the note instead of the sender personally.

    I appreciate the points you listed as I’m in the limbo between thanking each follow individually and personally and not able to keep up with 30-50 new follows a day. Particularly when I realized that my current follows got tired of seeing “@username Thanks for the follow, here’s where you can learn more about me (URL)” even if I also balanced it with a note about “hey I like your (blog, item listing, website, whatever)”.

    The discussion (or controversy) can be confusing to the neophyte when the cultural etiquette is still being hashed out. It helps to hear the thoughts behind the pronouncements–in more than 140 characters. :-)


  • Carolann Jacobs

    You and I are totally on the same page about this. I want to be sure to follow anyone who follows me on Twitter, as I am building a relationship not a line. (I have this image of that guy on the Verizon commercial with all the people behind him. I have you notices that they’re all looking at his back and no one’s talking. It’s a weird sort of network, that Verizon ;P) Early on, I couldn’t figure out who was new and who wasn’t, and so I automated it.

    I send my tweeps to my facebook page. I may consider the About page or the About page on my blog. We’ll see.

    Other than that, I communicate with the person. Because I want to get to know them.


  • Shawn

    You mentioned spam and I think this is precisely the right analogy. How do you differentiate spam from meaningful communication? Is it simply because it is automated? If I click from site to site leaving individual but meaningless messages like “Hey, like your website” or “Hey, cool profile” simply for the purpose of creating a link back to me, am I not engaging in the same kind of behavior (though less efficiently) as a spammer leaving automated comments for the same purpose? Intention is SO important and the temptation to blame tools instead of those using them is an all too human trait.

  • Andrea | The Seven Figure Psychic

    I’m just venturing into Twitter, so I was very grateful for this post.

    As someone who became a follower of yours very recently on Twitter, I have to say I liked your automated response messages! I knew they were automated, but that’s okay with me …

    Just wanted to add the perspective from the receiving end …


  • Peggy Duncan

    Shama, I’m with Chris on this one. So many people are just “playing with” Twitter and my focus is sharing to help all go to the next level. Others are addicted and spend their life sending useless tweets. If someone follows me and I check them out and all they’re talking about is what they cooked for dinner last night, a great cup of coffee, etc., I won’t follow because it would be a waste of my time.

    Some autoresponders can be useful and a great way to market. People who sign up for my email list, automatically receive weekly computer tips. They love these because they’re learning a little bit at a time.

  • Regina

    Hi Shama,

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments Shama! I stand by this quote, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” When we only look at this from a ‘self’ perspective, the potential to lose is huge.

    Providing the ‘about’ me page link is fabulous tip! Thanks for sharing.

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  • Billy Cox

    How do you set up auto responder on twitter. I am having a hard time figuring out how to do this. I know it must be simple but please give me simple instructions.