Why Prescheduled Tweets Are The Most Horrible Thing In The World—Half The Time

HootSuite can help you be "present" online even when you aren't--but is a scheduled tweet the paragon of inauthenticity?

Depending on which guru you ask, you’ll get very different--and very strong--opinions on whether to preschedule your social media. Social Oomph and HootSuite give users the ability to write now and Tweet later, but is that really what you want attached to your name?

Anti-autos see scheduling tweets as inauthentic and misleading. The pro-automation set sees them as effective time-management tools that allow them to be “present” on social media--even when they aren’t.

Can we split the difference?

After a six-month experiment, my belief is you can automate content, but you can’t automate connection.

There are a slew of Twitter powerhouses who sit on the pro-automation side of the debate and use scheduled auto tweet services avidly, and many on the opposing side. Two of my favorite Twitter gurus--Chris Voss and Scott Stratten--make contrasting arguments for their personal approach to scheduling tweets. Both have successful businesses with obviously different business models, which could account for their opposite perspectives.

Chris Voss is the CEO of Strategix One Consulting and hosts the Chris Voss Show. With more than 75,000 followers and over 20 years experience as an entrepreneur, he makes no apologies for automating his content. His feelings on the topic are made clear in a post entitled Why People Who Say Automation In Social Media Is Wrong Are Full Of Sh*t.

Scott Stratten is the author of UnMarketing: Stop Marketing & Start Engaging and the just-released second book called The Business Book of Awesome/Unawesome. (Ed. note: He has also written about how to ace presentations and viral videos for Fast Company.) Stratten makes it very clear that a unicorn is killed every time someone sends an automated tweet.

Personally, I was so worried about the well-being of these make-believe wildlife, I stopped my autotweet rotation last January. Now I’m questioning if it was the right thing to do.

My automated tweet rotation included about 100 archived published columns filled with business development advice and 150 short tweets which were quotes taken from the first edition of my book, From Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding & Profitable Networking Made Easy. I stopped my automatic tweet rotation to determine what impact, if any, it had on my social-media growth and because I didn’t want to offend people. The decision was made despite there being no evidence that anyone was actually offended by my rotations.

The result, six months later, is that my new followers’ growth curve came to a halt, the amount of valuable content I shared dropped dramatically, and thus so did the number of retweets of my material. Granted, my real-time engagement level in creating relationships with current followers remained about the same. In the months I used the automated tweet rotation, my Twitter following more than doubled organically, whereas in the last six months, the engagement approach alone only saw an uptake of approximately 10 percent. It seems that by not having the meaty content continually being shared, growth stalled.

My conclusion is that automation used in the wrong places, in the wrong way, will kill your online potential and your brand reputation, but done properly, it can be hugely valuable to grow your followers and to contribute value.

Here are three conclusions as to why I’m in favor of automation, but only for non-time-sensitive, content-focused posts.

1) It’s not just typing the tweet; it’s creating the content for the tweet that takes the effort.

Despite my best intentions to type content tweets in real time when the rotations stopped, it just didn’t happen. It’s not that I don’t have the 10 seconds to type a tweet; it’s that in the midst of all of the other responsibilities of running a company, my brain didn’t shift gears to think, “Oh, I’d better share something clever with my social media followers.”
Even when a tweetable thought formed, I wasn’t always in a position to send it on the spot and thus the value-driven content tweet was lost. That is unlike when I sat down and made the focused effort to create a series of social media posts. The planned content was more powerful than posts created randomly. The automation process also meant that there was a consistent rhythm to the content sharing.

2) Connection alone is not enough to drive business results.

If principles that guide in-person relationships also guide online relationships, then to create meaningful, profitable business relationships requires equal part connection and education. Business owners need to create genuine and relevant relationships with the right people, otherwise they won’t feel connected enough to choose them over the competition.

However, it’s not enough to “know, like, and trust” as is often quoted, people also have to believe you are competent in order to drive business. At some point you have to educate people on who you are, what you do, and what you have to offer. Without the education component, prospects won’t understand your value. That’s when you run into the trap of having lots of friends and people who know, like, and trust you, but those contacts don’t materialize into business.

Authentic connections have to happen on-the-fly or they backfire, but content sharing is education, and education is timeless. If pre-writing content equates to anti-engagement, then by definition any written work not read in real time would apply. A worthwhile column isn’t any less relevant or valuable if it’s shared and read 30 days from now. The same is true with automating posts.

3) There is a difference between posts to engage and posts to share content.

Disaster online strikes when people preschedule engagement posts that are meant to launch conversations. When tweets like “So what are your plans for tonight?” or “Can’t wait for Dancing with the Stars to start; popping popcorn now!” are shared through automated tools I cringe. Most likely a unicorn cringes, too, and potentially it dies.

Any time people pretend to be present online while they obviously aren’t, they cross the line and lose credibility.

Automated recommendations for #FollowFridays and inspirational quotes scream inauthentic to me. Both insinuate someone is inspired in the moment, so sharing it in advance seems contradictory. So does the event planner who preschedules a whole weekend’s worth of time-sensitive, event-related conversation starters. These are the situations that leave professionals most at risk for PR disasters. Stratten shares a relevant story to drive this point home in the Worst Scheduled Tweet Timing Ever. This is a perfect example of why, and how, someone should not use automated tweet services.

Like any strategic decision to grow in your marketplace, one must consider their audience and their content and how the two fit together. Understanding the difference between engagement and content posts may mean you are someone who should never use automated tools. If you do not have content of your own that is valuable to share and non-time-sensitive, then just stick with live engagement posts that will let your personality show and keep you out of trouble. However, if you’re someone who has a backlog of information that can benefit your network of followers, then by all means share it using automated tools. What harm can it do? Your unicorns are safe.

Allison Graham is the author of Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding & Profitable Networking Made Easy! and the force behind ElevateBiz.

For more from Allison, read Hate Small Talk? These 5 Questions Will Help You Work Any Room and follow her @AllisonDGraham.

[Image: Flickr user Jenson Lee]

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30 Comments

  • LTCartoons

    I have to laugh when I read this article because this exactly what viewers said when newspapers, journals, later radio and tv evolved onto the media scene (especially radio). In fact, some radio stations at first wouldn't even run ads unless the owner of the business came on the mic and "connected" him/herself. 

    When my wife and I first started with Twitter, we CONNECTED.  Boy did we ever connect.  And I'm here to tell you I'm glad I did, but I'm also here to tell you I wish we hadn't.  Like anything in life, some connections were wonderful, some were memorable at best, and some we'd very much like to forget.  The art of high drama is often developed with "Twitter Connections" as anyone can attest who "do nothing but manually tweet".
    Given that, that kind of lifestyle appeals to many and I say "Go for it".  But it surely didn't get us any business. 

    Then I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the early founders of Twitter and asked him, "What is this thing".  The reason I asked was that a lot of people were giving me "tweet etiquette lessons" very similar to this author.

    He said, "It's what you make it".  By then I was pre-scheduling about 80% of my tweets because it was working. I could schedule them, walk away from my computer, have a real life off the computer, come back and a plethora of sales had been made.  Not the case when I was 100% "connecting and getting influence". 

    I was also a nontraditional return-to-school adult student.  I spoke with other colleagues who were using Twitter and facebook for different reasons.  Much more professional, none told another "how they should use it".  

    Did I want to sell my products, or "connect in 140 words with people I'd probably never meet" when I can walk out more door and have a real life with people I do meet and love?  I chose the latter.  

    I finally reached the conclusion based on classes (and what one of the Twitter founders told me; "Look at Twitter as any other medium...you can connect with folks, or you can use it as advertising with repetition like any other media".  And true to his words, it is exactly like any other media.  Repetition is the key.

    If you are personally answering every single tweet (my wife and I spend about an hour a day) and try to get to all of them, then by all means, that's for you.

    If you are seeking an effective advertising venue that has excellent CPMs, there's none better than Twitter using pre-scheduled tweets mixed with a bit of personal contact.  That model works for us.  It will not work for everyone. I'll quote one of the founders (who I imagine has a better handle on Twitter than the writer here) "Twitter is what you make it".  

  • Sue Duris

    I guess I am in the "it depends" camp. While I agree that auto dms and auto tweets defeat the  authentic engagement and connection purpose for social media, there are times where it is ok and may make sense. Example - thanking someone for following, new content is available, etc.  

  • ideafaktory

    It's official, we have too much time on our hands.  Hardly worth the effort, but here's the real truth: no one cares about your tweets. It's all a bunch of narcissistic blowhard BS. I do it, but I know this simple, unsaid truth.  So do you. Schedule them, don't schedule them, they come and go and the world doesn't change one bit as a result.  Show me your world before your tweets and show me the one after.  I bet they look a lot alike, don't they?  Maybe if we invested that time in our families or piles of work not being done because we're swapping links to no onw into the digital ether....http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology...

  • ideafaktory

    It's official, we have too much time on our hands.  Hardly worth the effort, but here's the real truth: no one cares about your tweets. It's all a bunch of narcissistic blowhard BS. I do it, but I know this simple, unsaid truth.  So do you. Schedule them, don't schedule them, they come and go and the world doesn't change one bit as a result.  Show me your world before your tweets and show me the one after.  I bet they look a lot alike, don't they? Maybe if we invested that time in our families or piles of work not being done because we're swapping links to no onw into the digital ether....http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology...

  • Peter

    Great article. After using the scheduling features of hootsuite I now prefer using bufferapp.com to disperse my tweets at set timed intervals. Even though I use buffer to tweet for me I am still carefully selecting the contents of the tweets.

  • Sheila Starkey

    Excellent points! I agree that content scheduling is fine, but automating engagement including thanking followers is not authentic. Scheduling time for engaging and connecting is important.  

  • Ari Herzog

    Huh?

    You wrote, "I'm in favor of automation, but only for non-time-sensitive, content-focused posts."

    What does that mean, Allison? Someone needs to read your Twitter policy before analyzing if your tweet is posted in real-time or post-dated? How is Twitter not time-sensitive? Do you tweet for the sake of tweeting?

    I'm with @UnMarketing:twitter on this one. 

  • Allison Graham

    non-time sensitive refers to the content. As in, I would support putting my last Fast Co article on Questions for small talk into a rotation, because the content is relevant at any time. There really is no expected back and forth. However, automating an engagement tweet such as, "how are you tonight" is not authentic if I wrote it 10 weeks ago! Engagement / Content are separate issues and my approach to the debate is that they need to be treated differently. Expecting me to sit at a computer all day long and drip feed my content that is already posted online is what I am saying doesn't happen. Yet, there is value in drip feeding that content to my network. Most of my work is on the road - am rarely in front of a computer. But hey, @unmarketing is a very successful guy, so you won't go wrong siding with him! Remember, I am actually on his side...most of the time. :) 

  • Mandy Kilinskis

    I think the biggest problem in the automation v. non-automation debate is that people assume automation means anything not tweeted from the Twitter homepage or mobile app by a human. But that's not automation; automation does not mean the same thing as scheduling.

    Automation is when you set up a tool to auto-thank followers or push our your #FF tweets.

    Scheduling is crafting smart, shareable, valuable tweets and putting them in a scheduling service like Buffer, HootSuite, TweetDeck, etc. is still very authentic. They're your thoughts, they're just being sent out when you can't be on Twitter. 

    For example, I have a tweet sent out each day at 5:33 when I have a lot of followers online, but I'm still driving home from work. More people will see it. And then when I get home around 5:45, I can reply to anyone that's said something about that particular tweet.

    I think it's a better reflection on your brand and/or self when you don't tweet out five articles in twenty minutes and instead space them out throughout the day. Then you just hop on Twitter when you're available to reply to people.

  • Allison Graham

    totally didn't even explore the idea of auto replies in this article - urgh, my pet peeves - so inauthentic. Think we're on the same page here with your comment re: scheduling valuable tweets and putting them into a service. Question: When you send the 5:33 tweet - what kind is it?  Engagement/or Content? Actually, I'll follow you and find out at 5:33. granted, I'll be in hot yoga at that time...so won't respond till 6:45. 

  • Mandy Kilinskis

    Yeah, I'm honestly surprised why people still use auto-replies and auto-DMs. It comes off as so, so inauthentic. I would much rather people say nothing to me than get a canned reply. 

    I check Twitter periodically during the night, so I'll see you then!

  • David C Cohen

    Thanks for the post Allison.  Going into this, I was ready to get to the comments and poo poo all over scheduled tweeting.  I run a business that thrives on authenticity and vulnerability, which can't be achieved by an automaton.  The key there though is that I run a business.  I don't have a huge twitter following at all, mainly because I don't work at it.  Like you mentioned, I also don't have the time to put aside the business to engage on twitter when something brilliant strikes me.  
    I now see it a little differently.  We have to put out what we do.  That alone is a great use of automating that content.  Thanks again!   

  • Allison Graham

     sounds like we're in the same boat with our work schedules and prescheduling could come in handy for you too.

  • devurls

    This won't stop me from putting a bunch of tweets into the buffer for posting throughout the day. Its a good way to not overwhelm people by writing like 10 tweets within a couple of hours... spread them out. I'm glad this article didn't influence me. 

  • Allison Graham

    hearing more about this "buffer" tool....going to check it out. As long as the content being "buffed" :) is appropriate and authentic to send out at a later time, then sounds like a good plan. 

  • Josef Siewruk

    I agree with what is said here.  Going slightly off topic, my main concern about scheduling tweets is that it could lead to a drop in engagement on Twitter and more focus on content being 'pushed'.

    My thinking behind this is that scheduling tweets allows tweeting to be more convenient.  Whilst this is great, people might become lazy and only log in to set up their tweets for the day and that's it.  Rather than checking in and engaging throughout the day, they might just do it once, whilst they set up their tweets.

    Obviously this will depend on the person, and a true Twitter fan will check in regularly and/or even have alerts set up to keep them updated on certain topics/people etc.  

    It could, however, lead to more one way Twitter traffic from a lot of users, and less engagement.

  • Allison Graham

    yeah, I hear what you're saying. There are actually "social media consultants" who set up drip feeds for clients and that's the only presence they have online. The drips go out and there is no back and forth. Then they wonder why they aren't seeing results.

  • Kim Randall

    Content can be scheduled on Twitter and done quite well. I schedule content to go out from 17+ Twitter accounts on Sundays and monitor/ manage them all week long ON TOP of logging in throughout the day to each to personally Tweet with others, create conversations etc... Social Media is about conversation and you can schedule it if you're managing the conversation it will create.

  • Allison Graham

    right, so even though you're scheduling attempts at connection you're also present when they are shared? Then why not just send them live? If you can be there then may as well. Sounds like you're doing both.