Sonny Gets Arrested
Sonny Gets Arrested

People generally prefer to interact with other people rather than machines. And most folks are especially not keen on interacting with machines masquerading as people.

Ever get frustrated by an automated phone tree when trying to contact a business and feel like screaming, “I just want to talk to a person!“?

Robocalls were big in the news leading up to this past election. You know. Those recorded calls that just start talking at you as soon as you answer the phone.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a political candidate or a credit card sales pitch, I hang up on ’em without listening.


In email marketing there is a thing called an autoresponder. The most basic form is the email you get when you first subscribe to a list.

There are some very real benefits to email autoresponders. For starters, they help ensure that you really meant to subscribe to that list. In that capacity they help keep spam down a bit.

Another benefit is that you don’t have to wait to get the information you signed up for with email autoresponders. No matter what time, day or night, you can have access with a good autoresponder system.

One reason why email autoresponders work so well is that we don’t have the expectation that the sender is sitting by their email just waiting for us to sign up to their list. The automation helps us out as recipients as well as making life easier on the sender.

It’s a win-win and I am a fan.

Social Media is Different

Social media sites like Twitter, for example, have a different expectation. They are by their very nature more personal than email. That’s the “social” part.

Twitter is immediate. You can send a tweet from anywhere on your cell phone, or from any internet connection.

Because it is so easy to use these sites from most anywhere, because they are so personal, and because the messages are so short (how long can it take to type in a 140 character message?), people expect when they see a tweet it means the person is really there.

Enter the Social Media Autoresponders

Unfortunately there are some folks who don’t understand that social media is about people first and foremost. Those folks turn to services like TweetLater to send auto-generated “welcome” tweets.

TweetLater has some good features but I don’t think this is one of them.

They even acknowledge that it might be a bit distasteful on their FAQ page:

Isn’t automation a little impersonal?

Some folks are bound to see it that way. Others don’t see it that way. The automation features of TweetLater are intended as time-savers for you, enabling you to be polite to your new followers without it consuming a lot of your time. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s true for any kind of automation, not only the TweetLater automation.

Seems like a bit of a cop out answer to me. Automation is by definition impersonal. The real question is whether it is distasteful or not. Besides, it’s not the automation that drives most people buggy. It’s the automation masquerading as a person that chafes folks.

Trouble is, this particular feature is specifically designed to impersonate the personal. From their very next FAQ:

Should I send DMs or public tweets as welcome messages?

Our recommendation is to always send DMs. You will annoy your followers if you constantly have auto welcome public tweets in your timeline.

Yeah. But let’s not talk about annoying your followers by using very personal channel for an impersonal automated message. Sheesh!

And from a Squidoo Lens that talks about using TweetLater on Twitter:

Make your autoresponder message very folksy, very human, very non-business like. Make is so anyone reading it thinks you typed it personally at the moment.

I want to scream, “Missing the Point!

For those of you who don’t know, DMs are private Direct Messages that can be sent via Twitter. And again it is about expectations.

If you send me a DM, I expect that it is because you have something fairly important to tell me. Otherwise you would have used Twitter’s @ function to reply to me. (Of course if you did that then everyone would see you are using a machine to send out automated replies and they would be less likely to follow you in the first place – that’s the real answer to the second FAQ above.)

I also expect that you are actually there when you DM me so you can (and probably will) respond to my reply DM.

I’m what I guess you could call a mid-level Twitter user. I opened my account a bit over a year and a half ago. I’ve got a little over 1500 followers and I’ve sent something over 6200 tweets in that time.

And during that time I’ve gotten exactly 500 DMs as of this writing. (Round numbers are so satisfying.) They’re mostly private back channel conversations that I’ve had with various members of the Twitter community. Though more and more these days they include one off messages that read something along these lines, “Thanks for the follow. Be sure to check out my blog,” Blah, blah, blah.

Initially I would respond to these “folksly, non-business like massages” that seemed to be “typed personally at the moment” DM’s thinking that the person who sent them was, um, a person.

Rarely if ever do I get a response back when I do.

How Effective Is It Really?

When that happens I am very tempted to unfollow the non-person. As a reference I refer you to my post from a while back, the Top 9 Reasons I’m Not Following You on Twitter.

If the point of the social media autoresponder is to either A) make me feel welcome, or B) get me to subscribe to your blog, then I have to ask how effective is it? I mean really.

Robots don’t make me feel very welcome. In fact, they make me feel like you are too busy (or too lazy) to really care about me. As a result I feel less welcome than if you’d done nothing. I mean I get that you’re busy. We all are.

And truth be told, my feed reader has too many feeds in it already. A bot response to me following you doesn’t help you there either.

Actually there is a very good chance that if I found your Twitter account interesting enough to follow in the first place I probably already clicked through to check out the web site you have listed in your Twitter profile. If I liked it then I subscribed already.

That’s because I’ve got at least a passing interest in you as a person and what you’re all about.

It is, after all, social media.

If you’d like, feel free to follow me. (But only if you are a person, please.) I promise not to send you an automated DM asking you to read my blog.


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