This post is prompted by the Birmingham twitter “community”‘s reaction to what some saw as unethical and “anti-social” behaviour on joining twitter [edit: as the guys from Artsfest say in the comments below, it wasn’t an official account. It’s now gone.] by the local council’s yearly arts festival, um, artsfest. In short, upon (laudably) starting a twitter account, they (either by bot or someone with a sore mouse finger now) started aggressively following people starting with locals, and it seems radiating out through their contacts lists.

They ended up with around three thousand followees (many very unlikely to be interested in a UK-based arts event) — the sort of thing that gets you a high ranking on twerpscan (this a screengrab of Pete Ashton’s): > peteashton > The company Artsfest is keeping
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Twitter users, and the early adopters of Birmingham as well, will tend to jump on these things — it’s a form of comunity policing, although I sometimes think that it can border on the haranging.
That said, the people behind the artsfest twitter have misunderstood, at least, the nature of social media conversation — conversation being the right thing, broadcasting your PR message being the wrong thing. Here’s a few more general points that come out of it for me:
  • Following thousands of people (people unrelated to your niche especially) is not only pointless (you’ll get blocked by people that otherwise might have followed you, your message is useless to many of those people) , but will get people’s backs up. Not a great first impression.
  • Even if the twitter account is for an organisation (anonymous, or multi-authored) people need to see that it has personality. Bot-like behaviour isn’t useful — if those thousands of people followed you back, could you hold meaningful conversation with them?
  • Twitter is made up of mainly tech-savvy people, pushing your PR message (that they could get from your blog or other channels if they wished) at them is SPAM-y behaviour, it’s shouting, duplicating and attention grabbing. Although there are many people that autopublish their blog links to twitter, the sort of people that will follow your tweets will normally be able to follow your blog on its own — what twitter is great for is additional more ‘personal’ information, nuggets that are exciting or interesting, but not worth a blog post.
  • Re-tweeting your main message after each @reply (or aside) is wrong — those following you will get that message repeatedly, SPAM. Very few twitter users will find themselves at your page on twitter, and the tweet at the top is not your “most important message” it’s just the most recent.
  • You need to interact, if people send you an @message or a direct message you should respond. Can you listen to thousands of people’s tweets? No, of course not, so don’t follow people unless you need to interact with them. (Using a bot to auto-follow people who follow you could be a time-saver tho’).
  • Use tools like summize or tweetscan to keep an eye on conversation about your product, organisation or subject area (you can get RSS feeds of all of your search terms). This isn’t eavesdropping, it’s all publicly shared information, and if you see conversation (negative or positive) then you have a conversation opener with those people talking about you. You may learn some really useful things about how you are perceived — and be able to genuinely help people (always popular!).

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