To auto respond or not to auto respond..

Posted: December 29, 2008 in Twitter
Tags: , , ,

A recent post (rant) by Chris Brogan entitled “Social Media is No Place for Robot Behavior” has sparked some interesting conversation about the place of automation in social networks.  He specifically is complaining about the use of the auto responder on Twitter.  Too many marketers, mlms, etc. are trying to use it as a link pusher, and users are annoyed.  It goes against the grain of the average Twitter user.  Twitter is about connecting and conversing, not broadcasting.

I use SocialToo to keep track of those who follow and unfollow me.  It has the auto responder feature on there.  When I saw it, I thought ‘cool!’.  It was an easy way to put a personal touch and thank everyone for the follow.  It seemed an easy way to be polite, and try and be as humble as possible.  After all, people don’t HAVE to follow me.  They CHOOSE to follow me… for some reason or another.  And I wanted to thank them.  The intent was genuine.  But is the action itself misplaced?

Businesses try to personalize everything.  Letters sent out to customers are automatically spewn off with their name inserted.  Humans don’t do that.  ROBOTS do.  And still, when something comes addressed to me, I feel like the company is trying to connect with me.  If my cell phone bill came addressed to ‘Dear Account #xxxxxx” or “Dear Rogers Customer”, I would think ‘WTF Rogers?  I pay you how much money every month and you can’t even make the effort to put my name in a letter?”.  And so I do expect it.  Even though I know they use a machine to do it.  I expect that level of personalization.

But this may be where an auto response on Twitter falls down.  It’s not a letter to your customer.  This person just stumbled into your shop.  It fits with the idea of cafe shaped conversations and small boutique environments that seem to be popping up with social media.  If I walked into my favourite coffee shop and was greeted by some automated voice at the door saying ‘Dear shopper.  Thank you for visiting our store’, I could very well see myself responding ‘seriously??’ and turning around and walking out the door.  However,  a sign next to the door that said “thank you, please come again” would not offend me in the least, or if after I had exchanged a few words with the sales clerk, they thanked me for visiting the store, or I received something in the mail after the fact, I would be far more likely to visit that store/cafe again.

I get that Twitter is the little boutique around the corner.  Users expect they will be greeted by a real person.  Personalizing your mailouts when you are a big company is one thing.  Using social networks, like Twitter, like you are a big company is another… especially when you aren’t one.

  1. Kyle LAcy says:

    Great post.
    I am subscribed.
    Sign my Auto-DM Petition.. let’s do away with them 🙂

  2. Well said Wendy! 100% agree. Tell me some actual humans who say “hello”, or “thank you” don’t also lack sincerity? “How can you talk to me when you’re looking off into the distance?” – same thing in my books.

    oh and @JeffreySummers

    = )

  3. Hi Wendy,

    This post got me thinking – often a good thing, sometimes dangerous. I don’t really care that much about the automatic responders – but I do miss the authentic responses that could come after that.

    I always thank followers on Twitter because it just seems like the right thing to do. I personalize that message if I can (because of your post, I’ll probably always personalize it, but it’s hard sometimes to be creative. Have to admit to pulling out the old “copy and paste” from time to time).

    But, after that first “thank you for following,” I miss that I almost never hear back again from that person. The fact of the matter is that the social web is far from social.

    That said, there are exceptions – you do run across people like Claire Wadlington (@Wadlington), Ellen Mrja (ellenm53) Jim Storer (@jstorerj), Scott McIntosh (@Scottmunc) and Wendy Peters, who will continue the conversation – in their blogs, in email (remember email?!) with their students and sometimes over a beer when you’re in their area.

    I think of these online social networking tools as a place to continue and create “the conversation.” Doesn’t happen that often. But, when it does, it’s very cool.

  4. wjpeters says:

    @Kyle Lacy – thanks Kyle. Are you proposing an end to all auto responders? Or just in social networks?

    @Jeffrey Summers – very true indeed. Social media is exposing those little gems of people that you may only find in that shop around the corner…

    @Michael Benidt – the conversation is by far the coolest part. Outside of the internet, I hear so many people frustrated with things like the automated system at the phone company (Telus up here). The complaint has always been that they just want to talk to a real person. If companies had gone to their customers and asked ‘hey, what would you think if we put in an automated system?’ I wonder if this Now, people are able to voice their discontent with automation and the lack of that personal touch a lot more quickly and easily. A couple of companies even went after that personal touch in their messaging. A cable company (Shaw) went after the message ‘people powered’, and Alberta Treasury Branch commercials made a joke out of a real person answering the phone and needing to act like an automated system.

  5. Darla Dixon says:

    Michael Benidt directed me to your blog post, and it’s very good! I agree that it’s perhaps okay for large corporations…if Pizza Hut DM’d me with an offer or whatever that would be understandable…but with individuals, we want a real relationship!

  6. Hi Wendy,

    I liked your comment at Chris Brogan’s site and came over.

    I would not use an auto responder, as I believe a lot of people would react like Chris points out.

    However if a person sends what looks like an auto-respond and encourages me to contact them via DM I see that as a welcome invitation. Generally I ask myself “Who is that?” and visit the website – whereas I never visit those “check out my website” people.

  7. Great post. The conversation is why I come to Twitter…I like to think of it as a great big ongoing networking party that I can jump into and out of any time of day or night. I also love that I can listen in on conversations without joining them until I have something valuable to add. I do have an auto reply feature for when people follow me so that, like you, I can quickly respond and follow them back with a note from me. But I do also quickly engage in conversation, particularly on DMs and @ replies. Some autoreplies I receive are obvious ads or sales pitches, and I rarely go to those websites. I prefer the folks like @guykawasaki who post all sorts of interesting things all the time that may or may not be related to his business. I try to follow that method. Anyway, I look forward to connecting with you in Twitterworld!

  8. I choose not to use the Auto-responder as I like to check out each persons profile and information before following. It may take me a day or two to find the time to look over new followers but I will always find the time. The only problem is I tend to digg through their links and recommendations and open 10 new links to read and review but thats what its all about. I don’t watch TV anymore as all my information and entertainment can be found out there in Twitter streams and discovering new stories from real people.


  9. Wendy Peters says:

    @Darla Dixon – I hear you! And if Pizza Hut was sending out the promotion, I’d hope it would be from a real person anyway who just saw your tweet about craving a pepperoni pizza. Now THAT’s adding value.

    @Suzi Pomerantz – I like what @guykawasaki does to. It’s that personal touch that makes all this so interesting. Automation is not interesting.

    @Scott McIntosh – I find my TV time headed down the tubes more and more as well. It’s by far more interesting to discover what’s beyond the next link.

  10. @chrisboyer says:

    Interesting point – and puts into perspective what role every social media tool has in our communications. I belong, just like everyone else, to multiple social networking tools: LinkedIn, Facebook, Friendfeed, Twitter, Flickr…I even created my own social network on Ning ( Splitting my time between writing blog posts, updating my statuses, reading tons of articles online relevant to my day job (not to mention, eating dinner, and spending time with my family) leads to a specific issue: what’s the right balance in terms of communication?

    * I think Twitter has replaced my IM – and when I am on it, I use it actively.
    * Facebook is appropriate for daily updates (mostly focused on my personal life).
    * I try to create a blog post weekly or 2x a week.

    * LinkedIn is only updated with significant job changes.
    * Friendfeed aggregates everything together for a “dashboard” of all my online communication.

  11. Ellen Mrja says:

    Hi, Wendy. Michael Benidt referred me to this post and I’m glad he did.

    I don’t yet have enough Twitter followers to need an auto-respond function. But as someone still relatively new to the Twitter world, I can tell you that it’s very nice when someone I’ve decided to follow sends me a “Welcome and thanks for following. I look forward to conversing with you.”

    When I follow you, I’m taking a leap of faith that this will be a positive exchange. But the person I’m choosing to follow is taking an even bigger chance on me. Having a personal greeting gets us going in a polite, professional way.

    Someone who is a wonderful example is @3keyscoach, an entrepreneurial coach in Boston I’ve become professional friends with just this way.

  12. jessestay says:

    It has greater effect on those with lots of followers vs. those without. I’ve been testing out the new personalized auto-dm feature (inserts their first or last name into the tweet), and I’ve found after just personalizing it a little bit I see night and day difference in the responses I get, because they can’t tell if I’m personally sending that to them, or if it’s an auto-responder. The idea behind Socialtoo however is to enable you to use these social networks in the way you want to. If you don’t want to auto-dm, we actually disable that feature by default now – it’s your choice. We’ll soon be offering features to the other side as well, enabling them to disable the receipt of SocialToo-generated auto-responders if they don’t want to receive them. We should all have choice.

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