Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Twitter Account Automation: Five Best Practices for Business Accounts

Twitter is an amazingly useful service but is constantly being undermined by two things: spam and automation. There is not much we can do about spam except report it, but we can all help to minimize the negative effects of automation by teaching everyone how to auto-tweet responsibly.

All social media management tools offer automation features, from simple tweet scheduling to fully automated RSS feeds. Some automation is very useful for businesses, to make community managers more productive and reduce mistakes, but carried to excess it makes the whole exercise rather futile. Many times I have seen robots auto follow my account because I mentioned a certain hashtag. When I check who is following them I discover other robots -- so robots are following each other and no humans are in the loop at all. Pointless.

So where is the line between acceptable automation and self defeating automation -- the sort that gets your account unfollowed by humans? Here are five best practices.

1. Have a Human Community Manager to Respond to Tweets. The worst sort of Twitter account is one that simply repeats a cycle of advertising messages automatically but whenever anyone responds the most they get is an automated reply, usually less. Twitter is about engagement so what people value is this human-human contact.

2. Have a Human Monitor Tweet Schedules to Avoid Waves. Scheduled tweets are useful because they help to make sure that announcements go out on time and they allow many people in the organization to line up tweets in the queue. But what you don't want is to have a wave of tweets at the same time. Better to have someone who watches for peaks and maybe reschedules lower priority tweets to spread them out.

3. Be Open About Your Twitter Office Hours. If your twitter account is being monitored by a human only at certain times be open about this and say on your profile page when someone will be there. It also helps to mark the start and end of this period with a tweet.

4. Never Send Automatic Thank You Direct Messages. When someone follows your account or retweets you by all means tweet a thank you, but make sure it is a human message. One of the most annoying forms of automatism is the auto DM to new followers. Most users find this a complete waste of time and it just underlines the uselessness of your account.

5. Be Very Careful About AutoTweeting Other People's News. Modern social media management tools make it very easy to collect news from RSS feeds and automatically tweet it. This is not good practice for a company account. When I am watching the Acme twitter account I came to hear about Acme. This type of solution makes sense only for news aggregation accounts where this is their business.

A well managed corporate Twitter account should be a mix of scheduled tweets about news, offers and so on, perhaps some automatically generated information such as flight delays and human responses to tweets from customers. The secret is to use just enough automation to make the work efficient but not so much people are repelled and unfollow your account.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways

This week I have been testing Zerply, the new professional networking site aimed primarily at people who grew up with the web. Though it sounds like an embarrassing disease, the name is inspired by the idea of "serious play" and the idea is to bring effective networking to non-corporate people who find traditional networking sites like LinkedIn very dull. You can read more about this idea at and you can find my test profile at
Zerply is very simple and lacks the status updates, news feeds, groups and so on of traditional networking sites. Instead it focuses on one thing: finding people with similar interests. Each person defines some tags related to their interests, professional or not, and then you are presented with random people with similar interests on your home page. You can also search for people with specific tags. The "play" part is based on the idea that you don't choose business partners entirely on the basis of professional skills; good chemistry also plays a role and often this comes from shared interests and values. Zerply turns out to be especially helpful for connecting with new people and for this reason I will recommend it to people in my professional networking workshops.

Zerply is impressive. It's not perfect -- nothing is -- but my rating today would be Three Thumbs Up and Two Thumbs Sideways.

Thumbs up 1: The site design and layout is clean, simple and well designed. It looks like it was conceived from the very beginning with mobile users in mind and reminds me of the way everyone felt when chaotic messy search pages like Yahoo were replaced by Google and google clones.

Thumbs up 2: Zerply works. All of the features that are on the menu work and they work dependably, at least for me. I have not seen a single fail yet, which compares very favorably not only with other new sites but also some established networking giants whose fail screens are depressingly familiar.

Thumbs up 3: Creating a new profile is simple and very slick. At last someone has realized that we need to do this way too often and they have made it as painless as they can. There are just a few steps and you can even import all of your experience data from a LinkedIn profile -- which saves a lot of time with cut and pasting.

Thumbs sideways 1: This is neither an boon nor a curse, but the number of tags appears to be limited to five. This is probably necessary to stop people just choosing the entire dictionary, but it means that you need to be careful about your choice of tag and maybe even vary them sometimes. Choosing tags for yourself and your search is very important in Zerply so you need to give this some thought and maybe browse other profiles to see how it works.

Thumbs sideways 2: On Zerply you don't have friends or connections. What you do is "save" the contact information of people you think are interesting. They are notified when you do this. Like G+ you could save back if you wanted but there is no obligation. The reason one of my thumbs is sideways on this is simply because there is no obvious verb for this action. On Twitter you can say "follow me", on Heello you can say "listen me", but "save me" doesn't sound convincing.


Related posts on Startups

Social Media Crisis Management: Odimax's Emergency Stop
16pics Automatic Photo Picker: Humans Do Better But Have Better Things To Do
Trading Influence For Equity Wahooly Boosts Startups, Raises Ethical Questions
Why Gidsys Marketplace for Experiences Will Change Things

Related Posts on Networking:

How to Separate Work and Private Networking
Involuntary Networking: Why First Street is Fascinating but Scary
LinkedIn Etiquette: How to Approach People You Don't Know
Selling Your Ideas: Influencing Your Way to Success
Professional Networking: Five Sites You Should be Using
How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Your Reputation
Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways
Three Keys to Networking

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Three Reasons Why Heello Could Be a Success

Since the service started earlier this month I have seen and heard many people say that Twitter users are not going to pack their bags and move to Heello so it is doomed to failure. On the first point I might agree but I do not believe that this means it cannot succeed. I don't say it necessarily will succeed but here I am going to give you three reasons why it could succeed.

Just in case you missed the announcement, Heello is a microblogging site that is today essentially a copy of Twitter where tweets are called "pings", retweets are called "echoes" and so on. Today (19 August 2011) only the most basic features are available and not all of those work reliably but this is still work in progress. For beginners it is probably better to wait but for the pros it is interesting to watch the problems get fixed and the features added. You also have the chance to ask for the features you need. For the moment you can ping, echo, reply and search users. A direct message feature is in the menu but it doesn't work for me. Other things like URL shortening, spam blocking and so on are not available yet.

Since Heello is not even working yet and there is a well established market leader in this space does it have any chance at all of being successful? Here are my three reasons why it could.

FIRST, I concede that Twitter users are not likely to pack their bags and move all their conversations to Heello. The last time that happened was when Google ousted Altavista as mayor of search. But this is not the normal mechanism for replacements. It wasn't Myspace users who moved to Facebook but new users choosing Facebook over Myspace that drove the shift. New users are being born every minute and this drives the gradual shifts in music, fashion and social media.

SECOND, though Heello might look like a Twitter clone today it can readily evolve and by adding a feature become something very different -- just like they added pictures to radio to make TV. This is much easier to do in the early stages so Heello has an advantage in the evolution game. I suspect that they have a vision in mind that is not direct competition to Twitter, perhaps creating a media agnostic platform that works in the same way for text, audio and video. There is also a possibility that they are looking ahead to the emergent social media landscape of 2012 and beyond. What will happen when there are competitors in every space? Will third party interfaces like Hootsuite control the user experience? Will mobile companies try to move into this area with their own clients and start shopping around for a neutral infrastructure service? Perhaps then Heello could shift to a B2B focus, just like Max Niederhofer's people search engine dropped the consumer interface (I was one of the few who managed to claim a profile) and now focus on API services for B2B customers.

THIRD, Heello founder Noah Everett has a track record; he is well known as the entrepreneur behind TwitPic. This does not mean that he cannot make mistakes but he is part of the social media startup community so he must know more than something about the business and, more importantly, his experience using the Twitter API must mean he knows very well the problems API users have had and what they would like to have in future.

So Heello could be successful though not necessarily by killing Twitter. Maybe it creates a new space completely and a year from now we will be talking about the lastest Heello killer. We shall see. Right now, though, I wish they had given more thought to the branding, which is hard enough for English speakers and a challenge for everyone else. But then again rebranding is still possible when you are not yet a household name.

Since it could be a major player sometime in the future I recommend that you register all your bands while the names are still available. Some companies have already done this but many more are moving very slowly.

Andrew Hennigan is on Heello at