Using Twitter Effectively: Part 4 of 10 – Auto Tweeting (The Good)

Nat Russo How-To, Twitter, Writing 5 Comments

Now that you’ve taken the steps to grow a meaningful following on Twitter, you’ve undoubtedly discovered that Twitter has given you the means to establish friendships with people all around the globe. It’s true that the Information Age and modern technology have made the world a small place. There’s only one problem:

You have to sleep some of the time.

As you develop a platform that reaches all four corners of the planet, how do you contribute to your following in Australia, for example, if you live in the central United States?

Read on and I’ll offer you some techniques that will help you keep in touch when your followers need you to be in touch.

A Disclaimer

This series was originally written over a 10-day period in 2013. I’ve included relevant updates throughout the series as Twitter changed policies and procedures. Please be aware that I may not have caught all of the changes. If you find such a change that isn’t captured in this series, please leave a comment with the new Twitter policy, and I’ll update the series accordingly. Cheers!

The Global Village

When I embarked on this journey of building a writer’s platform through social media, I made a decision: I was going to share with the world all of my lessons learned from the previous two years of hardcore writing. I wasn’t going to hold anything back. I knew there were people just like me, uncertain whether they could actually write a book, not sure where to begin, or clueless as to how to approach the revision process. I knew that, like me, these people were going to make some basic mistakes…mistakes which could easily be avoided if only they were aware of the mistakes at all!

So I created a list of all the basic lessons I wanted to share with the world, neatly packaged in 140 characters or less, and I began to tweet them throughout the day while writing. I saw that other writers did similar things, and they appended the hashtag “writetip” so I did the same. Before long I started getting responses to these tweets, and people started retweeting them! 

When I started doing this back in December of 2012 I had somewhere around 40 followers. One morning I woke up and found a list of Twitter notifications waiting for me on my phone. I opened up Twitter and was shocked. I had 85 followers. The night before the only people who followed me were personal friends. Now I had more people following me that I didn’t know than people I did! Using the techniques I mentioned in my series on Building a Meaningful Following, my follower base snowballed from there. But there was an unintended consequence.

My followers were no longer confined to Texas. They were no longer confined to the United States. For that matter, they were no longer confined to the Western Hemisphere! How could I hope to remain relevant to people who are asleep when I’m awake and people who are awake when I’m asleep?

Auto Tweeting

When placed back to back, these are two of the most controversial words you’ll read on Twitter. After being a heavy Twitter user for the last three months, I understand how auto-tweeting has gotten a bad name. I see evidence of it in my own timeline, and I don’t have to scroll very far to find an offender. But…that’s for another post, and you’ll have the chance to read that post in a few days. In this post I’d like to concentrate on what you should be doing, not what you shouldn’t be doing. So let’s take a look at the positive side of auto-tweeting.

What is it?
Auto-Tweeting is the process of scheduling tweets to be posted on your behalf, often when you’re not even at the keyboard. Since there is no Twitter interface to accomplish this, it requires the use of a third party tool or service (I’ll name a few below).

How Should it be Used?
I want to begin by emphasizing that this is my opinion. Auto-tweeting is a controversial subject, as I mentioned earlier. For as many people as you find that say it’s harmless, you’ll find just as many people that say it’s going to destroy the soul of Twitter.

I fall somewhere in between. I can understand the argument of the people who think it’s horrible, and I share some of their sentiment. In fact, I’ll be dedicating an entire post to it. The upshot of the argument is that Twitter is about now, as you’ve heard me say in other posts. Tweeting is a form of conversation. What good is it to tweet if you can’t be there to respond?

A valid point. But not all tweets fall into the same category. For example, those “writetip” tweets I spoke about. When I post a writetip, it’s intended to be a quick reminder to my writer followers who are probably sitting at their keyboard writing a draft, or revising a chapter, or working on a piece of flash fiction, etc. But many of my followers live half way across the world, in very different time zones. Twitter is about “now”, so I can’t expect them to start their writing day by scrolling through their entire timeline just on the off chance I’ve had something helpful to say.

Auto tweets help me to reach all of my followers during the times they’re active. By scheduling interesting tweets to go off a handful of times per hour, it doesn’t clutter people’s timelines with spam, and it makes sure that my followers “down under” are able to get some value out of what I have to say. Yes, sometimes a follower will have a question or comment, and I respond to each one as soon as I return to my keyboard. If it’s been a problem for anyone, they haven’t expressed it to me yet, and I’m still gaining more followers than losing. So, all I can say with certainty is that this is working for me. I think it can work for you too.

Automation Tools

I said that in order to auto-tweet you’re going to need to use a third party service or tool. Don’t let that scare you. These tools all use the official Twitter API (Application Programming Interface) that allows software developers like myself to communicate with the service in a safe, sanctioned manner.
 
Here are two of the tools I’ve found useful.

HootSuite

The tool I use as my “go to” service for scheduling auto tweets is HootSuite. They have a web site that integrates with both iPad and iPhone apps (I can’t speak to Android, as I don’t own an Android device). HootSuite has a host of features, but the one most applicable to this post is their scheduling feature.
 
With the free version of HootSuite, you can manually enter tweets and select a day/time you wish them to be posted. Alternatively, you can have HootSuite select a day/time for posting at random (though I’ve found it’s always in the very near future…minutes/hours not days). The limit on how many messages you can queue is very high. Around 350, I believe.
 
I began with the free service, back when I was only auto tweeting about 5-6 messages per day. Once I had a complete list of tweets to schedule around the clock, it became a little tedious, so I upgraded my account. With an upgraded account you can use the “bulk uploader”. This is a great little tool that lets you upload a CSV file, which is easily generated by any modern spreadsheet program, allowing you to schedule as many as 350 tweets with the click of a button. It was well worth it. I now have two-weeks worth of tweets, and every Saturday I open my CSV file, change the dates to reflect the upcoming week, upload the file to HootSuite and click the “Schedule” button. Then I can rest, knowing that my tweets are going to be broadcast at the exact times I’ve selected.
 
HootSuite also has a browser widget that allows you to share something, using HootSuite, straight from your browser. Simply navigate to a site you wish to share and click the Owl icon.
 
In addition to the browser widget, HootSuite has an integrated link shortener, Owl.ly. If you use Owl.ly to shorten your links, HootSuite can produce detailed analytic reports on how many clicks you’re getting.

 Buffer

This was actually the first tool I found when I realized it would be nice to have some automation. Buffer is another web-based service that integrates with your Twitter account. The only downside I’ve seen is that the free account is more limited than HootSuite’s free acount. Buffer limits the number of queue “slots” you have if you’re not paying a monthly free. I grew out of these slots very quickly, and I suspect you will too. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to get started, and I’ve found their analytics to be very helpful. Every time you tweet using Buffer it tells you how many people the tweet reached, aggregating not only your follower base, but the follower base of anyone who retweets your message. It puts things in perspective for you, in terms of Twitter being a great marketing device.
 
Similar to HootSuite, Buffer offers an integrated browser widget that allows you to queue a tweet with the click of an icon.
 
One caveat about any automation tool you use: The Twitter API explicitly forbids automating the post of “identical” tweets. In other words, if you try to queue a tweet that reads “Good Morning Twitter!” every morning at 9am, it will not work. HootSuite is intelligent enough to warn you about this. Buffer will allow the identical post to be queued, but it will not actually be posted. Unfortunately you get no warning about this…your tweet just disappears into the ether. How do you get around this? Just reword your tweet. “Good morning Twitter!” is different from “Good morning, Twitter!” which is different from “Good morning Twitter.” etc. Get creative and you’ll find it isn’t much of a limitation at all.
 
I hope you’ve found this discussion helpful. Auto tweets can add a lot of value to your Twitter experience, and to your community…if used correctly. 

In part 5 of this series I’ll give you some (hopefully) helpful advice on how to compose effective tweets. And don’t forget to follow the blog using the “Follow by Email” tool on the upper right (under my picture). You’ll be notified as soon as a new post hits the blog. And don’t worry, your email address is never revealed…not even to me.

 
Would you like to weigh in on the “to auto tweet or not” debate? Leave a comment below!

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing/gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 5

  1. For those of you who are waiting for Part 5, I will either post it tomorrow night or the following morning.

    Unfortunately, life reared its head today and demanded its rightful place on the priority list.

    Cheers!

  2. Thank you so much for this series. I stumbled on your tweet about part 1 on Twitter today by accident (still using my “Home feed” on twitter and regretting every peek 😉 and kept reading bec. you have a very engaging and clear style. I used to work as a nonfiction editor in a publishing house, so I’m always glad to find blogposts that are well written. Job hazard 😉

    What I didn’t fully understand in this entry was: If you’re forbidden to retweet the exact same tweet, how does only changing the DATES in your spreadsheet enable you to repost the same tweets via HootSuite? Don’t you need to change the wording as well?

    I’m on the fence about automated repeat tweets. I see so many authors in my timeline tweet about their own book every few minutes and it looks very self-absorbed and spammy. On the other hand I found some very nice books through twitter tips and people keep telling me that tweeting about my own Urban Fantasy novel once every 4 weeks (which feels spammy to me, seriously) is absolutely not enough, I should tweet the link at least several times a day …

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      Glad you found me, Brida! And thank you very much for your kind words.

      I understand where the confusion is coming in. The restriction is on HootSuite’s end. Whenever you queue a tweet through HootSuite, HootSuite checks in the background to make sure you haven’t already *queued* that tweet. In other words, it makes sure that same tweet isn’t already in the queue. But once the tweet goes out, HootSuite forgets about it. So you can re-queue the same tweet the following week, and as long as that tweet isn’t still in the queue waiting to go out, HootSuite lets you schedule it.

      I know what you mean regarding authors using automation to tweet about their books. I recommend putting serious limitations on your automation policy when it comes to this subject. I use automation primarily for sharing content. I’ve found this is well-received, and I nearly always pick up new readers. (You’re a great example! The tweet that led you to this series is nearly 2 years old. 🙂 ) Book Promotion, on the other hand, I limit strictly to a couple of tweets per day. At 3-5 total tweets per hour, the 2-3 promo tweets become a negligible percentage of my overall output.

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