Automating Twitter Content by Ralph Tegtmeier aka @fantomaster

Automating Twitter Content by Ralph Tegtmeier aka @fantomaster

14th December 2011

We are closing our very successful Integration series with a bang. The last guest post is written by no other than Ralph Tegtmeier. He is more know as “Fantomaster” in the industry and not just one of the biggest expert when it comes to automation, also an allround nice guy who I consider to be a good friend in the industry. Ralph writes, what else, about automating Twitter.

Here’s a quick bare bones breakdown on how to automate content generation and distribution for Twitter. Yes, there are plenty of other viable solutions and approaches, tools and techniques. However, the purpose of this article is merely to demonstrate how easy it can actually be to run powerful Twitter campaigns in as efficient a manner as possible without having to pay through the nose. There’s no ambition to list and critique every option under the sun here. So if your favorite service or app isn’t mentioned, that’s not to imply it isn’t any good or something – go ahead and use whatever you’re comfortable with.

Also, please note that this is about specific, Twitter targeted content only. Hence, I’m not addressing the various tools and services that enable you to auto- or crosspost e.g. your blog feed, your YouTube favorites or your Facebook wall to Twitter. Obviously, this form of content recycling can easily be automated via a slew of great options, but that’s not our topic here. Also, if you’re looking for yet another intro on how to ramp up the number of your Twitter followers by spamming them on auto pilot with purportedly “relevant”, keyword driven promo messages, please check elsewhere.

Spreading Your Tweets Via Intelligent Scheduling

If you’re dealing with a global market, chances are your followers and potential customers are spread across several different timezones. In the case of English language campaigns this is fairly obvious: promoting your products or services to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom as well as Australia and New Zealand, to name but the most prominent English speaking markets, will pretty much give you a 24 hour marketing space to cater to with your tweets. Add to that varying national holidays, cultural differences plus the veritable deluge of millions of daily tweets competing for attention, and the chances of your tweets actually being read by your target audience may well transpire to be pretty slim.

Granted that this is probably less of an issue e.g. for German, Italian, Dutch or Danish campaigns which won’t as a rule address that many timezones. But beyond language it could also be a matter of the specific demographics you’re targeting, e.g. nightworkers, live concert audiences, moviegoers, conference attendees, seasonal events visitors etc.

Finally, just like with any other form of advertising you will generally have to catch your audience’s attention not merely once but several times over if you actually want to generate sales or trigger some other action such as a newsletter signup, a quote application or a demo download etc. to any degree of reliability. Hence, you are well advised not only to schedule your tweets but to repeat them accordingly if only to cover for multiple timezones.

IMPORTANT: As Twitter’s TOS actually don’t actually allow for duplicate tweets, please make sure you read the section titled “Avoiding Duplicate Tweets” below to avoid having your account banned in no time!

Scheduling Tools

There’s a variety of tools and services available that feature filtering and organizing your Twitter timeline, groups etc. – vast improvements to the Twitter Web interface with plenty of additional features including scheduled tweets.

TweetDeck is a Twitter client that is also part of Twitter’s arsenal since they were bought out in May 2011. Originally based on Adobe’s AIR backend (a requirement they’ve now dispensed with), this free desktop tool lets you organize your timeline in columns, by filtered searches, configurable groups etc. It also includes a highly granular scheduling function which allows you to plan your tweets exactly by the minute. (Here, I won’t address all the other functions it offers such as organizing your Facebook accounts including cross posting etc.)

Personally, TweetDeck has long been my tool of preference. However, there’s another, comparably powerful free tool available which you may want to check out as well, namely Seesmic. This is available both as a desktop app and as a Web interface which can be handy when you’re traveling a lot or if you’re focused on mobile tweeting.

Pluggio is a commercial Web based service that’s great to organize all sorts of timelines, enabling you to peruse lots of streams even if you’re not formally following their owners. This (and its powerful search function) is invaluable in detecting material you’d like to retweet or comment upon. (That’s why it was originally called TweetMiner.)

Moreover, Pluggio permits you to either dripfeed tweets into your timeline at specified intervals or schedule them at specific times in – not very granular – 5 minute increments. What’s more, you can work with multiple Twitter accounts in parallel.

SocialOomph is an extensive online service that allows you to manage your Twitter, Facebook, and other accounts. This includes automatic following (use with care!) and grading of contacts/followers etc. In terms of Twitter publishing, it offers granular (by-the-minute) scheduling and even spinning of text, more on which see below under “Avoiding Duplicate Tweets”.

Note that we will cover TweetAdder under “Automatic Retweeting” below.

Apart from offering their own timelines or personal pages, services such as LetterMeLater and Posterous can be helpful to schedule tweets via e-mail including messages of the repetitive kind.

By way of illustration, here’s a practical example of how to schedule a tweet via e-mail deploying Posterous:

To: [email protected]
Subject: This is a funny cartoon! ((delay: in 235 minutes))

Obviously, this particular tweet will be published in 235 minutes from dispatch provided you’ve configured your Posterous “space” accordingly. (Lots of other scheduling options available, of course.)

For specifying multiple scheduling in one go, you can have LetterMeLater post your tweets to Twitter (via Posterous) e.g. by sending the following e-mail message:

To: [email protected]
Subject: This is a funny cartoon!

To: [email protected]
When: jan 27, 2012 at 01:27 am cet; feb 20, 2012 at 05:13 pm cet; apr 11, 2012 at 08:04 pm cest;

If you’re tweeting a lot on the roll via your smartphone, check which apps will enable you to do this including scheduling. There’s plenty around for all mobile platforms, no matter whether you’re using an iPhone, an Android gadget, a Win8 phone or a BlackBerry, so feel free to hunt around and check out what suits you best.

Avoiding Duplicate Tweets

Be aware that Twitter doesn’t actually permit duplicate tweets! They have even implemented the functionality to prevent reposting of identical tweets shortly after another. This seems to work fairly well most of the time and is a decent precaution against repost mishaps caused by overly nervous tweeps or posting apps running amuk. But if they catch you retweeting duplicate stuff on a regular basis, chances are they’ll close your account altogether – and without notice at that. This is nothing you will want to risk on a corporate branding account, obviously.

So what you’ll want to do in order to enable repeated tweets that won’t get you into trouble, is to space duplicate postings well apart. Generally recommended: intervals of 8 to 10 hours, but your mileage may vary. Better yet, create more different, unique versions spelling out the same message. This can be effected by upmarking your tweets with alternative semantic elements (typically, synonyms or related phrases) and employing spinner software to generate multiple unique versions.

By way of a practical example, let’s say you want to multi-tweet the following message:

Here’s a funny cartoon!

Now, to avoid any duplicate tweet issues. Using the “Madlib syntax” or “spintax” most spinner tools abide by, you might generate variants e.g. by upmarking the text in the following manner:

{Here’s|Here is|There’s|This is} {a|one} {funny|dead funny|hilarious|must see} {cartoon|toon|comic}{!|:| -|.|, guys:|, folks -}

You may also want to use multiple URL shorteners to increase variance, even though the target page link underlying them all will essentially remain the same, of course. (More on URL shorteners below in section “A Word On URL Shorteners”.) So that might give us:

{Here’s|Here is|There’s|This is} {a|one} {funny|dead funny|hilarious|must see} {cartoon|toon|comic}{!|:| -|.|, guys:|, folks -} {|||}

This little bit of very simple spintax will render multiple unique versions such as these:

Here’s a funny cartoon!
Here is one hilarious toon:
There’s a dead funny comic!
This is one hilarious toon –
Here’s a must see cartoon.
Here is a funny comic, guys:
This is one dead funny toon, folks –
There’s a dead funny cartoon:
Here’s a dead funny comic, folks –
There’s a hilarious cartoon, guys:
There’s a funny toon –
This is a funny cartoon:
There’s one hilarious cartoon.
There’s one hilarious toon!
There’s a funny comic.
This is a must see comic, guys:

Same message and target page – but different, unique wording: nothing Twitter will normally find fault with. (True, their duplicate content detection tech isn’t particularly sophisticated at this point in time. So you can usually get away with fairly simplistic, minor changes to your tweet copy. But that’s nothing you want to bet on never changing. So go for better safe than sorry by generating legit variant, future proof content right away.)

Depending on the spinner software you’re using, you can ramp up variance even further by “nesting” variables, e.g. expanding the variable “{funny|dead funny|hilarious|must see}” to:

{funny|{dead|really|truly|so|so very|incredibly|extremely|unbelievably} funny|{hilarious|truly amusing|comical|really entertaining|humorous|priceless|side-splitting}|must see}

This would expand our spintax above to:

{Here’s|Here is|There’s|This is} {a|one} {funny|{dead|really|truly|so very|incredibly|extremely|unbelievably} funny|{hilarious|truly amusing|comical|really entertaining|humorous|priceless|side-splitting}|must see} {cartoon|toon|comic}{!|:| -|.|, guys:|, folks -} {|||}

Which renders:

There’s a so very funny comic –
There’s a must see cartoon:
There’s one funny comic.
This is one must see toon, guys:
Here’s one must see comic.
There’s one humorous toon!
Here is a truly amusing cartoon, guys:
This is one must see comic:
Here’s one extremely funny cartoon:
There’s one side-splitting cartoon, guys:

Do note, however, that not every tool supports such nested spintax, but here are two that do:

The Best Spinner
Magic Article Rewriter

You can also upload spintaxed scheduled tweets to SocialOomph and have their system spin variants for you on the fly immediately prior to posting. As a rule, this is quite useful especially for long term campaigns.

But overall it’s not 100% reliable in my experience. Better avoid nesting here because the system doesn’t always handle it gracefully. Take note that the main advantage in adopting the spinner approach on SocialOomphis actually in enabling you to post randomized tweets of a kind (e.g. jokes, quotes etc.) at set times. So all you do is upload e.g. 100 quotes in one go and let the system determine which one it will post at your scheduled times e.g.:

{“The days do not acquire a taste until you escape the obligation to have a
destination.” E.M. Cioran|”Tyrants are always assassinated too late. That is their great excuse.” E.M. Cioran|”No good deed goes unpunished.” Oscar Wilde|”Life is too short to learn German.” Oscar Wilde|”Stupidity has a knack of getting its way.” Albert Camus|”Make sure to unfollow your self with dignity.” Rolf England}

Automatic Retweeting

Unlike other Twitter focused apps and services, TweetAdder does not make use of the Twitter API. Rather, it’s a client based desktop tool (Windows only) that simulates usage of Twitter’s Web interface.

Why is this important? Because it allows you to do things (without being caught out!) that Twitter either specifically proscribes or at the very least frowns upon (such as automatic following and unfollowing, repeating tweets etc.) or simply doesn’t offer (e.g. running multiple accounts in parallel, scheduling tweets, randomized posting, bulk uploads etc.) directly not to mention basic stats analysis. If you run it via a set of different proxies, you can easily manage multiple unrelated accounts in parallel, totally on autopilot without anyone being the wiser!

Equally important, TweetAdder lets you select accounts you want to automatically retweet stuff from (e.g. newsbots, favorite tweeps etc.) which you can finetune further by specifying keywords or character strings (e.g. “http://” to ensure the tool will only retweet messages containing links), daily frequency, randomization etc.

Moreover, it has an embedded spinner tool which lets you generate variants in bulk and queue them for publication at a single click – very neat, indeed! (No nested spintax supported, unfortunately, though.) For a one-time fee ranging between $55 and $188 (depending on the number of profiles you want to manage) you’ll get a very well matured and supported tool that can help you save time and effort no end.

Manual Twitter

Unless you’re running a news agency or some tweetbot setup, it’s generally not recommended to automate all your tweeting activities. After all, social networks are about conversations between real people and those aren’t easily automated (or, to call a spade a spade: simulated). So you will want to monitor at least your Mentions plus any messages addressed directly at you in person and requiring some intelligible response.

So do make sure to take care of this aspect – use automation as a welcome aid to save time, labor and effort in your Twitter campaigns, but don’t fall for the brain dead hype of some marketers who will blithely claim that you can “automate social” all the way with impunity.

If in doubt, set up a few test Twitter accounts under some other name using throwaway e-mail addresses to test your setup and refine your approach before risking your existing and established Twitter ID or even your brand name due to some blunder or configuration glitch. (You probably know the insiduous shenanigans of Murphy’s Law…)

A Word On URL Shorteners

There’s plenty of URL shorteners of varying functionality (and, regrettably, reliability) around. Here’s a short list that’s far from comprehensive, of course:

While the primary function of URL shorteners is to save precious characters in tweets, with the expansion and maturing of social marketing another important aspect has emerged: traffic stats analysis. This is, of course, indispensable to all professionally run Twitter campaigns. Many services offer this as a paid extra which will probably serve most basic requirements.

However, if you’re serious about your Twitter marketing, you won’t want to depend on third party services too much – after all, your traffic streams, click-through rates and the overall campaign efficiency (or lack thereof) qualify for sensitive corporate data. Essentially, they are nobody else’s business (especially not your competitors!) and should be protected accordingly.

That’s why larger (or more security sensitive) corporations will generally want to set up their own, proprietary in-house URL shortener solutions rather than put themselves at the mercy of other parties’ performance and possible security flaws.

Should you require a customized URL shortener setup for your company, please contact me directly specifying what you’re looking for exactly. Together with a highly experienced coder partner who once developed one of the leading URL shortener services himself, I may be able to offer you an allround solution to fit your needs. Here’s how you can contact me:

Get in touch with Ralph

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About Ralph Tegtmeier

Ralph Tegtmeier graduated as master of arts from the University of Bonn, Germany, in 1981. He has gained website development and web marketing experience since the fall of 1994. He is the co-founder and principal of GmbH (Belgium), a company specializing in webmaster software development, industrial-strength cloaking, and search engine positioning services.


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