Being popular on Twitter can serve many purposes:-
- If you’re in business, it can bring you customers;
- If you’re trying to help a charity, it can attract supporters;
- If you want up-to-the-minute in-depth news coverage, it can provide it – and can even use your help to get the news out there; and
- If you want friends it can help you make them – in almost any country you can think of.
There’s one thing that can make or mar your poularity with Twitter users very quickly, though.
We like you to be HUMAN.
Well, actually living and breathing will do fine – I’ve just been asked to vote on the best animal tweeter, and been confronted with every kind you can imagine, from a West Highland White Terrier called Frugal Dougal to Aleksandr Orlov of comparethemeerkat.com.
The one thing you can’t expect to get away with being is a robot.
Yes, I realize that may sound like species discrimination, but that’s the way it is.
It’s not that I don’t like robots. Far from it – I love them. I’d be lost without the digital program guide that switches the TV to the proper channel when I’d forgotten about something that I’d planned to see.
I’d be lost far worse without my Thinking Rock, which manages all my ideas, projects, appointments and to-do lists for me, and never once complains of being over-worked and unappreciated.
Yes, I’m a tremendous fan of robots – until they get ideas above their station and start trying to convince me that they’re human.
These robots have now set their sights on Twitter, and I’m beginning to think that someone’s switched on Skynet.
First, there was the deluge of tweets that promised “thousands of new followers each week” (one or two were modest, and only promised hundreds). What they did agree on, though, was that we could have them all “on auto-pilot”.
Now, look – I don’t care how clever a robot you are, any human would have known that a promise like that coming from an account that’s managed to get only 56 followers out of following 2,000 (honestly!) does not say much for the autopilot’s sense of direction. I certainly don’t want to be on any plane it’s flying.
Most of us have probably just got used to marking these accounts as spam and otherwise ignoring them – so the robot world is now perfecting Plan B. This robot doesn’t merely autopilot you to followers – it actually does your tweeting for you.
All of it.
Now, I’m not referring to the services that let you send tweets automatically at hours when you’re not on Twitter. They require you to write your own tweets, and just send them out for you.
That’s very usefful. Once you have Twitter followers in different time zones, or even different continents (and with Twitter being worldwide, it generally isn’t very long before you do), there isn’t any other way that you can interact with all of them, and merely automating the time you send a message doesn’t impact on the message that you send.
It may be some kind of unfair species-prejudice, but what sends most of us humans screaming for the nearest screwdriver to stick into the robotic works is the type of random, totally irrelevant banality that neither informs nor entertains, and is completely unresponsive to the people it’s addressed to.
I admit that I initially was taken in by these. I responded to several enquiries as to whether the sun was shining where I was (as that one regularly arrives at 2am our time, it’s not), what everyone is twittering about today (I managed NOT to say, “Just read our tweets, why don’t ya?!”) or whether I ever get a song stuck in my head (yes, especially when I’m reading one of those. You really do not want to know the words).
At first I innocently believed I was encouraging new tweeters by responding to these messages, and was puzzled as to why I never, ever, got one solitary reply. Only when I began to see the same messages arriving, day after day, from the same sources did I begin to realize what was going on.
I should also point out to autopilots that we humans don’t have all that good a sense of humor. Yes, we can laugh at ourselves a little – but it has to come from us. Being made fools of by a robot does nothing for our self-esteem – or for our temper.
It has to be my most cringe-worthy moment on Twitter so far when someone gently pointed out that the “person” I’d very publicly congratulated on his amazing command of several languages was actually a robot sending random auto-tweets. I keep promising myself I’ll see the funny side.
Most of us on Twitter want more followers, whether it’s to market to or find new friends who share our interests (and, in many cases, both). I think it’s fair to say that all of us who tweet, and who respond to other people’s messages, expect and want to talk to someone with a pulse – and, equally importantly, a mind.
So, if you’re human, please feel free to follow me on Twitter (and I almost always follow back). If, on the other hand, you are an autopilot, please, please resign from Twitter and go back to flying planes.