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What Twitter's Automation Crackdown Means for Your Business

Twitter recently made drastic changes to their rules around automation. While this might make some marketers very nervous, the reality is that it opens the door for businesses to build strategies around genuine engagement. We'll explain exactly what that means, and show how to run a successful Twitter marketing strategy despite the automation crackdown.

In January of 2018, Twitter announced they would be changing Tweetdeck and their API, in order to “limit the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts.” They also limited the ability to like, retweet, and follow across multiple accounts controlled by a single user.

Twitter set March 23, 2018, as the final day for users and businesses that use their API to come into compliance with the new guidelines. Their intent? Cutting back on the use of bots and automation on Twitter to foster a more genuine use of their platform.

Let’s explore what the crackdown is about, and what it means for you.

What Changes Did Twitter Make?

As of March 23, Twitter no longer allows identical (or nearly identical) content from the same, or multiple, accounts. This includes scheduled tweets that are identical or extremely similar.

To make this shift, Twitter has updated TweetDeck, which no longer includes the option to select multiple accounts for a single tweet. They also prohibit the use of liking, following, or retweeting across multiple accounts. 

Chime-twitters-latest-changes-inline@2x.png#asset:176

Duplicate content would of course include straight text tweets, as well as images, UTM URLs, and duplicate URLs.

Twitter also no longer allows the use of rapid automated following and unfollowing of Twitter users in order to boost followers. A recent post on Twitter’s developer blog breaks down their updated policies:

Posting duplicate or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts you control, or creating duplicate or substantially similar accounts, with or without the use of automation, is never allowed.

Posting multiple updates (on a single account or across multiple accounts you control) to a trending or popular topic (for instance, through the use of a specific hashtag) with an intent to subvert or manipulate the topic, or to artificially inflate the prominence of a hashtag or topic, is never allowed.

The one caveat which Twitter allows for are accounts that broadcast weather, emergencies, or public service announcements. These accounts are authorized to post multiple identical tweets if they are verified by Twitter.

Why Did Twitter Make These Changes?

There are quite a few reasons that Twitter enacted these policy changes. Namely, Twitter aims to:

  • Reduce spam
  • Reduce artificial trending
  • Reduce false engagement
  • Reduce inflated numbers
  • Reduce noise and simplify user experience
  • Reduce unethical practices

It’s no secret that Twitter has a spam problem. By reducing identical automated posts, Twitter is hoping to reduce the amount of spam experienced by their users.

Another concern Twitter hopes to address with the crackdown is inflated numbers, followers, and trends. When an entity uses many accounts to post identical posts and hashtags, it can artificially increase the popularity of certain accounts or hashtags.

For instance, if an individual uses 500 accounts to incorporate a specific hashtag, the specific hashtag will artificially place higher on the trending list. If those same 500 accounts follow a particular user, it also inaccurately inflates the number of followers that person has.

Additionally, if there are a large number of fake bot accounts trolling real accounts, it can give the impression that thoughts and ideas are more prevalent than they actually are. This makes it easy for propaganda to be injected into the realm of social media.

The final—and perhaps most compelling reason—Twitter enacted this crackdown is that they wanted to reduce unethical (and often politically charged) campaigns on Twitter.

Take, for instance, the most recent presidential election. It has been confirmed that the 2016 United States presidential election was tampered with by Russians, through the use of automated bots.

Twitter stated that there were over 50,000 Russia-linked bots that meddled with the election. Since then, Twitter has removed thousands of accounts from their services in an attempt to reduce fake bot accounts.

In an explanation of their crackdown, Twitter writes, “These changes are an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter — including elections in the United States and around the world.”

What Does Twitter's Crackdown Mean For You?

While the full impact of these changed policies may not be clear for a number of months, there are some things we do know at this point in time.

Grouped businesses cannot post identical or nearly identical content. A good example of this is how news media outlets who have multiple pages, or focuses of interest, will no longer be able to post the same content on all of their accounts.

This is also true with other business accounts. Should a parent company own multiple Twitter accounts for each of their businesses, it will no longer be allowed to mass tweet information.

Another example is employee engagement and using employees to post similar content to their Twitter accounts. Employees at a company can no longer tweet pre-formatted posts through copying and pasting. Each employee will need to produce new and unique content, or change the original tweet enough to pass the new standards.

Due to these changes, marketing strategies may take more time or effort in order to produce unique content. This can be discouraging news for marketers who are already managing multiple accounts, but it is definitely possible to keep using social media as a viable marketing platform.

How to Keep Marketing Effectively on Twitter

Training for TwitterTime to train on how to keep your Twitter marketing game top-notch.

Twitter’s new automation rules have the potential to create some inconveniences for people and businesses who are already using their accounts ethically, with no intent to spam other Twitter users.

While it is true that it may now be more time consuming to create a marketing campaign on Twitter, one thing is abundantly clear in business—quality content will always triumph no matter the platform or media. With this in mind, here are the things that will help marketers succeed after Twitter’s new crackdown:

1. Create Great Content

Twitter’s new guidelines may equal more development time on the platform, but the guidelines establish a good opportunity for marketers to mold unique, quality content. This is always a good marketing strategy, because people respond to genuine connections.

The use of automation and bots can be pretty noticeable to social media followers, especially when the automation is generic in nature. Savvy Twitter users may feel that too much automation creates a detached and untrustworthy interaction—nobody wants to see the same exact tweet over and over again.

Being forced to personalize your tweets may take a few more minutes than before, but in the long term, you will increase your chances of engagement and retweets among users who feel an actual connection to your content.

It should also be noted that the new guidelines are in many ways helpful to businesses and customers alike. While most people would rather engage with a real human being rather than a bot, it is equally important that businesses have engagement with real people. Bots may inflate numbers and make it appear like a certain user or company is popular, however, bots are highly unlikely to make purchases. With bots sharing an estimated 66% of popular links on Twitter, it’s a push in the right direction.

2. Use Limited Automation to Limit Mistakes

Coca Cola Bottles

Even the big companies like Coca-Cola have fallen prey to automation blunders.

The lack of human oversight is a compelling reason to avoid heavy Twitter automation.  This became abundantly clear in 2015 when Coca-Cola launched an automated campaign called #makeithappy, in which they turned negative tweets into cute art images, using ASCII lettering code.

The campaign was quickly overtaken by the website Gawker, and the automation took a dark turn. The people at Gawker tweeted quotes from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and waited to see if Coca Cola’s algorithm would turn it into cute art. Unfortunately, it did.

A similar mishap occurred with the New England Patriots. The Patriots set up an automated response to fellow Twitter users, which retweeted tweets written by players on the team. In response, the Twitter user’s handle would be posted on an image of the Patriot’s jersey.

Unfortunately, one Twitter user took the Patriots’ automated campaign as an opportunity to place a racial slur on the Patriot’s jersey. The image remained live for over an hour—and was retweeted over a thousand times—before it was taken down. While automation can be a handy tool, it’s often important (not to mention less embarrassing) to have a live person overseeing a marketing campaign.

Twitter acknowledges that some automated campaigns are still acceptable. For instance, they allow their users to, “run creative campaigns that auto-reply to users who engage with your content,” and to, “build solutions that automatically broadcast helpful information in Tweets.”

While it is not okay to send automated replies to people who are using specific keyword searches, it is okay to send automated replies to people who respond to a tweet on your account. It's also okay to run campaigns in which people receive automated responses if you make it clear up front that an action such as retweeting will result in a response from the company.

3. Focus on Relevant, Conversational Communication

Remember: at its core, Twitter is about communication. While images dominate Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, and are often used with great success on Twitter, Twitter is first and foremost about conversations. And conversations are best when they happen between real people.

A great way to communicate with other Twitter users is to keep your tweets relevant. If it’s a holiday—whether major or minor—plan your tweets to reflect the trend and remain a participant. Check out the hashtags that are trending, and join in.  

Another way to remain relevant is to post tweets responding to major events in the world. The 2018 Olympics, the Golden Globes, or the 2017 solar eclipse were all good examples of trending topics that could be used to give a business more visibility. See what events catch on next, and jump into the mix.

Also, try to make your tweets conversational. People love answering questions, even if they are easy to answer and ultimately inconsequential. They like to feel like the business they’re checking out actually cares about them and their responses.

4. Keep Scheduling Posts

While Twitter no longer allows scheduled posts that include identical information, it is absolutely okay to continue using scheduled posts. This is a very useful way of maintaining a presence on Twitter without having to connect in real time.

5. Creatively Incorporate Images and Media

Images and videos on Twitter can be very useful. Images are far more likely toinspire engagement than text alone, and videos even more so than text and images combined.

With images, animated gifs, and videos, it is very possible to create an inviting atmosphere to potential customers. By including humor, storytelling, tutorials, educational videos, meet-the-employee videos and images, and more, it can give your Twitter feed a very welcoming persona.

Blogs are an incredibly helpful way to engage with the public, and Twitter is an excellent way to promote blog posts. One way to create unique content while still promoting a single blog post is by selecting new images each time you plug your blog. Most blog posts will include more than one image or graphic, and Twitter allows you to select which featured image you would like to use when you post an image tweet or a link.

When you share a link a second time, you can change the featured image, thereby making it a unique post and not breaking Twitter’s new guidelines. This gives many more opportunities to create diverse content while still guiding potential customers back to your business site.

6. Proceed Cautiously with UTMs and URLs

In regards to UTMs and coding for API, Twitter takes an intentionally vague stance. A February statement from a staff member at Twitter explained:

We do understand that for developers, any level of vagueness regarding the precise details of policy enforcements are difficult to deal with and specifically, to code responsibly for. This is one of the issues especially when talking about our adaptive posting / write limits for API actions. As a developer myself, I get that it would be far more understandable to provide direct metrics or enforcement algorithms!

The issue here is that by being completely explicit about the boundaries, the bad folks will be digging in for loopholes. However, we know that the vast majority of responsible developers and application owners also understand that the platform needs to be able to adapt to unexpected circumstances and bad actors, and we thank you for your understanding in those situations. 

In other words, Twitter recognizes that coding is forever changing, and those who choose to abuse platforms will perpetually be looking for ways to manipulate a system. That is why they are slow to make hard and fast boundaries. For those who want to avoid a potential grey area, they can review Twitter’s own analytic system

It is no longer acceptable to post the same content including the same URL over and over. There should, however, be no issues when a link is used surrounded by unique content. As mentioned above, when re-posting a single blog post, you can use new images in order to pass the new guidelines. Plus it’s just a better experience for your audience.

The bottom line is to not post identical, or nearly identical content. If you’re posting a link to your business, simply create new ways to promote your link instead of reposting the same exact copy again.

It’s important to challenge the difference between malicious and non-malicious content in regards to Twitter’s new guidelines. Twitter understands that people use their platform in order to promote businesses, and will not link back to their businesses only one time. If this was their expectation, people would quickly move on because their single URL tweet would quickly be lost in Twitter-space. Instead, Twitter wants to curb the spamming of Twitter users and has raised the expectations for the way their platform is used.

RT with Caution

If you would really like to have multiple accounts present the same information, you can retweet information in moderation. However, Twitter cautions users to, “please note that bulk, aggressive, or very high-volume automated Retweeting is not permitted under the Automation Rules, and may be subject to enforcement actions.”

Twitter’s automation and bot crackdown may seem like a foreboding issue for experienced social media marketers, but with a few tweaks, they will weather this storm. With each challenge, savvy marketing professionals become more creative, finding new and exciting ways to engage with their communities. This crackdown is just a bump in the road of great marketing campaigns.

And those of us who are first to adapt to the new rules have a great opportunity to gain an advantage over our competition—which is  why it’s so important to trust your social marketing to an expert, like the ones here at Chime.

Kelso Kennedy

Kelso Kennedy

CoFounder @RedStampAgency - Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the year. He likes Business, Technology, Hockey and Life.

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