Why automation isn’t always your friend

It must be the time of year.  Last January 13th, I had a real rant about Twitter nothings – and it’s probably one of the best things I wrote last year.  Yesterday, I lashed out again.  Well, I expect it was perceived that way; I really wanted to be an educational wake-up call, but I think I failed.  The object of my ire?  Automatic listings tweets from Etsy (though there are plenty of other websites/apps/services that do something similar).

On Twitter (@yarnscape, boys and girls!) I follow a lot of designer/makers.  Quite a lot use Etsy, an online marketplace for artisans, crafters, artists and supply retailers (my shop is here, for anyone that doesn’t know).  Etsy offers this hand-dandy little feature where you can tweet about a new listing in your shop automatically.  Cool!  Except the tweet is written by formula, and contains no human interest whatsoever.  Add to this the problem that most folks will upload 5, 1o, 20 new listings in a single session, and your twitter feed is suddenly filled with a list similar to the following:

FromUsername: This is the title of the thing I just listed! by EtsyUserName Link to Etsy goes here via @Etsy

FromUsername: This is the title of another thing I just listed! by EtsyUserName Link to Etsy goes here via @Etsy

FromUsername: This is the title of a cool thing I just listed! by EtsyUserName Link to Etsy goes here via @Etsy

FromUsername: Guess what?  Another thing I just listed! by EtsyUserName Link to Etsy goes here via @Etsy

FromUsername: How many things will I list today?  by EtsyUserName Link to Etsy goes here via @Etsy

FromUsername: Do you really think anyone is still reading?  by EtsyUserName Link to Etsy goes here via @Etsy

Did you read all those posts?  How about if there were two or three times as many?  How about if you’re trying to catch up on Twitter in a hurried five minute coffee break, and I spam your twitter list with something similar a couple of times a week?  How many of those links do you think you will click?  I believe that not many people are going to read them all.  In fact, most people won’t even read one: they will scan straight down past the list to where the ‘interesting’ stuff starts again.

Personally, I would much rather read something like this:

yarnscape: I’m really proud of the things I’ve made this week; listings are here <insert link>.  This is my fave: <insert link> – you?

(you could split that into 2 tweets if you needed to, for the 140 char limit).  That sort of tweet injects personality, emotion and preference into the world, and asks people to start a conversation to boot.  Much more engaging, no?

My philosophy is this: Twitter is a social network.  It works best if people are social, not just announce-y.  If all you do is post lists of listings, then (unless you are really, really sought after, cult status style) you are not being interesting enough for people to keep following you.  You will end up with a list of followers who feel they would hurt your feelings if they left (immediate family + best friends), and people who don’t use Twitter much anyway.  If you mostly sell to your Mum and your mates, then you may have a larger selling issue that Twitter isn’t going to address – and if most of your followers log in once a month, what’s the point of tweeting to them?

Personally, I sell on Etsy and use Twitter to help promote my shop.  However, I *am* irritated by bulk auto-tweets, and I *do* unfollow people who exceed a certain threshold.  But this wasn’t really about my irritation with a person; I just want people to think more about the kind of things they’d like to read on Twitter, then compare that to what they’re sending out.  It’s not just annoying; I believe there are *much* better ways to use Twitter for the same ends.