Can Twitter Bots Do The Right Thing?

A 'bot trying to do the best it can.
A ‘bot trying to do the best it can.

You probably know that I enjoy a good Twitter ‘bot or two, so I was so pleased to read two very interesting articles in this morning’s The Daily Beast feed.

A Socially Responsible Twitter ‘Bot

One was about a Twitter ‘bot who watches edits to Wikipedia from computers known to be used by people working for the US Congress. (It tracks the IP addresses, if you want to get all technical). And then this ‘bot publishes the results like so:

As of this morning, @CongressEdits has over 12,000 followers. What’s so cool about this comes in two flavors: a) it can show when politicians (or their staffs) try to alter the record to their benefit and b) the creator of this ‘bot has released it’s code to allow anyone to create a similar ‘bot. A quick glance at @CongressEdits feed shows it retweeting new bots like @phrmaedits who monitor the pharmaceutical industry’s edits of Wikipedia, @reichstagedits who monitors the German Parliament for the same actions, etc. So, totally cool.

Stopping Clickbait One Tweet At A Time

The second article was about a Twitter ‘bot whose mission is to save you from being clickbait. For those of you not familiar with these terms, clickbait is:

(Internet marketing, pejorative) Website content that is aimed at generating advertising revenue, especially at the expense of quality or accuracy, relying on sensationalist headlines to attract click-throughs; such headlines

(Via Wiktionary.) You know the article headline that says “Is Hurricane Oswald Going To Drown Every Man, Woman and Child in Ft. Pierce, Indiana?” just to get you to read the article? That’s clickbait. Anyhow, this Twitter ‘bot, @SavedYouAClick watches out for these clickbait articles and tweets the answers back at them. For example: Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 7.20.34 AM and

  Perhaps not as socially aware as the other ‘bot, but it does have over 126,000 followers.

What sort of ‘bots would help you? Let me know and we’ll see if we can build some.

What’s a Twitter Bot For Anyhow?

Not a twitter bot

In two blog posts (here and here) I explained how easy it is to create a Twitter bot (with no programming at all) that would automatically post links (with hashtags) and images. As I wrote the posts, I created a Fake Kayne West bot during the process who has been up and running now for about a week, mostly tweeting about himself.

He’s not the most exciting bot in the whole world, but, hey it was just an example.

Gain Followers

It wasn’t explicitly stated in the past few posts, but one of the objectives is for your new bot to gather a following. And it can be done! Most of my bots have more followers than I do.

A few weeks ago, I was excited that my Twitter follower count finally eclipsed that of my bot Aristotele Onagio. But then due to his aggressive use of photos in his Twitter stream, he shot way ahead of me.

CRM hourly news

My most successful bot to date, CRMHourlyNews, has just about 2,300 followers. The average number of followers that a Twitter account has is supposedly 200, so I figure, that 2,000+ is pretty good.

There are some uses for Twitter bots with few followers, but it’s a a lot less fun.

Increase Your Tweet Counts

Let’s say you’re a blogger, toiling away writing blog posts about CRM. It can be gratifying and motivating to see the number of tweets (and +1’s, Likes, etc.) growing on your work.

honig blog

What you might not know is that if you (or your WordPress administrator) changes the URL structure in any way, all those counters reset to zero! Now, that’s really uncool.

So, one thing you can use your bot for is to raise those tweet counters.

Sure, you can log in as Fake Kayne West and hit the “tweet” button like 1,000 times, but what’s the fun in that.  (Twitter, by the way, won’t let you do that either.) And if you’re bot is trying to build a following, sending out 1,000 tweets about “Dark Cockpit CRM” is likely to scare most of your followers away.

But if you had an army of bots — or perhaps just a division or two of them — you could use the same techniques that we described to auto-tweet about Kanye to auto-tweet about these blog posts that have lost their counters.

By following Amit Agarwal’s very well done example, you can create RSS feeds from any of your Twitter Bots. Using this newly generated RSS feed, you can then link your bots together, using this technique:

  1. Create the RSS feed for Bot 1
  2. Create the RSS feed for Bot 2
  3. Log into Bot 1’s Twitterfeed account and have Bot 1 autotweet Bot 2’s feed. (For more on using RSS feeds to generate posts, this see my first post on creating a Twitter bot.)
  4. Now do the same for Bot 2.

You need to be a bit careful with this, depending on your RSS feed. You want your Twitter bot to post a link to the source material, not the link to the re-posted tweet itself.  I don’t recommend Twitterfeed for this activity; use IFTTT, and make sure your bots are posting only the {{EntryContent}}.

And you must turn it off manually – don’t forget about it, otherwise the eye in the sky might have something to say.

Will This Help the SEO Rankings of My Posts?

Frankly, I’m not really sure. I’ve done a bit of looking around, and no-one can really say if having a lot of tweets associated with a blog post in any way makes it rank higher in Google’s search algorithm.

The links in Twitter are of the “nofollow” type which is supposed to mean that they don’t carry any weight for Google, but this guy thinks that they might.

Besides the importance to Google of these tweet counts, how will it impact reader behavior? Is a reader more inclined to read an article because it has 5,000 tweets? I’m not sure, but if I was forced to guess, I’d sure say “yes”.

Find Followers and Prospects

Perhaps more interestingly, if you build your Twitter bot properly, it can be used to help you and your business, school, band, team, etc., attract more high quality followers.

Let’s pretend for a minute that we’re a food store that sells high quality cheese, like Formaggio Kitchen in Boston and Cambridge. Here is how using a twitter bot like Aristotele Onagio could help them.

First of all, Aristotele tweets about cheese and Italian food, but also tweets enough about Italian politics, football and random stuff.  He looks enough like a real person that the BBC contacted him on Twitter to ask him to do a radio interview!

Odds are that the people who follow Aristotele are also into cheese and food. If Formaggio Kitchen’s Twitter account were to follow Aristotele’s followers, odds are that they will follow back… and they would be good prospects for the fine goods sold at Formaggio.

(Just to be clear, Formaggio Kitchen looks to be doing an excellent job on Twitter and certainly doesn’t need my or Aristotele’s help, but I’m just using this as an example.)

Using the above mentioned approach, the CRM consulting firm I started and ran for many years doubled our follower count on Twitter in about three months.

And That’s Not All

There are also a whole host of jokes and really annoying things you can also use your bots to do, especially if the people that you’re interested in engaging with don’t know that you’re a bot master.

But I’ll leave that for another post.

Meanwhile, go and create some bots, and see how many followers you can get.

 

How To Create Your Own Twitter Bot, Part 2 (No Programming Required): Auto Tweeting Images

On our last How To Create Your Own Twitter Bot post, I stepped you through the basics of setting up a Bot to auto-tweet using twitter feed and Bing News’ RSS features.

How to Use Google News’ RSS Feeds

google news

Since many of my friends are big fans of Google, and would probably prefer not to use Bing’s service, I thought it would make sense to show how you can use Google News‘ RSS features.

Unfortunately Google News doesn’t work like Bing — there is no simple RSS button that you can grab the feed link. However, you can manually edit the below to include your search term:

https://news.google.com/news/feeds?q=“Kanye West”&output=rss

(For this post, I’m continuing to build out the Twitter Bot I started in my last post, @FakeKayneWest. Naturally you would want to replace “Kanye West” with your search term.)

How to Add Images to Your Bot’s Twitter Stream

Images are incredibly important on Twitter. They’re now showing automatically in user’s timelines, and most people agree that tweets with photos are much more likely to be viewed and clicked on.

onagio image

1.  The first thing you need is a source of images that has a RSS feed. Personally I prefer Flickr. Like Google News, they don’t have a simple way on their website to grab a RSS link of a particular search term.

But, looking through the Flickr RSS documentation, you can create one that will work:

http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?tags=Kanye&format=rss_200

Here is where it gets a bit more complicated. You can’t simply take your RSS link from above and put it back into twitter feed. I’m not sure why, but this just doesn’t work.

But don’t worry, there is a work-around, and it’s pretty cool and will do some other interesting things for your Bot.

ifttt tumblr

2. You’re going to use two great web apps: Tumblr and IFTTT:

Tumblr “lets you effortlessly share anything. Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos from your browser, phone, desktop, email or wherever you happen to be.” You are going to be creating an auto-populated blog of images for your Twitter bot. (See Onagio’s site as an example.)

IFTTT is “a service that lets you create powerful connections with one simple statement: if this, then that” and you are going to use IFTTT to take the feed from Flickr and push it into Tumblr to auto create your blog posts.

Let’s start with Tumblr. Of course you need to create an account, which is somewhat similar to creating one on Twitter. (You should be able to re-use almost everything you thought up before.) And before you know it, you should have a new Tumblr (as the kids call it) under a URL like http://fakekaynewest.tumblr.com/.

Now, create your IFTTT account, and then while logged into Tumblr, select Channels off the top IFTTT menu. You now need to authenticate both the Tumblr and Twitter channels by clicking on their respective icons.

if this then that

Here comes the fun part: creating recipes:

a) Select “Create” on the top menu, the “this” is a RSS feed from Flickr that we created above. (Use the “new feed item” option.) The “that” is your Tumblr blog. (Use the option to “create a new photo post”.) Once you hit “create action” it will be looking every 15 minutes on Flickr for a photo and posting it to your blog.

b) Create your next trigger to send your photo blog from Tumblr to Twitter. The “this” is Tumblr and use “new photo post”. The “that” is Twitter and use “post a tweet with an image”. Now every 15 minutes IFTTT will look at Tumblr and create a tweet if there is a new photo entry.

It might take a bit to start running, so go get a cup of coffee, relax and eventually your Twitter Bot will be doing this over and over again:

Next Steps

This post is getting a bit long, so I’m going to stop here and write some follow-ups to it. Future posts will cover:

How To Create Your Own Twitter Bot, Part 1 (No Programming Required)

Since I’ve come clean about being an organic Twitter bot herder, many people have asked me “hey, Adam, how can I create my own Twitter bot?”

So here is how you do it in a few easy steps:

Plan Your Bot First

1.  Before you do anything on the web, take a moment and think. Who is your bot? What’s their purpose? Are they a fabulous Italian CEO of a software company? Are they a single industry focused new source? Or perhaps a Lt Cmdr 1st & Chief Science Officer aboard the USS Enterprise?

2. Now that you’ve got that set, set up a new Twitter account, don’t use yours! You’re creating a bot here, remember?. Find some photo on the web to be the “face” of your Twitter bot. If you’re creating a bot of the male persuasion, you can look here.

aristotole onagio

Searching for “Italian man” came up with a great photo that I took for the face of Aristotele Onagio. Wish I knew who this guy is in real life.

3.  Once you register for your new Twitter account, don’t forget to follow like 100 random people on Twitter and fully fill out your new bot’s Twitter profile. If you need some suggestions on how to make that engaging, look at Mashable’s guide.

4.  It might seem silly, but these first two steps are really important. You need to be interesting if you want to attract followers. What’s your bot’s back story? As a progressive Italian, Aristotele hates Silvio Berlusconi, so that became a central part of his “personality”.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to step us through setting up a new ‘bot: @FakeKanyeWest:

fake kanye west

Make Your Bot Tweet

twitter feed

4.  Now on to more technical stuff. Sign up for a twitter feed account. Twitter feed is a service that “offers to tweet the last posts published in a blog via the RSS feed.” I find the service a bit slow, but it is extremely useful.

5.  The next step is to find a bunch of RSS feeds to pump into twitter feed. What you don’t have some handy? No worries, Google News and Bing News do.

Let’s start with Bing News — it’s a bit easier. What would Fake Kanye want to tweet about? Why himself, for sure. So, let’s type Kanye West into Bing News. All sorts of new stories show up, and down at the bottom of the page you will see this:

tumblr_inline_myml1fdiLX1qc1v1w

 

Right click on the “subscribe by RSS” link and copy the link.

6.  Heading back to twitter feed, let’s set up a new feed:

twitter feed screen shot

See how I put that link from Bing in there?

Next, go to the “advanced settings”:

advanced settings

Personally, I think setting “Post Content” to “title only” works the best for Twitter. You can change how frequently you want Fake Kanye to post with the “update frequency” drop-down.

twitter feed 2nd screen shot

A bit lower down in the Advanced Settings, is a really important. Posts in Twitter are often found via hash tags, so attaching them to Fake Kanye’s Tweets makes them more noticeable.

Move to “step two” on twitter feed, authenticate your new Twitter account, click “authenticate service” and you have created a auto-tweeting Twitter bot.

Next Steps

This post is getting a bit long, so I’m going to stop here and write some follow-ups to it. Future posts will cover:

Confessions of an Organic Twitter Bot Maker

Valaria Onagio

You’ve probably read the articles about how many ‘bots there are on Twitter, right? Researchers have recently claimed that it could even be 1 in 10 accounts.

Most of the time, based on my own personal experience creating ‘bots, I suspect it’s more like 9 out of 10 accounts.

As you’ll see, my approach to creating bots is hand-crafted. There are Twitter bot factories out there (really!) that churn out the tweets and bots by the thousands or millions. That’s not me.

The Beginnings of My Botishness

Anyhow, my entry into Twitter ‘bot creation started when we needed an account for an April Fool’s Day blog post we were creating. Hence the Twitter account of Aristotele Onagio was born.

Using nothing more than Twitterfeed and the Google News RSS feed, this slightly more polished doppelganger spewed news of Berlusconi, Milan and Italian cheese. In no time, he had more twitter followers than me, and became somewhat of an authority on the changing Italian political scene:

bbc and onagio

With Aristotele going strong, I created the above pictured Valeria Onagio ‘bot whose profile description Amante del cibo, la cucina, i gatti e tutte le cose che indossano calze translates roughly into “a lover of food, cooking, cats and all things that are wearing stockings”.

Listed as the CFO of Onagio Software — no relation to Aristotele — her follower count quickly zoomed over 1,000.

Industry Specific Twitter Bots

CRM HourlyNews

Emboldened by my success, I created industry specific ‘bots, CRM Hourly News (“Every hour, almost on the hour bringing you the top stories from the world of Customer Relationship Management”) which has 2,200+ followers and Social Business Today (500+ followers).

CRM Hourly News seems to compete with ‘bots like Daryl Shaber (mostly RT’s about Salesforce.com) and BlissLogix (who also does mostly the same thing).

Hard to tell who is winning, but it’s amusing to watch the bots tweet at each other.

Slower Burns

Now, not all my bots have gone on to fame and fortune. My No Jerks twitter bot never really took off, despite interesting content.

I created a bot for my wife’s law firm, White & Associates, which only recently cracked 100 followers, which is quite low for 11,000 tweets!

Creating a bot seems to be more than generating tweets and hashtags.

What Next for the Bot Maker?

With the recent changes in Twitter, my bots have been trying to post more pictures, which seems to be a bit more complicated:

I’ve been using tools like IFTTT to help with this, along with Tumblr specific photo blogs, but what I’d really like to do is start writing some simple programs that talk directly to the Twitter API as described here in The New Yorker.

Unfortunately traveling around and my day job have been keeping me from taking this move. Perhaps I should just take a few days off to focus on this? Valeria would be pleased.

Learn More

Don’t just take my word for it, it’s easy to create bots. I wrote a few blogs describing how. Give it a try. Or instead you can also follow my Twitter list of my bots here: https://twitter.com/adamhonig/lists/social-friends, but watch out for Valeria’s images — she seems to be posting often inappropriate (and NSFW) pictures of people wearing stockings.

Wow, that was bad: 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form

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I’ve been enjoying using Twitter recently — mostly for work related issues — and when I saw a book that was called ‘a style guide for the short form’, I thought that this would be interesting.

Unfortunately 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form isn’t a style guide, nor is it really that interesting. The book itself seems to be written on Twitter as each of the sentences is a short declarative statement, often without much regard to the overall context of the chapter. Turns out that this ‘style’ is very annoying to read in a book format.

Regarding style there have been almost no stylistic advice in the first half of the book. Does ‘don’t tweet while drunk’ count as a style comment? Or does recommending not to put two spaces after a period in a post? Perhaps the latter was useful but only if you really don’t understand how to count.

The Economist publishes a version of their style guide on-line. I think their introduction below provides a much better set of rules to follow than anything you’ll find in 140 Characters:

Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible. Keep in mind George Orwell’s six elementary rules (“Politics and the English Language”, 1946):

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.