Posted May 25, 2011 11:22 am by with 6 comments

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That headline seems funny in this day and age doesn’t it? You half expect automation everywhere you turn but in certain areas automation just doesn’t cut it. One of the areas where it is less and less attractive is social media and apparently the New York Times is taking the hint.

According to an article at

The New York Times is turning off the automatic feed for its main Twitter account this week in an experiment to determine if a human-run, interactive approach will be more effective.

Social media editors Liz Heron and Lexi Mainland are taking turns running the@nytimes account during weekday business hours, hand-picking and writing the tweets and engaging with readers.

What you’ll see: “@” replies conversing with users, retweets of non-Times accounts and more engagement opportunities for followers.
Well I guess the humanization of social media is getting close to being a reality if the “Old gray Lady” has decided that it has to, ahem, actually converse wit their readers.

To think that this is something that is treated as news is pretty funny considering all the talk of social media being ‘interactive’. Despite the daily in and day out clamoring of this concept among the social media industry it’s taken a lot longer for it to get to people who don’t waste inordinate amounts of time talking to people in the same industry about the same stuff over and over again (that’s the social media industry in case you are a little slow today).

The Poynter article continues

It’s a departure from the normal “cyborg” approach, Heron told me, which combines an automated headline-and-a-link feed of homepage stories with occasional contributions from the social media editors. That combination has created a bad perception: “that it’s mostly an RSS feed of auto headlines,” Heron said.

This week’s experiment “is about changing the perception, and it’s about being a little more strategic about what we put out there — finding the most engaging content.”

By calling this an “experiment,” the Times is implying that the outcome is yet unknown. I’d say it’s really more of a demonstration: an effort by the social media staff to prove to the rest of the newsroom that the paper’s main Twitter feed deserves additional resources to maintain this human-driven, personal approach.

I think this ‘experiment’ should be fun to watch and one that may need some assist from people who really want to see this medium become the communications tool it is purported to be.

Interestingly enough, the paper probably already realizes that having two people manage an account with close to 3.3 million followers could get unruly. As a result they are running this initial go for a week. My guess is that since most people are so used to the Twitter stream being just headlines they may not even see the difference in a week’s time because they are blind to what the Times is saying. I have several feeds I ‘follow’ that in reality I simply ignore because it’s not engaging. I keep them active as a ‘just in case’ but rarely do I really give them any notice. People may be ‘tweet blind’ to a cyborg headline feed like the Times has done up to this point. I know I can be.

So what’s you take on this experiment from the NY Times? Is it an ‘well it’s about time!’ kind of reaction or is a ‘could care less’ take for you?

  • Aly

    “To think that this is something that is treated as news is pretty funny considering all the talk of social media being ‘interactive’. ”

    – – My exact thought when I read this was “Funny how this is a novel idea when isn’t being interactive supposed to be what social media is all about?” Great minds think alike? 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Frank!

    • My first thought was Times reporters passing hand written notes down a human chain until someone finally types it in on Twitter to share it – using PEOPLE for Twitter feed.

  • I’m for having a “cyborg” style Twitter feed to act sort of as really, REALLY, simple syndication alongside a “human” feed.
    This change fits in nicely with the NYT’s “don’t be stupid” social media policy:

  • Social Media is about interactive dialogue – not sure how an automated feed can fulfil the role effectively!

    At Adorama Camera we have 7 Twitter accounts and each one is managed by real people in real time alongside the other work we do, so that we can integrate our individual areas of expertise within the Twitter feeds.

    We aim to respond to customer queries by providing not only timely, expert help and support from within our individual departments, but also by utilizing the feedback from our customers to improve and develop our services to more effectively meet our customers’ needs.

    Helen Oster
    Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador

  • It sounds like a much better approach, it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out, and if they’ll keep it up.

  • I think going off automation is a great idea. I’m on Twitter constantly at work (@bandhphoto) and always found the mindless repetitive nature of @NYTtweets unproductive to say the least. I was tickled when I found, after responding to a tweet regarding the ways to pronounce the names of various NYC roadways, they’d picked up my comment and included it in a follow-up article.

    I’ve said this before, Social media is ME talking to YOU but never forgetting I’m doing so in a huge room full or people all of whom can overhear the conversation and any of whom may be interested at any moment.

    Where I work we maintain half-a-dozen Twitter accounts. Each is manned by a human. We overlap sometimes but we try to be open and available and responsive and I don’t see how automation furthers that goal.

    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video