Humans vs. ‘Bots’: A Look At Who Wins At Engagement On Social Media

June 5, 2014

Ever wonder if there’s a real person behind those tweets you’re reading? Well, we now have a little bit of insight. The Nieman Journalism Lab took a look at how several news organizations go about managing their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Joseph Lichterman at Nieman Lab breaks down the findings giving us a little insight into the implications of tweets written by humans vs. an automated feed of headlines.


He spoke with social media editors at the Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times and USA Today along with several others. The consensus was pretty clear among the group: humans are simply better at engagement than your average ‘bot.’


Eric Carvin, a social media editor at The Associated Press says it’s rare that they go with an automated approach saying they operate under the belief that, “The ideal wording for a headline or photo or video caption isn’t necessarily the same as the ideal wording for a tweet or other social post.” And Anna Gonzalez a social media manager at CNN backed this theory up saying, “The highest engagement is a direct result of tweets with voice.”  


And this only seems to be a growing trend. Back in 2011 the @BBCNews twitter account moved away from its feed during the day. The BBC's head of social media, Chris Hamilton, told, “auto-feeds are fine for getting your stuff out but humans produce better tweets.”


But, we’ve all seen a few tweets that sure look like they’re automated. So someone’s gotta be doing it, right? Daniel Victor of the New York Times explains a strategy that’s a bit different. He told Lichterman they use a little bit of ‘bot’ and along with touch of human. In this case, stories are automatically pushed to social media as they are published. From there a social media team sifts through the content and selects the stories they think have Twitter potential. Victor backs up The Times’ strategy with a few advantages of automatizing the process. Speed, reliability and time seem to be the biggest influencers. And Mary Nahorniak at USA Today says her team uses a similar method saying, “it’s not the best experience for Twitter, it also covers us in getting important news out 24/7.”


So what about here at Newsy? We’re 100% human. For more on the findings check out the full article here.