Will Twitter’s new terms call time on council feeds?

Twitter’s new terms of service were launched last week, to general acclaim from users. The new terms aim to tackle the rising tide of spam that threatens to engulf Twitter, as well as prepare the ground for the arrival of advertising.

The refreshed Twitter Rules spell out a number of different reasons why you may find your Twitter account terminated. In calling time for inappropriate avatars,  squatting and multiple, near-identical accounts, the new rules turn into policy what was already established moderating practice.

The new terms emphasise the personal touch, stating that you’ll be in violation of the terms of service  “if your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates.”

Now this could cause a real headache for councils, the vast majority of whom use feeds to automatically tweet stories and releases. In banning all bots, the new terms would appear to call time  for many councils on Twitter.

Stuart Harrison suggests councils mitigate the risk by personalising their tweets, supplementing feed stories with replies and additional information.

Whilst I agree councils aren’t currently making the best use of Twitter – using it as a broadcast medium with which to distribute press releases – I’m not sure many councils will be able to do this.

I expect that over the coming months and years more councils will follow Brighton’s lead and recruit dedicated social media officers. But until that happens few have the resources to really put the social into social media.

Right now it’s not clear how – or indeed if – Twitter will police this. But if they do start banning all automated feeds, I’m not sure many councils will have the capacity  to change tack quickly and keep their feeds running.

That would be a real shame. As Liz Azyan found, more councils are using Twitter than any other social platform (30% at the last count). The relatively swift adoption of Twitter is a rare example of council officers embracing social media and, well, JFD-ing it.

If Twitter starts banning councils for automated feeds, it’s unlikely many will have the determination or resources to get their feeds running again. Councils are inherently risk-adverse, and if we get burned with this it could be a real setback for social media in local government.

The problem is, the new terms imply that all bots are bad. Yet plenty of users don’t think they are.

I think of Twitter as a one-stop information resource. The personal touch is part of what makes Twitter so useful (the ability to ask questions on seemingly any subject and get a string of useful answers in minutes is really invaluable). But announcements from companies and organisations are often genuinely useful too, and Twitter would be a poorer place without them.

Like bad pubs, bad feeds are easy to spot and easy to avoid.

Fortunately, it’s not just councils and PRs who might fall foul of the new rules; many news organisations, such as the Guardian and CNN, use RSS feeds to Twitter latest stories.

And this is where we’re likely to see some push-back. Many automated feeds are demonstrably popular, and Twitter is unlikely to want to get on the wrong side of the powerful media organisations currently using their service by banning their feeds.

That being the case, I suspect (and hope) Twitter will use their discretion and separate the good bots from the bad.

What do you think? Is Twitter right to ban bots?

10 thoughts on “Will Twitter’s new terms call time on council feeds?

  1. Sharon

    as I commented on Stuart’s post about this it’s actually not new. I found this out when setting up @PubSecBloggers .

    From all that I’ve read we are all dependent on Twitter’s good will but it’s also worth remembering that it is possible to accidentally break the T&Cs in other ways than this one.

  2. interesting – one of my criteria for if a tweet was worth tweeting has aways been is there a link in it

    (otherwise you get into the realm of egotweeting/ telling people what you had for breakfast – see some of @SadiqKhan – he is praised as ‘connecting with people’ but he is my MP and I just find it dull!)

    Obviously there are exceptions but usually links are the most intersting tweets esp given the 140 limit.

  3. Well, perhaps the new rules will encourage councils to develop a relationship with their twitter audience. Isn’t that the basis of good marketing? Not just issuing automated and boring communications. Perhaps it will encourage them to plan more strategically and have a dialogue with their communities.

    • I agree, in an ideal world councils would develop a two-way relationship with their audience and have their tweets written by real people.

      Longer term I think we’ll see more councils recruiting dedicated social media officers who can take on that task.

      But until then the job falls to already overstretched council web and comms teams. Lacking dedicated resources to manage social media means they have little choice but to take the less personal approach, and/or rely on automated feeds.

  4. As I said on my blog, I don’t think councils need to worry too much, this is one of those rules that everyone breaks, like doing 80mph on the motorway. Twitter are only going to use it as justification to take down accounts that are abusive in other ways (i.e. mass following and other such spammy behaviour).

    Most of the time, council accounts are going to be way under Twitter’s radar, only multiple blocks or spam reports are going to flag them up and that’ll only happen if a lot of people on Twitter *really* hate the council!

    • I have never done 80mph on the motorway, so there. Ok, I can’t drive, but anyway…

      It all comes down to the enforcement, I guess. Twitter have bigger fish to fry than councils, and there’s enough major corporations using bot-fuelled feeds who’d kick up a fuss in the event of mass banning that it’s unlikely they’d consider it.

      Nonetheless, the new rules provide a wake-up call to councils, encouraging them to think about how they can move towards using social media for more meaningful, two-way engagement.

  5. Shouldn’t this be the choice of the follower instead of Twitter amending their T of S? Knowing that Tweets are automated isn’t a problem. If you don’t like them then just unfollow them.

    • I agree: bad feeds are very easy to avoid; just don’t follow them. Twitter’s setup makes things you’re not interested in very easy to ignore.

  6. Perhaps Twitter could implement a ‘verified’ scheme similar to what they’ve started to do for celebs? If they get verification that the tweets are originating from the council (and not someone posing as the council) then they’ll allow it.

    Alternatively, allow Twitter staff to decide whether an account is ‘spammy’ or not based on where the links are headed. If they’re all heading to whatever.gov.uk, they’re more likely to be ignored than onlinepharmacy.co.uk 🙂

    • Now that is a good idea. I’ve heard talk of Twitter establishing pro accounts for companies, so perhaps they’ll pitch that as one of the advantages of going pro.

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