And click-through rates by 284%

We’ve all been there.

You’re checking your Twitter messages and there it is.

You are the head social media strategist for a ginormous company, and some person that you don’t even know is trying to sell you his e-book about social media strategy. This freaking guy! He only has 300 followers! Why on earth would you even think about downloading his e-book?

You wouldn’t. And now you are eternally annoyed.

Auto-engagement campaigns on Twitter are an extremely popular growth hack, and a good way to engage with your Twitter audience, but when done wrong, they cross the line from valuable to annoying.

They have become an undeniable bane of the Twitter community. When done incorrectly, they can be irritating, get you unfollows, or even blocked.

But let me blow your mind for a second…

They can actually work! (When done right)

And I’ve got proof.

That’s right!

When done properly, auto-engagements can actually help increase your Twitter following growth rate. Seriously.

Not only that, they can help you connect with the people in your audience that you actually want to connect with! Crazy, right?

As long as you have the tools to pull it off correctly, and you know what you want to accomplish, you can create an auto-engagement campaign that could literally increase your Twitter follower growth rate by 453%.

And you’ll only piss off about one in every thousand people. #TrueStory, but we will get to that a little later…

Before I get into the logistics of how to pull this off, I want to give you a little background about the auto-engagements I’m going to focus on.

The power of auto-engagements does not come from direct messaging (DM’ing) total strangers, which is kind of like whispering to someone next to you on the subway, “Psst, buy my product.”

In fact, I recommend holding off on auto-DM campaigns. Any well-crafted campaign that you can run as a whisper to a complete stranger would be better served as a public (and polite) @Mention.

Also, DM campaigns are less effective because everyone is doing them, and most people are doing them wrong. The general Twitter user has received so many terrible messages about things they don’t want so frequently, that most have developed a bit of “DM blindness.” I know I sure have at least.

In contrast, most people still get a little excited when they see someone has mentioned them on Twitter.


So why mention someone publicly instead of whisper to them privately?

Well, because of the very nature of social media:

Social media marketing is word-of-mouth marketing, online.

Social media is word-of-mouth marketing, online. Click To Tweet

Think about that for a second…

If you are being a good “online” word-of-mouth marketer, you know you need to provide immense value, not sell anything up front, listen to your audience, and most of all:

Engage with people in a public setting and let others join in on the conversation.

By mentioning someone publicly, you elicit a natural human response as if you had addressed someone by name at a networking event. And as Mari Smith says, “A person’s name is the sweetest word in their vocabulary.”


How Auto Mentions Work

Auto-mention campaigns allow you to target users who have specific words or phrases in their name or bio when they complete a specific action or actions (like follow, favorite or retweet).

When you mention someone (using their Twitter handle at the beginning of your Tweet), only you, them, and your shared followers will see it. But if you DM someone, it’s just the two of you.

And that’s the trick.

Not all of Twitter is seeing every single auto-engagement that you send, so you aren’t broadcasting yourself to the entire Twitterverse every time you mention someone. But, a select few other people are seeing these events, and it gives them a chance to engage on the conversation that you’ve started.

Alternatively, if you do want the Twitterverse to see your mention, simply add a character or word before the Twitter handle (most commonly a period – “.”).

So here’s an example of how an auto-mention campaign might work:

Let’s say you are the owner of a digital marketing agency that specializes in helping small businesses in Tampa.

You can set up your campaign to mention anyone that follows you from Tampa with the phrase “business owner” in their bio, and direct them to a piece of content on your blog that you think might be relevant to them.

Or, maybe you have a small business related Pinterest board. You can direct them there instead!

Whatever your goal is, you can make sure that the right people are seeing what you want them to see, and warm up a relatively cold audience or new follower by showing them a little bit more about you.

Not only that, but if you have shared followers, they will see this interaction and be given the chance to favorite, retweet, or better yet, follow the link (or you) as well.


The Downside of Auto Mentions

Like many powerful tools in social media, it has its fair share of abuse and misuse.

I need to point out that auto-engagements, no matter how well considered, will still probably aggravate someone. Your auto-engagement “machine” will not be perfect, and you may send out a double (or even triple) engagement depending on how you’ve set yourself up.

This is the risk you take when you adopt an automated social media tactic, and it happens all the time with automated drip email campaigns, pop-up boxes, etc.

We were confronted by a firm adversary to the auto-mention campaign who also happens to be a well-respected Social Media blogger and thought-leader.

Immediately her responses felt sharp and were designed to cut us down with what we were doing, but despite heavy criticism, we continued on because our strategy was proving to work (and I will prove it to you in just a second).

And while she didn’t want to hear it, we ACTUALLY engaged with this person due to our auto-mention campaign (it worked, albeit it wasn’t the best conversation, but it worked!).

So don’t let anyone knock you down, and don’t go frantic when some automation goes awry, just try to avoid as many mistakes as you can.

And like Guy Kawasaki said at Social Media Marketing World 2015, “It’s okay to piss people off.” He was referring to the amount of tweets he sends out on an almost minutely basis, but either way it still holds true.

In my opinion, if you’ve never pissed someone off on social media, you are either an extremely boring person, or you aren’t being authentic. So toughen up.

It’s also worth mentioning that many social media professionals seem to be against the auto-mention campaign, and understandably so.

When you have 20,000+ followers and are already busy enough interacting with your current following, you probably don’t need any more engagement, so this strategy is really more for those just starting out and growing a social media following from the ground up (like us).

Now that you know the risks and potential rewards, let’s get to the good stuff.


Our Results

Our account was slowly eking along from November 2014 (the start of the business) until about April, when we started using Meet Edgar, to help make our tweets more regular.

But we still weren’t gaining the kind of following that we had hoped for.

Then… in June of 2015, we finally began to break through the noise.

We had started our auto-mention campaign.

Started Automention arrow

You can visibly see the uptick in the graph at the end of June when we started using the auto-mention campaigns.

After the introduction of automated mentions, the account started to grow a lot faster.

New Followers Per Month

This enormous jump in growth can be attributed to the fact that auto-mentions keep the account continuously active in a way that publishing scheduled tweets alone just cannot.

Auto-mentions keep an account active in a way that publishing scheduled tweets alone cannot. Click To Tweet

The sheer volume increase in activity, coupled with proper targeting basically quadrupled our growth.

It’s also worth mentioning that while our mention Tweets are only seen by people already following us AND the person we mention, anytime someone favorites one of those Tweets (or re-Tweets), it “escapes” and is now seen by their following, and we assume that is what actually allowed for the increase in follower growth.

When we added targeted questions in mid-August, which I’ll discuss in more detail down below, you can see an even greater increase in engagements.

Splash engagement chart

To give you an idea of what auto-mentions did for us, I had my husband and business partner painstakingly compile and analyze some very boring excel spreadsheets to give you these stats:

Auto-mentions got shown to 500% less people than regular Tweets, meaning only about 45 people saw them on average. Sounds terrible right? But wait…


Twitter Mention vs Non Mention Engagement Rate

Auto-mentions received a 258% increase in engagement rate, a 200% increase in response rate, and 38% increase in profile clicks,

and here’s the kicker…

Per impression, meaning for every person that saw an auto-mention (and not per tweet… which doesn’t matter in this case since it’s an automated campaign):

 Our click-through rate increased by 284%!

And since we only auto-mention our own content and/or social channels, with no curated content, this is huge!

Also, since these engagements are happening automatically, it doesn’t require a significant time investment to get more traffic from Twitter using this strategy.

Are you getting the picture now?

People like auto-mentions MORE than generic posts!

There were a ton more metrics that he analyzed, and a couple more things worth pointing out:

  • Re-Tweets, URL clicks, and favorites per tweet went down, but per impression went up. Which is expected since significantly less people see each Tweet.
  • Permalink clicks (clicks on the link in your bio) went up by 44%


So about now you might be thinking:

That’s all great and all, but how do I replicate it?

I wouldn’t leave you hanging!


Our Growth Hacking Strategy for Twitter and the 3 Rules of Auto-Mentions

[UPDATE] When we first implemented this strategy, we used a tool called Audiense to manage our auto-mention campaign because Audiense had an awesome function called the Rule Builder, which allowed you to set up various types of useful automations.

Unfortunately, Audiense has discontinued the auto-mention functionality for the Rule Builder, so we’ve switched our auto-mentions over to a different tool we like to use called SocialBee. 

Please note that the image used to demonstrate the targeting are from Audiense, but you can do similar (albeit, less advanced) things with SocialBee. 

When I first started using the Rule Builder (around June 23rd), I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted my outcome to be. I just wanted to get in there and see what kind of results I would get, so at first, I experimented.

The first rule I created targeted business owners in San Diego and pointed them towards a lead magnet that they could download on our site. It sounded like a good idea at first, I figured that we might be able to capture an email and drive prospects into our sales funnel. But it didn’t really go over too well. The ask was too great, so I decided to tone it down.

My next rule directed all self-proclaimed business owners who followed us to our blog.

This was a bit better than the first go-round as we are pointing people to a free resource and not a squeeze page. And since we had the lead magnet promoted on our site, I figured that they may decide to opt-in while on the blog. This tactic seemed to be less of a “force of the hand” and more of an “inception.”

I think this is the best way to go with an auto-engagement strategy. Which brings us to rule number one:


Rule #1: Only use auto-engagements for something that is completely free.

Rule 1: Only use auto-engagements for something that is completely free - #LikeAFox Click To Tweet

This might be asking a question, asking for a social follow on another network, or directing them to reading a blog post.

Try to provide value with your auto-mention WITHOUT asking for a single thing in return (except for questions… but, questions just ask for opinions, and everyone loves giving their opinion!)


Another strategy we started using with Rule Builder came from an idea I had while we were working on publishing a blog post centered around online marketing tools.

I wanted to create some buzz and do some research around the topic, so I went into the Rule Builder and created 3 new rules.

I called these rules “targeted questions,” and set them each up to auto-mention a different targeted group of users and ask them a question pertaining to which online tools they use and love.

My three categories were “content marketer,” “social media,” and “blogger.” The number of responses was phenomenal!

We were no longer just directing traffic to our blog, which is a primary metric for pretty much all social media marketers, but we were also getting our newest followers involved in a conversation, which, when you think about it, is a whole lot more valuable!

And, of course, we answered every single reply that we received, and still do to this day.


Rule #2: Only run an auto-engagement campaign if you are willing to respond to every single reply.

Rule 2: Only run an auto-engagement campaign if you are willing to respond to every single reply. Click To Tweet


So, as you saw from our results and can see here, asking recent followers with certain tags in their bio targeted questions is a great way to get a conversation started!


The final rule to note is that you should only engage a user when they follow you.

You do not want to go overboard with auto-engagements, otherwise you will piss everyone off. And multiple rules will likely overlap more than expected, simply based on the criteria you input.

We are playing with fire here and need to be careful not to burn ourselves.

When they follow you, it only auto-mentions them once, but if you have it set off to send every time a type of person does anything else, you run the risk of looking like a moron (which can still happen, especially if your follower is using some sort of follow/unfollow automation tool themselves).

Rule #3: It’s a best practice to build rules ONLY around when people follow you, and not any of the other options.

Rule 3: Only use auto-engagements when people follow you - #LikeAFox Click To Tweet

Rule Builder Follows Me


Final Thoughts

After running some analytics comparing our mention tweets with our non-mention tweets, we were able to draw a few conclusions, some more obvious than others:

  • People are much more likely to reply to a mention, especially if it’s a question.
  • Click-through rate per impression can skyrocket when using auto-mentions properly.
  • You’re playing with fire, so please don’t get burned. Take your time crafting your mention campaign and be there every single day to respond to your audience. Being a good Social Media Manager is a requirement before invoking this strategy.
  • Always follow the 3 rules of auto-engagements.

It can be concluded that mentioning another Twitter user has a much greater impact than simply posting content or sharing a thought. And once the engagement machine gets going, account growth seems to increase rapidly.

But why? If so few people are even seeing these messages, how can the results be so drastic?

I believe that the reason this has worked so well is because our audience is very targeted.

We mostly only follow people who are interested in what we are interested in, or people who we think might be interested in us.

Also, when someone follows you, you are temporarily in the front of their mind, so the auto-mention is a nice way to break the ice and start building a relationship immediately.

It’s unfortunate that auto-engagements have gotten a bad rap because so many people have overused poor techniques in an attempt to accost their audience.

Ultimately, the key to making this strategy (and any content or social media strategy) work is to provide as much value as possible to the person on the receiving end.

You need to be extremely conscious of how you phrase and target your campaigns. And you should always be optimizing your campaigns by changing messages that aren’t resonating and keeping your content fresh so that it doesn’t get old or expected.

The numbers just don’t lie. Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, these types of automated engagements have more than proven themselves to be a legitimate way to grow a Twitter account quickly.

So, as long as you follow the rules, you can use this strategy to quadruple your reach, increase your link click through rate and gain a huge number of followers in a very short amount of time, without pissing off too many people in your Social-sphere.

What do you think?

Has this changed the way you think about auto-engagements?

Will you be starting a campaign of your own?

Are there other concerns with auto-engagements we didn’t address? Or other strategies for auto-mentioning?

We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below, and, of course, we will answer every comment!


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Shana Haynie
COO and Creative Director at Vulpine Interactive
Shana is dedicated to helping exciting companies create contagious brands and passionate fans on social media. She's a self-proclaimed Social Media Ninja , Creative Mompreneur, Lover of laughter, life and libations, a Wannabe chef and the Creative Director / COO at Vulpine Interactive.