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Stack Exchange sites have their own Twitter accounts, like http://twitter.com/StackUX. These accounts appear to just autotweet the latest interesting questions using the question's tags as hashtags. But there's a problem with this: Twitter is not an RSS feed that happens to have a 140 character limit. It's a platform on which conversations between real people happen, and people get the most use out of it by using it for that purpose, not for following bots.

So here goes: would it be possible to give moderators access to their respective Stack Exchange site's Twitter account so they can start using it as a vehicle for connecting, reaching out, and marketing?

Here's what I envision:

  • Moderators from each Stack Exchange site use one Twitter account together via a service like CoTweet
  • The Twitter account is used to post new questions, highlighted questions that deserve extra attention (such as those in need of answering, those with bounties, or simply interesting questions), interesting answers, or other links of interest (perhaps topical links or meta discussions as well)
  • Moderators can reach out to users across Twitter to respond to questions, comments, feedback or bugs and follow up accordingly on meta or wherever.
  • The Twitter accounts become more useful and give "a human face to the site" as Alex Angas puts it
  • Using Twitter's lists feature, moderators could add the Twitter accounts of (regular) users from their respective Stack Exchange sites, giving people a great way to easily subscribe to updates from smart people in their specific vertical (a killer feature, IMHO)
  • The bottom line would be: use Twitter responsibly to improve the visibility of your Stack Exchange site by sharing content and adding value

Barely anyone follows @StackUX right now, and I don't think it's going to improve much as long as following it means pretty much the equivalent of subscribing to a feed that fills up your Twitter timeline with potential noise (after all, following specific tags within a Stack Exchange site was created for a reason). There's a lot of value lying on the table that we could run with if we wanted.

So here's a post to gauge interest. Is this feasible?

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8  
They don't tweet all questions, just the "interesting" ones. But letting mods specifically recommend questions is a good idea; some sites (before this feature existed) had unofficial twitter feeds maintained by mods –  Michael Mrozek May 22 '11 at 2:37
    
Thanks. Corrected. –  Rahul May 22 '11 at 2:39
    
I'm not sure how they're doing it, but the photography.SE twitter account occasionally has other interesting content on it. –  cabbey May 22 '11 at 3:05
4  
Well following StackFitness gives me an idea that the 'interesting' algorithm can make quite poor picks on low traffic sites... –  Ivo Flipse May 22 '11 at 17:32
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4 Answers

The question is this: are you willing to subsume all your identity into a generic "Stack Exchange" Twitter account?

Part of the reason Twitter is interesting is because the accounts are actual people, not generic services or companies.

Since these Twitter accounts started life as a simple way to collect the "Greatest Hits" of questions on a given Stack Exchange site -- along with relevant site specific blog entries -- I think it would be a bit of a perversion to try to shoehorn them into being actual people later.

(The full directory of site-specific Twitter accounts is at http://stackexchange.com/sites -- look for the little Twitter icons.)

In other words, if you want to promote http://ux.stackexchange.com on Twitter that's awesome -- and even more authentic if you do it as Rahul, the real person!

Ultimately, we want to promote YOU, not the site itself. We want to be awesome by association with you. Asking you to subsume your entire Twitter identity into a faceless "Stack*" Twitter account does not strike me as the right way to accomplish this goal.

Bottom line: it means more coming from @Rahul than it does from @StackUX.

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Nice answer. Perhaps the way to blend in the original idea is to have the Stack accounts keep Twitter list(s) of such key people so those other personal accounts are more discoverable? –  Tall Jeff Aug 4 '11 at 23:09
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The problem is a lot more people know who @StackUX is than @Rahul (no offense Rahul). If I want to see interesting Cooking questions I'm going to follow @StackCooking, not try to hunt down the twitter accounts of cooking mods, who may or may not occasionally tweet interesting questions in between their other personal tweets –  Michael Mrozek Aug 4 '11 at 23:53
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But that's the problem I'm more interested in solving; you should know who @lizardbill is, and if you don't, then that's what I'm interested in publicizing. He's kind of a cool guy, and you should follow him! –  Jeff Atwood Aug 4 '11 at 23:56
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While I agree with your thinking to an extent, there is the problem that my Rahul account is used for more than just talking about, in this case, UX. I want to serve the people who are interested in UX. Tweeting relevant things solely from StackUX would give interested people a dedicated account to follow with a guarantee of relevance. Following me is all well and good but I'm not sure UXers care about all the other stuff I'm doing unless they know me more closely than you would just by seeing me on UX. –  Rahul Aug 5 '11 at 6:43
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Jeff, I think you're right that there needs to be a human touch to the Twitter accounts, but I agree with Rahul that it will be difficult to get a human dedicated to Tweet solely on topic -- to be the "face" of the forum. I think there's middle ground. I think we should continue with the auto-tweets, but filter them, edit them, and intersperse other valuable and relevant, more human tweets ie. contests, did you know's, RT's of partners/mods. I understand we'd need to figure out a system to make that work involving mods & "evangelists." Something like this (cotweet.com) could help. –  SamtheBrand Aug 5 '11 at 14:53
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If only we had a group of people who could cherry pick the right questions... –  Ivo Flipse Aug 6 '11 at 23:55
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@Sam An interface that simply allows mods to RT would pretty much solve the problem as far as I'm concerned, and it would keep the tweets coming from real people. –  Patrick McElhaney Aug 16 '11 at 19:47
    
    
@JeffAtwood There's already a convention for identifying people sharing a Twitter account, by using ^ followed by the user's initials, e.g., ^MC. Also, I might only be interested in Bill's tweets in his SE role, and not in general life. For the record, I do follow @lizardbill. Just saying –  Mark Cidade Nov 4 '11 at 0:11
    
I don't entirely agree about the point of Twitter always being about people, many twitter accounts are corporate and many are "feeds" of cool information. Even if it;s just a feed a lot of people prefer the UX of twitter to RSS feeds. I personally agree that our Twitter bots don't have much life, but that's not the only reason people follow on twitter either. I would support letting mods tweet via the Twitter account. –  Ben Brocka Nov 10 '11 at 14:15
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So just to clarify, the Stack Exchange 2.0 Twitter accounts currently tweet:

  • per-site blog posts (if present)

  • chat events, if started by a moderator

  • interesting questions on the site

Every three hours (on average).

Based on your suggestions, it's clear that we could do better here and tweet a more interesting variety of stuff from these accounts. We are now changing this to also tweet:

  1. bountied questions

  2. interesting answers of +3 or better

  3. unanswered questions of +3 or better

  4. particularly hot meta questions (not or though)

... and to do so every two hours since we now have a much greater range of things to "say" for each site.

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5  
Great! I'd still like to see the "twitter is not an RSS feed" thing addressed in the sense that having a human tweet every once in a while would allow sites (mods?) to highlight things that aren't done by the bot. I'm also interested in learning more (elsewhere?) about what you want to do re: getting people to follow users of stacks rather than the stack itself. –  Rahul Aug 8 '11 at 16:13
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Would it be an imposition to ask for a list of hash tags per site somewhere on stackexchange.com? These sites are really popping, it's kind of hard to keep up. –  Tim Post Aug 8 '11 at 17:45
    
I suggest that number 4 be implemented as: "Interesting*er*" questions on meta. :> But seriously, that's a great list to add to the arsenal, thanks. I still generally agree with Rahul but it's a bit harder to express in 500 characters. –  VxJasonxV Aug 8 '11 at 17:55
    
@tim it is always the most relevant (highest count, leftmost) tag on the question –  Jeff Atwood Aug 8 '11 at 21:33
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Sounds good, though the current algorithmic idea of "Great answer" is not good enough. It more and more gives me the feeling that the account is not human, less interesting to follow, more spammy, etc. (I haven't seen the other new messages yet, like bounties, unanswered en meta.) –  Lode Aug 11 '11 at 11:27
    
@lode you should try going to stackexchange.com/sites and clicking the twitter icons for each one to see. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 11 '11 at 16:23
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What about having the accounts keep twitter lists of high profile users with twitter on their sites, for those that list them in the about field on their profile? That was suggested as the first comment on the first answer, but hasn't seemed to grab attention. –  Joel Coehoorn Aug 14 '11 at 22:01
    
@joel we're in the middle of a lot of things here, we'll get to it. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 14 '11 at 22:05
    
No rush: I just didn't want the idea to get lost. You guys are doing great work. –  Joel Coehoorn Aug 14 '11 at 22:06
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If you don't want to give up on the bot part, can you have the bot RT hand-written tweets by anyone who happens to tweet a link to a question or answer? That would increase awareness of the accounts, spread those tweets from real people further, and make the bot feed slightly more interesting to read. Real people often compose excellent "hooks" when they link to a question or answer, but even if they don't, the information that a particular person chose to tweet a link carries value.

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Maybe the 'bot accounts could RT if specific Twitter accounts used specific #hashtags as well? Just an idea, I'm not sure if this adds anything more than looking for the Twitter account + SE link combo. It might make it easier to identify relevant tweets when URL shorteners are used. –  Bill the Lizard Aug 8 '11 at 17:44
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I think the problem with that thinking is that you're still relying on a bot to do a human's job, and Twitter isn't for bots. It's for people. As long as StackExchange has bots auto-tweeting links to stuff, we're doing it wrong. I recognise that having humans do it doesn't scale as well as bots, but there has to be some solution that satisfies both requirements. –  Rahul Aug 8 '11 at 17:51
    
@rahul twitter is indeed for bots; I follow @amazonmp3 and it's just a listing of great deals on music through Amazon. As a person who has aggressively used Twitter since 2006, I can say with some authority it's useful for both purposes. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 8 '11 at 21:30
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@Jeff amazonmp3 isn't a bot though, there are clearly human tweets in there. I get your point - that there are successful bots on Twitter - but it's still primarily a communication platform for people talking to other people (as opposed to RSS, which is meant for software to interpret). Amazonmp3 is a good example of how I would envision mixing bot behaviour with a human touch, though - the odd retweet, comment and link here and there helps balance things away from a constant stream of deals. –  Rahul Aug 8 '11 at 22:20
    
related request, perhaps support this meta.stackexchange.com/questions/101847/… –  Jeff Atwood Aug 11 '11 at 10:13
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The Stack Exchange site Twitter accounts are currently ridiculously boring. Why would I use it (née follow the account) when I already visit the site?

There is a ton of untapped potential for things like questions being listed when a bounty is added, for things like chat advertisements (or better yet: chat room events!), and anything else on a site moderators' mind.

I don't like the accounts now. I would love for them to be;

  1. Named more appropriately, and

  2. Actually have some engaging content in addition to the site's primary engagement.

In short, I completely agree with Rahul.

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Chat rooms events are tweeted when the event is created by a moderator. –  Rebecca Chernoff Aug 6 '11 at 23:43
    
Surely events are not so frequent that they could be tweeted a set amount of time before each time the event occurs? –  VxJasonxV Aug 7 '11 at 0:06
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Huh? I meant, if an event is created by a moderator, then as the event approaches, it will be tweeted by the site's twitter account. It isn't tweeted the moment the event is created. –  Rebecca Chernoff Aug 7 '11 at 1:13
    
I don't think you're aware that the twitter accounts also tweet blog entries and chat events that were started by a moderator. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 7 '11 at 3:02
    
Rebecca, thank you for clearing that up. Jeff, that's great... for the 9 out of 26 (graduated) sites that have one, +SE.com –  VxJasonxV Aug 7 '11 at 6:15
    
see my second answer for some other changes –  Jeff Atwood Aug 8 '11 at 15:49
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