How to build a friendly Social bot


Social bots? Sounds suspicious? Depends on how you implement them: I'll show you how I gained 21k followers and built a supportive community on Twitter with just retweeting others. Besides that I will cover what bots actually are, why you should use automated interactions in Social Media and what might be the difficulties doing that.

This blog post is based on a conference talk I gave at WomenTech Global Conference in June 2021.

The @femtech_ bot

The Twitter account @femtech_ (don't forget the underscore) is probably the biggest automated account that supports women in tech, shares their stories and has gained 21k followers until now. I founded it as a totally non-profit fun project and started it during a coding challenge in Summer 2019.

Its aim has always been to amplify women's voices in tech, get them connected and do good for the community. What is special about this account is probably that it doesn't publish any original content. Also it does not follow back anybody, so it's really based on pure retweeting - and despite of that many people (not only women) find this very interesting and inspiring.

What a supportive bot might re-tweet

From all the content that get's retweeted and is spread to the community, this is actually the stuff which is mostly appreciated: achievements of women in our community who are doing research, did a great job or have been promoted. Also: Announcements of events, podcasts, talks, conferences where great women participate, job offers, calls for papers, etc. Or just personal stories from women of our community. The bot also shares personal stories from all over the world as long as it's in English, which makes its content very diverse. Or just personal stories from women of our community. You might ask if the followers do interact in any way with each other. They do! They do get into interaction, and that's probably the most wonderful thing about the femtech_ bot. They comment and discuss, like tweets of fellow women in tech, follow each other. So this is actually what the bot's about: networking, socializing, support!

The odds of building a bot

Is building a bot or using automated interactions in your Twitter account or any other Social Media platform a good idea for you (your business, your organisation)? Yes, I think so, if you are able to deal with some odds..

This is because of @femtech_ has constantly been target of spammers who love to make use of popular hashtags and accounts and try to place their annoying content.

So what are they trying to do? The tag their unrelated stuff with any trending hashtags and know that there are bots that will consider retweeting their content. This behaviour is called hashtag cramming but is actually forbidden by Twitter. Nevertheless spammers try to place their advertising for (often) non-technical products, services and adult content.

Also, there are people, who try to share their political and religious views, also anti-feminist and racist content through @femtech_.

I've seen it all!

What is a bot

Let's take a step back for a moment and clarify one thing. What is a bot?

In sum, a bot is an automated account — nothing more or less.

As Yoel Roth, Head of Site Integrity at Twitter, says, a Twitter bot is a Twitter account that has (mostly) automated interactions. By the way, there's of course not just bot actitivy on Twitter but of course also on platforms like Facebook or Instagram.

Bots can be the absolute worst part of Twitter when they are being unnerving and untrustworthy, and there have also been cases where bot networks aggressively engaged in political affairs.

BUT They can also be the best. Let's start with the good parts.

The good parts

Bots we usually like and sometimes don't even identify as bots act in a way that don't bother us. Whenever building a bot you should either do good to the community (to the world even) or make use of them in a trustworthy way and grow your business.

Here is a list of very kind, very useful, even funny bots:

If you'd rather like to use bot technologies for your business, your can do so in multiple ways, just to name a few:

  • boost social media engagement (auto-follow, auto-retweet)
  • provide 1st level support to your customers (send automated direct messages, auto-respond to dm's)
  • automate repetitive tasks (auto-tweet every article you publish on your blog)
  • setup a publishing schedule

One hint from me to you: Stay human when you use bot technology to boost your brand! Only automate those processes that require no engagement or no interaction from your side. That could be posting statuses that are meant to be shared to bring more visibility to yourself and your brand. But if you want to build trust and loyalty with users, you can’t automate everything you do, but you have to interact on a personal, one on one level as well. It’s not a substitute for a complete social strategy, you still need to engage regularly, and listen to your customers.

Let's code

So, what's the technical side of building a bot?

You can either use an automation tool. Those are mostly commercial ones and there are a lot out there, so I listed just some of them here.

OR you could build one yourself. So if there are some developers around here, this is how you start:

  1. Have a Twitter account! Of course! You could use your existing one and add some automated behaviour to it OR you could create a new account which could be fully automated and act as a real bot if you'd like.
  2. Then there's maybe one tricky thing and this is getting approved for a Twitter developer's account to get access to the Twitter API
  3. If you don't know what an API is, think of it as a stream and a pool of all the data that is coming through Twitter in a raw data format that can be fetched and processed with a programming language like Python, Java or JavaScript. (Read my beginner's guide to REST APIs here!)
  4. Get familiar with it and write a script that will react to the incoming data stream as you like it, so for example retweet tweets based on some criteria. (Read my full introduction into how to code a Twitter bot here.)

Ban the evil

If you do automated retweeting based on hashtags or any other criteria your bot will probably attract spammers so your bot will appear spammy as well if you don't take care of some things.

Here is my recommendation on what tweaks you should consider to keep your bot's feed un-spammy:

  • filter unwanted, adult content (nudes mostly); make use of AI/ML technologies that are able to identify those content
  • block usernames with suspicious patterns (e.g. usernames that contain a lot of numbers are often used by spammers)
  • block other bots (because they are mostly not well maintained)
  • filter tweets with too many hashtags (often used by aggressive advertisers)
  • identify and block shady strings and hashtags, e.g. "womenaretrash"
  • maintain an account blocklist (that's the last resort for spammers that can't be blocked through other mechanism) that have shared abusive content

So: Bot or not?

Sure! Building and maintaining a bot can be a great thing if you use bot technologies wisely. Checklist:

  • always monitor
  • do spot checks every now and then
  • check your dm's because your followers will probably report spam

Have fun!