You might see them as annoying, distasteful, uncouth or exasperating, but Twitter bots are evolving. A new breed of bot can make connections between humans and grow its follower count more quickly than some Twitter newbies, having ditched the auto-tweets that try to sell you $89 iPads.
A research team has created this new level of Twitter bot, dubbed the “socialbot”. They wanted to see if they could measure social connectivity.
So just what are Twitter bots? The “traditional” Twitter bot is one that targets users and keywords, sending out automated messages when it gets a hit. The keyword “iPad” is particularly tasty for Twitter bots, and you might’ve already found yourself on the receiving end of a garbled tweet full of usernames and a link (that you definitely should not click).
But as Technology Review reports, researchers are expanding on this concept to create socialbots. And while these socialbots were developed initially for a contest, they have since become something new altogether.
A socialbot does not simply send out linkbait swathed in trending topic hashtags. Instead, it performs more social functions (also automatically, like its spambot cousin), such as retweeting or connecting two users by introducing them via a tweet.
To see just how social a bot could really be, the research team tracked 2,700 Twitter users during a 54 day period, divided into 300 sub-groups to target. The first 33 days were the control period, used to measure the current “socialness” of the groups. Then, the research team introduced the socialbots, and watched automation at its best for the next 21 days.
Nine bots in total were released, one for each sub-group. They interacted with the members of the group by introducing one to another and retweeting some of their tweets.
The bots themselves saw some pretty promising results. In just 21 days, they received an average of 62 new follows and 33 @mentions/retweets. But that’s not all: all of the human groups saw an average of 43 percent increase in the number of followers after interacting with the bots compared to the control period.
You can read the full report on socialbots here.