At the end of May the New York Times replaced its automated Twitter cyborg with the tweets of in house social media editors. The move was a test to determine whether the paper should invest in personalized tweets over a deluge of automatic headlines, but the final decision (if we ever see one) will mark something more significant than just another hire at the paper.

The Experiment

Until a little more than a month ago the New York Times leaned on its brand image and reputation to earn influence in the social world. Journalists wrote and Twitter followers retweeted, but what happened when the New York Times put two of their social media editors to the task of Twitter engagement?

For starters, the New York Times got quite a bit of press. Writers picked out personalized tweets and added them to their blogs, people on Twitter shared their stories, and everything seemed promising for the world of social media. Then I started following the New York Time’s Klout score.

In the week that social media editors @LHeron & @LexiNYT tweeted for @NYTimes the publication’s influence score never budged. It felt like people were engaging, but the score stayed constant at 86 for the duration of their experiment. Of course when it comes to a Twitter handle with 670,759 retweets it’s going to take a lot more than a week long experiment to make a dent in their score, but I hope the paper doesn’t take the “we’re already doing well enough” stance on Twitter.

After all, when compared with the ability of individuals like Justin Bieber, or Nicki Minaj to spread information socially (with klout scores at 100 and 97 respectively), it’s hard to justify feeling satisfied with a cyborg for much longer.

The New Age of Publisher Influence

Any reaction from the New York Times on the Twitter experiment has been hushed, but the days of publications resting on their paper laurels may be over. The New York Times could slide by a little longer with a vaguely cyborg social presence, but when it comes to automation they are one of the few remaining dinosaurs.

Fact of the matter is, conversations and connections are becoming the way of the web. Today real social investment is an option but some publishers are already showing that a hand crafted social presence can help them jump ahead. More than ever consumers are looking beyond search algorithms into hand crafted curation to find what’s important. The best we can do is hope that the New York Times sees that before advertisers realize that Justin Beiber and their very own Facebook fans can drive more conversation than reputable ad supported newspapers.