I Never Thought Machines Would Take Over. But Then I Met The NY Times’ 4th Down Bot.

As brands take to Twitter to forge strong human relationships, they may find that, in a surprise twist, robots can be a big help.

The New York Times showed brands and publishers how it’s done last week with the creation of the 4th Down Bot, a semi-automated Twitter account that’s irresistible to NFL junkies.

The bot, seen below, live-tweets 4th downs during NFL football games, using historical data as to determine whether teams should “go for it” or punt.

(For those looking to learn more about the methodology and data, which incorporates more than a decade of stats, check out this blog post by the Times.)

4th Down Bot has picked up several thousand followers after its first week in the wild, and its tweets are already getting shared by hundreds of people. (And, who knows, maybe some fellow bots, too.)

Lessons of 4th Down Bot

4th Down Bot is a win for the New York Times because it combines the newspaper’s data-driven expertise in business and sports with a level of service people expect from a premier journalism publisher.


Image via New York Times

The bot also follows a rule new publishers should heed to: Stay true to who you are. In this case, 4th Down Bot aligns with the publisher’s instincts by not being a fully-automated system. By having editorial oversight, a common characteristic of the Times’ data endeavors, the bot maintains the newspaper’s content standards.

The bot also wins because there is a clear consumer demand for it. A new wave of sportswriters, from Bill Barnwell on Grantland to Aaron Schatz and his crew over at Football Outsiders, have captivated readers through insightful statistical analysis. As Nieman Lab wrote in a post about the bot, “Having near-instant fourth down analysis fits in well with a world that has become accustomed to NFL RedZone and constantly updated fantasy football stats.”


Setting up a Twitter bot is fairly easy, but the Times nails the hard part: They made something true to their legacy that readers crave.

Best of Twitter Bots

4th Down Bot is far from the first bot to beep its way to Twitter. And it’s not the first publisher or brand bot either. So we wanted to highlight some other cool Twitter bots that are creating content and offering services that publishers should learn from.

Bots come in all shapes and sizes, but we found two main categories: content bots and service bots (with some bots falling in both camps).

Content Bots

Beetlejuice Bot tweets hilarious lines from the movie when someone tweets “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice!”

Stephen Colbert made a satirical bot that tweets kind words to Fox News.

KanyeJordan is a Twitter account that automatically makes Kanye West’s Tweets seem like the rantings of Tracy Jordan’s 30 Rock character, Tracy Jordan.

Service Bots

While not as lighthearted as the above bots, service bots can provide plenty of value.

Remember the Milk is a to-do list bot native to Twitter. It works by sending you DM reminders.


The Spotibot account will suggest Spotify playlists to you by analyzing bands you tweet at it. Plenty of brands could use a similar service to share content.


Lastly, David Yanofsky, who made Chartbuilder, a tool we’ve covered previously, made a bot that looks for users who may have misspelled his oddly-named Twitter handle and directs them to the right account. Pretty smart.

There are plenty of ways to mix content and these types of automated technology services. It’s no surprise that the New York Times is leading the way, but we expect many publishers to step up their game as well.

Those looking for more bot examples can followthese linksto see more.

Contently arms brands with the tools and talent to become great content creators. Learn more.

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