Automation Has its Use in Social Media, But it is Limited

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This post was written by Jen Patton, Talk3’s blog moderator, Content Curator, and Social Media Strategist.

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Our company has recently intitiated active participation on Facebook and Twitter. Trying to establish a solid footing is an interesting experience. As a company representative, I try to pay attention to how other people interact with me and how it affects me, to keep that in mind when interacting with others; to treat others as I would like to be treated, as the saying goes. I also pay attention to what other people are saying about how and why they use social media.

Mitch Joel recently posted on his blog, Six Pixels of Separation, about the automation of social media. He mentions that he recently received a recommendation to use a tool that “enables people on Twitter to bring together a small group of trusted Bloggers that will automatically retweet out to everyone’s network all of the Blog posts that the group of Bloggers creates individually.” He notes that on the surface, it seems like a cool idea, but that it is not for him. He doesn’t feel comfortable sharing content that he hasn’t read, even if he can reasonably expect it to be quality. He goes on to talk about his opinion on automating updates on social media. He says, “Gaining credibility and trust online is not about automating the process. It’s the same reason big brands struggle to make credible connections as well.”

I have to say, I agree. There are a few things that have stuck out to me recently in my social media usage.

Automated Recommendations

I think that the service Mitch mentions that automatically recommends content is a bad fit for my goals in using social media. I do not at all feel comfortable recommending something that I haven’t read, even if there is a reasonable expectation that it will be good. I would also be frustrated if I found out that someone I follow was using a service like this. The reason I follow people on Twitter is to help me zero in on quality information. It is to help solve the problem of the deluge of information on the internet. Things like this add to that problem, rather than making it better. As stated in Six Pixels, the distinction of hand selected content versus computer generated recommendations is what gives Twitter greater value than a typical RSS feed.

Direct Messages

Recently I have gotten several DMs as a result of following new people on Twitter that are automatically generated, impersonal, and spammy. To me, this seems like a terrible first impression, one that I would not want to give. It feels intrusive and rude. I understand that many people have a much higher rate of new people following than we do currently, and may not have time to individually address each new follower. However, in my mind, direct messages are for communicating something to someone that you don’t want to get lost in the sea of streams–something of value.

Sending an impersonal message that does nothing except for promote your agenda strikes me as counter-intuitive in this arena. I think it is important to let people know that I appreciate them following me, so I send a DM to say thank you, to reinforce that I believe they can add value by following me (usually by highlighting something specific that I have observed in reviewing their page), and to let them know that I am interested in staying connected. I have no interest in just building a big number of followers that don’t really have any idea what the company is about, and never talking to them. I realize this is not the case for everyone, but why send a direct message if you do not have something to say directly to the person?

Automated Tweets and Updates

I think automation can be very useful, if they are used properly. Timing out your tweets so that you can share information at the times your followers are most actively engaged is great. So is using timed tweets so that what you share is spread out evenly over the course of the day, instead of bunched together, or setting your blog to automatically update at a certain time of day. You can increase your visibility and value. However, when you start using automation as a replacement for actually reading what the people you are connected with are saying, and using social media platforms as a space to push things onto people instead of connect, you are once again contributing to the problem that this kind of space is supposed to solve.

In general, I prefer to do everything manually that I reasonably can. I try to stay as actively engaged as possible, and limit how much I say. I do much more reading and listening than posting and talking. My rule of thumb is “If you don’t have anything relevant to say(tweet, post, etc), don’t say anything at all.” I also aim to respond to everyone that comments, and thank people when they do something that is helpful to me, such as retweeting or recommending me in some way. In previous posts, I have highlighted the importance of quality over quantity, and I think it is very important to practice what I preach.

What do you think? Do you use automation? If so, how?

How do you feel about following people who use automation?

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