Month: April 2013

SOCIAL MEDIA

The Power and Powerless-ness of Automating Your Social Media

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The plans for the day were simple. A short run, a business lunch, and then I had meant to write-up my wrap up from the #SCAA2013 event, how everyone had used social, what the trends were, who were doing it best, and what were examples of ways that businesses could have used it better. However, in the middle of my business meeting, plans changed. Social media today means that we are connected globally in a way that we never were in the past.  My colleague and I began getting a barrage of text messages and Twitter alerts, and that was when we heard what had just happened. Our meeting stopped.

The thing with business is this, it takes over our lives. The need to be everything to everyone requires we stay plugged in 24/7, because in the world of social media, out of sight means out of mind, however, many of us know a little trick in the industry is to automate some of our tweets and posts. Pre-schedule them out, so that even when you are on vacation, or sick in bed, you still appear present and relevant. Because that is what we are afraid of, isn’t it? That we might lose our relevance or status?

While on one hand, social media creates a more global connection, a more macroclimate of human relationships and shared experiences, it also can and has created a disconnect by shifting the focus from the real purpose of engaging, to creating a culture of robotic automated handshaking and waving across the Twitter-verse. It may seem harmless, and generally it is, but this desire to be everything to everyone at all times in order to remain relevant and “influential” can make anyone look foolish when in the wake of a global incident, yours is the only account that is mindlessly remaining on automated script.

So, is all automation bad?

No, in fact, automation in general is not bad. The problem is that automation is meant to be supplemental. It is not, nor should it ever be, the main manner in which a person, small business, or brand, engages. Why? Because it ISN’T engaging. There is nothing engaging about having someone talk AT you, which is what a heavily automated feed does. It is no longer about me, or you, the followers, or how we interrelate with that particular account holder.

Have you ever sent a tweet to a brand after a distressing experience, and the brand appears to be on-line, well, they have been sending out messages every few hours at least, and yet… your message never gets responded to, or it gets responded to hours or days later, even though they have continued to tweet from that account at a steady pace in between. This doesn’t make you feel great, in fact, you may feel less engaged with the brand and the user now, as if you texted them or called them and after asking them to call you back, they ignored you.

Why, When & How To Automate:

Why? You are busy. We are all busy. You are trying to build that following and reach those people, only your kid needs to get picked up from soccer practice and you have to hit the grocery store, grab dinner, the dry cleaning, your wife calls and she needs something from the pharmacy… and so it goes. We get it. We really do. So, many of us, myself included, plug in some pre-scheduled tweets here and there, especially on weeks when we know it’s gonna be extra busy. Yet, we have created this idea ourselves, this demand. No where does it say that you need to tweet every hour of the day no matter what. In fact, you shouldn’t do that at all. It dilutes your message, is a waste of energy & time (yours & mine), and it overpowers my feed. There is a line between being present and being overbearing in your presence.

When? Not all the time. Not as the modus operandi. Only as supplementation.

  • You see some really interesting studies or the coolest geeked out [fill in with your particular pet passion], but it’s 5 AM and you are only awake because of too much coffee the night before.
  • That really great article you see while scrolling your emails or daily online news and you wan to share, yet it’s in the middle of the workday, when your followers aren’t even paying attention.
  • You really stink at remembering birthdays and remembering to give shout outs.

How? People do things differently across the board. My use of automation is done in two ways. I use an auto-curation site that pulls popular posts from all of the people I follow on a daily basis and it places them in a virtual newspaper of sorts, this is then available to me and tweeted out to my followers to see. I also add in one, maybe two, scheduled tweets a day. Usually it is an interesting or useful bit of restaurant business or food industry news that I have found through Google. Sometimes I go weeks without doing this, sometimes I am diligent for months. Perhaps this is why my follower counts grow slower than others, but as an extrovert, my interest and focus is on the conversation that results from Twitter, not just the links and cool photos.

Whether you automate or have real-time presence on Twitter, you do need to know when your followers are actually using Twitter, and by running a tweriod report on your account, you can access graphs showing when your users are most active.  

So, when is automation BAD? 

Yesterday, on Marathon Monday in Boston, Massachusetts, two bombs exploded near the finish line, during a rather heavily dense period of the race. The elites had all finished and now there was a heavy concentration of runners making it to the finish line. The race was canceled. The area evacuated. Two people died at the site of the explosion, dozens maimed, and hundreds wounded. Cell phone service was sketchy and people were taking to social media to find their friends, to tell people they were ok, and to generally make sense of the tragedy. Business “as usual” stopped for most people, as people took pause to either remain silent or comment on the senselessness.

When inhumane things occur, we look for humanity in the world. For the most part, people on social media were using it as a tool to gain information about what had just happened. To gather news and share news and connect people. It is in these moments when “business as usual” suddenly looks distasteful. While not required of everyone to make commentary on the events that were unfolding within the minutes and hours following the bombings, pushing out self promotional tweets on “Best Blogging Practices” or “How to Succeed on Pinterest” was the wrong time and place. When you consider that these might have been pre-scheduled, you can give a little room for human error, however when the automated tweets continue during the prime hours after the event and you realize that the user’s entire feed is automated, you feel offended.

Suddenly you feel that they don’t even realize, nor care what might be going in with their followers. Their followers are merely an audience for which this account is pushing information to, rather than engaging with. At first I let it go, then it increasingly irritated me as I saw it continue, and saw others complaining about the auto-tweets as well. We began calling people out on it and some stood up and apologized, recognizing that it could be seen as distasteful to promote at such a moment, and then joined the online community to discuss the actual global conversation that was occurring. But others, they became defensive and argued the wrong argument at the wrong time.

Some people just couldn’t see the fault in what they had and hadn’t done. The arguments that they were tweeting people they like who live in another part of the world. Should that person stop blogging when something happens in the US? Except my comment to stop the auto tweets was directed at the US tweeter, who was only one time zone away. She chose to use the european blogger’s post as a tweet to push her influence within Twitter, even if she was posting someone else, this is how people use Twitter to self promote themselves as influential.

And to answer her question, should people stop business “as usual” when something happens elsewhere in the world? Perhaps they should take pause and reflect for a moment, yes. From children being murdered in gun violence, to terrorist attacks on any soil, our world is a global one and social media is the tool that has pushed this globalization even further. This affects us all, and in the case of the Boston Marathon, 96 countries were represented in the race. The people physically injured were not only from Boston. The people emotionally injured were not only Boston runners and spectators. This doesn’t sound like a Boston problem, this sounds like a global one and a good time for people to take pause and refrain from “business as usual” by shutting down the robotic machine of persona promotion and stepping out and being a little more of a person.

*Yes, by making a comment about this on my professional blog, am I walking a line of gaining attention through other’s tragedy, perhaps some will argue that. I chose to wait until this afternoon, nearly 24 hours since the events unfurled, to write anything. I hadn’t thought I would write about this, but I was so deeply bothered by my interactions with some yesterday about the need to shut down auto tweets during crisis situations, that it was all that I could think about. I am lucky to have a platform and I try to use it responsibly.