The fact that Twitter is so simple and so revered makes it a perfect example to use when talking about social media in general. It provides the most basic framework for what more complicated networking sites like Facebook and Myspace are built upon. You find people and connect with them based on the value they have to offer you. That is the most basic action that occurs and everything else builds from that simple choice of “following” someone.
When you follow someone, that’s supposed to mean that you’re interested in what they have to say. Remember, this action is the basis of a social network. This alone will make sure that your network is valuable to you, so what happens when you automatically follow everyone that follows you? As time goes on, the quality of your network approaches zero.
The proliferation of spammers and marketers is just one single variable that ensures this to be true. There are many other reasons you shouldn’t use auto-follow. There are a large number of people on Twitter who you would view as “noise” if you took a look at their Twitter time-line and those same people are going to follow you at some point during the growth of your network.
Let’s use a real-world example. You and I are both content creators. I happen to write about a subject that you could care less about, but I think your content is the bee’s knees. Do you subscribe to me just because I subscribed to you? Isn’t that being dishonest? Fronting? Perpetrating? Patronizing? You don’t care about what I have to say, why pretend?
Why? What is the usefulness here within the context of a social network? We keep forgetting the fact that “social” means interactions with real people. That is what makes it different from everything else. When you replace that interaction with a robot, you are telling me that I’m not important enough for your attention. You’re telling me that you’re not there. You’re telling me that you’re kinda rude.
What you’re actually telling me is that you don’t really have time to interact. You are not really interested in all this socal media stuff, but you know that it’s supposed to be good at building your brand or making you money, so you’re making a half-assed attempt at it. Keep in mind, these things may not be totally true, but it’s the impression I get.
Remember when you could call a company and a human would pick up? Wasn’t that nice? Now, you have to speak to an automated system that doesn’t even understand what you’re saying. You probably end up using foul language to get to an actual person. How does that make you feel about that company or brand? Do you feel valuable? Do you feel as if they care at all about you or what you have to say?
“Tweet” or Get Off the Pot
Don’t get me wrong, there are certain specific cases where automation is acceptable within social media. Some entities in this area are known bots and we are simply using social tools to get information from them (@rtm, @timer, etc). There are even cases where you may want to follow everyone who follows you for the sheer purpose of growing your network and kick-starting your ability to interact. Conversations regarding these are all over FriendFeed.
There is also a danger here. We may render our social networks completely useless because of the sheer number of people auto-following, auto-replying, pushing RSS feeds as messages, and sending out automated updates. This is not social. This is spam. This is getting ridiculous.
If you are not willing to put in the time and effort it takes to really be active in social media and to actually interact with real people, please delete your account. If you don’t feel that you have time to build real relationships and you need a robot to speak for you, please delete your account. If the majority of your social interactions are actually automated, you may need to rethink your strategy. Social media may not be for you. I hear mailing lists are all the rage.