Automation Defeats the Purpose of Social Media

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

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.

Auto-Follow

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?

Auto-Reply

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.

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  • I think people put their egos in it sometimes. If they see that someone hasn't followed them, then they unfollow them? Why? If you find that person interesting, who cares if he/she hasn't noticed you? With auto replies, I have noticed more and more people doing this. It's not like Twitter is an Ezine, so why are people using auto replies? I find them annoying. Great post, as always.

  • I think people put their egos in it sometimes. If they see that someone hasn't followed them, then they unfollow them? Why? If you find that person interesting, who cares if he/she hasn't noticed you? With auto replies, I have noticed more and more people doing this. It's not like Twitter is an Ezine, so why are people using auto replies? I find them annoying. Great post, as always.

  • Always appreciate your comments. It's definitely an ego thing and it's something that really gets under my skin. When you begin to focus on numbers and metrics and stats, you forget to actually provide value. Those numbers represent people and those people didn't come just to be counted.

  • Always appreciate your comments. It's definitely an ego thing and it's something that really gets under my skin. When you begin to focus on numbers and metrics and stats, you forget to actually provide value. Those numbers represent people and those people didn't come just to be counted.

  • I think you rlast line summed it up. Some people are mailing list or message board material. They really aren't the Twitter types.

  • I think you rlast line summed it up. Some people are mailing list or message board material. They really aren't the Twitter types.

  • Hear, hear! I am being stalked on Twitter and I don't know why:) If I don't know you or know of you then should I care about yours sex life,your love life, your childrens' lives, or your inspirational thought of the day? Maybe I should, I dunno:(

  • Hear, hear! I am being stalked on Twitter and I don't know why:) If I don't know you or know of you then should I care about yours sex life,your love life, your childrens' lives, or your inspirational thought of the day? Maybe I should, I dunno:(

  • Hello Rasheen. I completely agree with you on the harmful effects of auto-reply/DM. However, my position on the auto-follow is a little more nuanced. If someone is interested in what you have to say, chances are that you will be interested in what they have to say.

    I don't auto-follow, but I tend to follow-back most people to take advantage of the long-tail effect (as many people will un-follow if you don't follow them back and I don't expect this behavior ever changing).

    Additionally, I don't know them yet and a small twitter bio doesn't do them justice. If they come to my attention on Tweetdeck then I might begin interacting with them.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Hello Rasheen. I completely agree with you on the harmful effects of auto-reply/DM. However, my position on the auto-follow is a little more nuanced. If someone is interested in what you have to say, chances are that you will be interested in what they have to say.

    I don't auto-follow, but I tend to follow-back most people to take advantage of the long-tail effect (as many people will un-follow if you don't follow them back and I don't expect this behavior ever changing).

    Additionally, I don't know them yet and a small twitter bio doesn't do them justice. If they come to my attention on Tweetdeck then I might begin interacting with them.

    Thanks for the post!

  • A lot of the annoying and irritating factors on social networking stems from the fact that many people on these sites lack social graces/training in "real life." Most of the practices online would not fly at all with their "real life" equivalents.

  • A lot of the annoying and irritating factors on social networking stems from the fact that many people on these sites lack social graces/training in "real life." Most of the practices online would not fly at all with their "real life" equivalents.

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  • Not really any way to know if someone has auto-followed you, but I think it's just more of an issue to auto-follow others. Although, as I get more and more followers, I'm starting to wonder if I might change my mind on the subject. going through 50 to 100 Twitter profiles becomes tiresome 🙂

  • Not really any way to know if someone has auto-followed you, but I think it's just more of an issue to auto-follow others. Although, as I get more and more followers, I'm starting to wonder if I might change my mind on the subject. going through 50 to 100 Twitter profiles becomes tiresome 🙂

  • Interesting thoughts. Being new on Twitter, I noticed that every time I follow someone, I get also followed, even though I have made just a few tweets. Some might see it as a token of appreciation, others as an extra way to get visibility.

    You can find the same behavior on social networks such as LinkedIn. Some people see a sport in getting as many contacts as possible, yet they don't really use them. When talking about Twitter I tend to think that those who auto-follow are also the biggest users and though it is impossible to "physically or mentally" follow 40.000 people everyday, they use the @name to have conversations with the participating/interesting ones.

    What I'd like to know is how you can differentiate someone who personally decided to follow you from someone who did it automatically. Is there a way to know?

    I discovered your blog while using Friendfeed, and I like it.
    will be back 🙂

  • Interesting thoughts. Being new on Twitter, I noticed that every time I follow someone, I get also followed, even though I have made just a few tweets. Some might see it as a token of appreciation, others as an extra way to get visibility.

    You can find the same behavior on social networks such as LinkedIn. Some people see a sport in getting as many contacts as possible, yet they don't really use them. When talking about Twitter I tend to think that those who auto-follow are also the biggest users and though it is impossible to "physically or mentally" follow 40.000 people everyday, they use the @name to have conversations with the participating/interesting ones.

    What I'd like to know is how you can differentiate someone who personally decided to follow you from someone who did it automatically. Is there a way to know?

    I discovered your blog while using Friendfeed, and I like it.
    will be back 🙂

  • I agree. If you wouldn't do it in someone's face, you probably shouldn't do it online.

  • I agree. If you wouldn't do it in someone's face, you probably shouldn't do it online.

  • Amen to the ending Automation in Social Media. I totally agree. The auto-bot generated stuff is getting more and more out of control and it’s also becoming more obvious when people are doing it. Ugh.

    Thanks for a great post.
    Kimberly
    @jkvirtualoffice

  • *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.*

    So simply, yet accurately described. Thank you.

  • *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.*

    So simply, yet accurately described. Thank you.

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