Aug 092011

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Today I read an interesting blog post about social media automation on Shonali Burke’s Waxing UnLyrical blog. As a busy communications professional, I’ve thought about this topic before and enjoyed seeing it debated. So of course I jumped into the comment thread.

When I first read the post by guest author Thom Holland, my mind went to a conversation I had recently with the owner of a local web hosting company. He talked about how he could create score of backlinks overnight for clients, using a tool that spammed the Internet with basically the same content changed slightly and posted to dozens of different places. Really bad, spammy stuff.

So in my comment I asked Thom for some examples of what he meant by automation. He responded quickly, talking about tools like SocialOomph, HootSuite and TwitterFeed. Now regarding those tools the issue is not as clear-cut.

At my firm Strategic Communications Group we help clients engage in content marketing, with the content promoted through social media channels. To effectively help develop content and then promote it in the proper online communities, we need to know the market niche extremely well. Automation doesn’t provide any shortcuts.

Having said that, I use SocialOomph every day to help manage multiple Twitter accounts and to monitor client Twitter mentions. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion. It’s still me doing the activity, tweeting and reviewing. I also don’t see any issue with scheduling tweets in advance — after all the person still has to write them.

However finding new followers based on keywords, without having ever read any of their content goes too far in my opinion. So do direct messages thanking followers — I used to do that when I first started Twitter, then I stopped. A lot of these distinctions admittedly are very subjective.

Authenticity and transparency are coins of the realm when it comes to social media. So here’s my totally unscientific definition of appropriate social media automation.

A tool that extends the range and effectiveness of the individual participating in social media is a good and smart thing. This would include platforms that help manage multiple accounts, monitor mentions and plan out publication times.

Any tool that replaces the individual, or removes the need for relevant, original content is not a good or smart thing. This would rule out content farming type back link development, automated following of Twitter accounts to jump start your number of followers, and tweeting content you did not actually create. I’m also not a fan of ghost tweeting without attribution — I posted on that topic earlier this year.

So there’s my initial take. This issue isn’t going anywhere — what do you think?

  3 Responses to “Can You Automate and Still Keep Social Media Real?”

  1. Wow…excellent post, Chris. Obviously, I agree 100 percent with your take on social automation.

    You see this same shortcut mentality in traditional media relations, as well as Email marketing. The “spray and pray” mentality when it comes to communication is ineffective.

  2. Hey Chris:

    One problem with social media (…or Internet in general) is the insane amount of information available to people. Google search did a great initial job at solving this problem. More specifically, Google is great because I can get the information I need, when I need it.

    However, now we have social networks with the same problem; to much irrelevant information. There are way to many people blasting me with information I don’t need. The social problem, however, doesn’t seem to be as solvable as integrating a search engine.

    It would be great if the social sites had a feature that connected your content with people who need it. That way you didn’t share it with people who didn’t want it or need it. For example, maybe before you share something, the social site could suggest to you who might find the content relevant.

    I think this is the idea behind “lists” and “circles” but it just isn’t there yet. What do you think?

    ps – Great write up. I really enjoyed reading through your thoughts on this.

    – Thom

    • Thom — thanks for the inspiration, and the comment! What your describe is very interesting — sort of like social sites enabling the “push” rather than enabling the “pull,” right? Sounds promising, but they should be leery of trying and getting too many complaints from people who don’t feel like the content is a good match. But maybe starting with someone’s friends/connections could address that concern.

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