Exploring The Oxymoron of Automated Social Media
It took radio 38 years to accumulate 50 million listeners. Television swooped in and within 13 years reached 50 million viewers. The internet rose to 50 million users in only 4 years. Each communication/entertainment media tool eclipsed the previous in about a third of the time.
Facebook recently boasted reaching 300 million users. Twitter’s latest projections are for 18 million by the end of 2009. MySpace, YouTube and countless other social media services are all increasing in use and we can rest assured knowing that many more similar services and extensions are on the horizon as developers and investors attempt to capitalize on the success of the latest phenomenon.
Of course, advertising and monetization and demographic targeting have become such an integral part of the new revolution so quickly that one almost has to wonder if the capitalization movement has been one of the primary contributors to the rapid growth. It’s an interesting thought: what if a bulk of the increase is due to the salivating bandwagon jumpers who actually aren’t even using the tools but only looking for how to generate revenue through them? Ah, but that’s another blog post…
In this post I want to focus on the oxymoron of automated social media. An oxymoron is the combination of two normally contradictory terms, in this case “automated” and “social”.
Automation: automatically controlled operation of an apparatus, process, or system by mechanical or electronic devices that take the place of human labor.
Social: of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society.
Webster’s definitions pretty clearly demonstrate the contradiction of these two terms. Yet automation in social contexts is becoming more and more the norm.
Look at voicemail and phone response systems. We can now pay our bills, check account balances, make changes to services and more over the phone without ever speaking to a live person. Call me old fashioned, but it is one of my least favorite things to try to speak in a clear enough way so the program on the other end of the line will stop triggering the all-too-pleasant computerized voice to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your answer. Would you please repeat it again so I can better serve you?” Pretty much the moment I realize I’m in a voicemail system anymore I just start pressing zero and shouting “Speak to a representative!”
But obviously we have come up with wonderful ways to eliminate jobs that humans once held and streamlined processes so that far less paychecks need to be issued, which in turn is leading us into a utopian economy and society that our forefathers only dreamed of, correct? Ah, but that’s another blog post…
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much for technology as the next guy – maybe more so, since I make a living using computers to design things for use on the internet. And who has the time to maintain the multitude of supposedly “necessary” social media accounts while working a full-time job and raising a family? So it seems the solution would be to find ways to streamline and simplify the process to enable us to do it all.
You’ve probably seen and maybe even used some simple automation in your own social media accounts. Do you post your Facebook and Twitter statuses simultaneously from Tweetdeck? I see it on my Facebook pages all the time: a bunch of status updates in “Twitter language”, which to the bulk of Facebook users who are not on Twitter is completely foreign and meaningless. I did this for a few days when I first discovered it, thinking how cool it would be that I would never even have to go to Facebook to update my own status and view others’. It didn’t take long for a few Facebook friends to ask me what the hell I was talking about. So I stopped, feeling foolish in my attempts to streamline.
Or maybe you’ve found a way to automatically update your Twitter and Facebook statuses every time you publish a new blog post. How cool is that? And one or two less steps you will have to do in order to publicize your blog! Think how those minutes you’ve saved will add up!
Or if you’re really on top of your game, perhaps you’ve found a tool that will enable you to update all of your statuses for all of your social media accounts at preprogrammed intervals throughout the day and all you have to do is spend a few minutes each week setting it up. Automatic direct messages are painlessly sent to each new friend or follower that chooses you. Blog posts are written months in advance and set for publishing and precisely calculated times and dates to ensure highest traffic.
You can just sit back and watch your numbers increase, without ever having to interact with a single human being.
Is that the point? Will I know that I have achieved success in social media when I am no longer spending any time communicating with people from all over the world at any time of the day, learning and sharing and interacting and discovering? Will I finally be able to exhale and pat myself on the back when I have spent an entire day without hearing about someone’s personal struggles, or offering assistance to someone who doesn’t exactly know how to do something I have expertise in, or just meeting someone new?
Unless I am missing something, that is not the definition of being social. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. The contradiction.
It stands to reason that the automation of social interaction is, by definition, the death of it.
But is there a way to use technology to streamline and simplify processes in the social media realm without eliminating the element of human interaction?