Exploring The Oxymoron of Automated Social Media

I Robot

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?Β  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?

  • Excellent post! I was actually going to bring this up recently, and I’m glad to see a well written blog post about it.

    My personal feeling is that some automation is OK, but it shouldn’t entirely replace personal connections. Once your followers/friends/clients/etc get the feeling that you’re a cold, impersonal computer, you’re hosed.

    There’s probably a good balance in there somewhere. Take Twitter for example: using a service to place tweets throughout the day is probably a good idea so you can space out links and time them for visibility. But checking in personally a few times a day is very important, and you can catch up on conversations, contribute to folks who ask questions, etc. without wasting loads of time.

    • bkmacdaddy

      Thanks for the response, Michael. I’m thinking the trick is as you say – finding that balance of helpful tools without falling prey to the temptation to extract oneself from the process entirely.

  • bob

    Great post, I tried to make this an auto-reply but decided to personalize it in light of the topic. πŸ˜‰

    • bkmacdaddy

      Hehe – thanks for the chuckle, Bob! πŸ˜‰

  • Another excellent post, Brian!

  • I think you are absolutely right that on a fundamental level the automation of social media is in fact the death of it. I don’t think we can escape that fact. Social media is supposed to be about building relationships and having conversations.

    Things like Tweetdeck or Google Wave, which will consolidate multiple social media accounts into a single window will hopefully stop the trend toward automated responses.

    Glad you got the conversation started on this.

    • bkmacdaddy

      Thanks for the input, Jake. I agree there are plenty of “good” tools that simplify our engagement, such as Tweetdeck. Hopefully we can continue to utilize these tools and stay away from those that do TOO much.

  • This is my first time visiting your blog and I really enjoyed this post. I think naturally, people tend to try to find ways to do things easier, which often results in laziness, which is what we’re seeing with automation.

    As Jake above said, it’s great that various third parties are giving us tools to consolidate the vast social media world, which will hopefully cut back on automation.

    Ultimately, you nailed it that nothing can compete with the “real” unautomated interaction you get in social media. Why? To steal a line from the hokie pokie: Because that’s what it’s all about.

    • bkmacdaddy

      Thanks for the visit, Jackie. Glad you liked the post & I appreciate your input (even your hokie pokie reference!) πŸ˜‰

  • I agree in theory yet disagree in practice. I find that a lot of small businesses want to use social media to get connect with their customers but don’t have the time because they’re so busy running their business. Social media can’t level the playing field if only large companies can afford to hire dedicated, in-house, non-automated social media people, but this results in automation and outsourcing by the little guys.

    • bkmacdaddy

      Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, but thanks for the comment. My point is that if a business can’t afford any type of customer service other than automation, maybe they shouldn’t attempt to provide customer service. Regardless of all the programmed options being utilized, the business that serves me personally, from a person to a person, is ALWAYS going to get my preferred business.

  • “It stands to reason that the automation of social interaction is, by definition, the death of it.” I totally agree! I remember writing a post once entitled: Social Media Dead in 2020: May it Rest in Peace… I discussed my opinion, which supports your 100%, about how social media will be dead soon just like many other deceased trends and fashions…

    Good post. Keep up the good work πŸ™‚

    • bkmacdaddy

      Thanks for the visit & comment, Beirut! Always good to know our viewpoints line up, since yours is one I so highly respect. πŸ™‚

  • Are we freaking twins or WHAT? This is exactly how I feel. Exxxxxactly. And just can’t stand the thought of it. The whole thing about social media and how it has and is changing the face of marketing is that consumers no longer want to be broadcast to … well, in my opinion, when you use these tools, that’s exactly what it is. Totally lessens your cred, in my book and, I truly believe, in the minds of your customers as well.

    Social media = transparency = engagement = connecting = BEING there, for real, not booking your engagement so that you can be sure and “reel ’em in, even when you’re sleeping.”

    Blech. Makes me wanna barf.

    Have I told you lately that I love you?

    • bkmacdaddy

      Hehe…thanks for the support and encouragement (and the laughs) Shelly. I believe the answer is yes, we are freaking twins. πŸ˜‰

  • I wrote a blog post about auto-DMs: 10 Twitter Auto-DM Examples Prove They’re a Bad Idea

    I don’t think the spammers will be the death of Twitter, just to the automaters. It’s a get-rich-quick fad that will be beaten by anti-spam solutions and downright determination of users to block spammers. In my humble opinion, anyway.

  • Who has the time to read such a long-winded post??? WTF?


    I agree whole-heartedly with your conclusion.

    Furthermore: language is mother of culture. The death of language, is the death of culture. I think it’s efficient that these events are simultaneously occurring. That way, we won’t notice what we’re missing. How sad, really.

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