Automation Killed the Social Media Star

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Judy Dench looking over coffins in a scene from Skyfall, image by Sony

Has automation killed the social media star?

I think so.

The social media conversation paradigms of 2006 form a foundation for today’s online world. But Cluetrain Manifesto dreams have been bludgeoned and destroyed by the unrelenting advance of technology and corporate demands for better financial results.

The resulting technological imperative forces success-driven individuals and companies to use automation tools to drive online engagement.

If someone wants to engage as an “authentic” human across all channels without automation they quickly face the burnout scenario. Or they neglect other business duties. That’s true of the professional or the individual voice, in my opinion.

Meanwhile almost every worthwhile online competitor leverages automation — from scheduled tweets and monitoring to inbound lead nurturing systems and segmented dynamic content — for a competitive advantage.

Many of us face the marketing automation challenge: How much human judgment can it exercise? Or is it all machine?

Automation cannot replace the emotional creative brain, but it can use algorithms to help market more effectively and with speed. How does one find the balance?

Without automation, it’s almost impossible for a brand or individual voice to succeed and stay relevant in today’s marketing world.

Selling Out?

One could say that using automation is selling out, abandoning the ways of the social media purist.

While I understand how automation hurts pure human interaction. I can’t ignore the evolutions facing my marketing clients as well as myself as a blogger.

For me, it’s a matter of insisting on a level of mindfulness to automated marketing efforts that many would not, evolving business communications to become more trustworthy. Better business formed the spirit of my first book Now Is Gone.

Last year I decided to drop the social media pioneer rock, and throw out the rulebook. Instead of ideological finger-wagging, I changed and adapted tools of the day, including automated tweets via Buffer, niche community cultivation through Triberr, algorithmic shortcuts via IFTT, monitoring dashboards for response and measurement, and more.

We all must choose our roads, and sometimes they converge. Other times they diverge.

If we have reached that point, I can only wish you well. Automation killed the social media purist.

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  • http://www.arielmarketinggroup.com/ Amy McCloskey Tobin

    Hmmm… why do we need ‘stars’ anyway – this isn’t hollywood. :) I just want smart folks to provide me with good content, thoughtful discussions, and to pull my heart strings.

    I don’t mind automation if it’s providing the above… you can’t talk to everyone one on one.

    • geofflivingston

      I have always found the team approach works better. The individualism in social, or at least when it comes to work, has always bugged me.

      I think the gut check on human response is the benchmark we must maintain. Is there a person(s) here or just publishing. There’s nothing wrong with just publishing, but don’t call it social engagement.

  • http://www.jasonkonopinski.com/ Jason Konopinski

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why automation elicits such visceral reactions. Like you, I use tools to curate shares, schedule posts and streamline content distribution. I can’t waste hours diddling around on social media all day long – my business will suffer as a result. Automate news, but not engagement. Social activity can’t scale any other way, IMO.

    • geofflivingston

      I agree, and this will not be my most popular post because of that animosity towards automation and technology. People never like to think they will be replaced or streamlined in anyway and I think this is the underlying fear/issue. Thanks for coming by, Jason.

      • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

        My main venom towards automation is very simply explained – because of Triberr, people aren’t reading anymore. I can no longer trust that a blog share is happening because a person really thought what I wrote was worthwhile. And while I don’t have the biggest following ever on Twitter, I would guess a lot of people share my posts automatically not because they like my stuff (sometimes people share things I know for sure they’d disagree with) but rather because the logic is, “I tweeted you, you tweet me.” I still read every single post I share and just use Triberr to send it out. And I do my best to be around within a reasonable time to respond to any comments, either on the blog or on twitter.

        Automation may not be a star killer, but I do think it’s a conversation killer :)

        • geofflivingston

          Um, I’m sorry I disagree. I think Analytics is the metric you should be looking at, not shares. Social media scores and value is often determined by shares, but we’re above the attention metrics like Klout. Readership is what matters.

          I never truly judge a post’s success by its tweet ratio or comments. I judge it by the amount of page views it gets and repeat visits, bounce rates, time on page, etc. Now my blogger ego measures tweets but we know I have issues ;)

          • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

            I think we are essentially saying the same thing – you just said it better than I did :)

            What I meant is that because of sites like Triberr, people simply aren’t visiting blog sites *or* reading posts anymore. It’s entirely possible to go down your Triberr stream, hit approve 20 times, and never click to a person’s blog post. So while you might get a lot of tweets, does that translate into blog traffic? I’d be curious to hear what your experience has been – I know that my traffic did not increase markedly when I started using Triberr, but my comments went down. That told me a lot. Comments were always my favorite part.

        • http://www.arielmarketinggroup.com/ Amy McCloskey Tobin

          I get it Margie – I actually wrote a post for Spin Sucks on Triberr, or the misuse of it and how it hurts. I don’t know that you two disagree as much as you’re looking at apples & oranges…. automation has a hugely important place, especially for large companies. Engagement does too.

          PS: I never share what I don’t read.

  • http://gearboxmagazine.com/ Brian Driggs

    First, Skyfall. Am I right? After years of careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion [controversy] Daniel Craig has done what no other actor before him has – assumed Sean Connery’s position as the definitive James Bond. [/controversy]

    That out of the way, I think the automation is a reflection of the worst legacies of the Industrial Revolution. More does not equal better. Yet we still see so much emphasis on more; more followers, more likes, more fans. more, more, more. And, aside from Olivier Blanchard, precious few are actually tying social metrics to legitimate ROI.

    Social media took off like a rocket because it gave us all – as individual human beings – a voice in a global community. Once the corporations arrived, with their armies of lowest common denominator-targeting marketeers, the race to the bottom began in earnest. Social media became just another broadcast channel for those more interested in talking at people than interacting with them.

    Sadly, business still seems to revolve around cutting costs and limiting competition while simultaneously increasing revenue, with only lipservice paid to true innovation or delivering lasting value to customers. Like I said, the worst of the Industrial Revolution.

    Everyone seems obsessed with scale! And that’s what drives the automation. Nobody “follows” more than a couple hundred people. It’s a game to amass a huge audience for the express purpose of broadcasting. How many people want to start a small business catering to limited customers which provides a small group of people with an above-average income? Not as many as want to start a dot-com, get millions in venture capital, only to flip it to a larger entity before they have to worry about retention or sustainability.

    Automation is a sign of the get-rich-quick mentality. I say, let the corporate juggernauts and might-be-giant shills get fat on easy pickings. There’s still plenty of room between them to deliver exceptional, meaningful service and value – on a real, personal basis – to a smaller customer base, and keep the automation to a bare minimum.

    But tell us how you really feel, Brian! Haha. :P

    • geofflivingston

      There is a reason why people don’t like to engage with brands, and this is one of them. But I would argue the tension you so well describe is the tension facing all of technology, replacing and bettering (or worsening) what we do as men and women. In the end, technology always seems to win.

      P.S. Yes, Skyfall, and total agreement on your controversy!

      • http://gearboxmagazine.com/ Brian Driggs

        Sooth.

        I was troubleshooting a server this morning for a customer on the phone. After a couple hours spent trying this configuration and that, we finally got it back up. That’s when it hit us…

        There’s going to be a couple really, REALLY sweet years between when the machines learn to fix themselves and when they learn to dislike us. ;)

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  • http://twitter.com/emerigent/lists/memberships Emeri Gent [Em]

    The cluetrain manifesto was about being human rather than a star, but if automated technologies create social media stars, then that is fine – it simply follows the way of the television.

    We can make a separation between celebrity and humanity, and automated technologies does not stand in the way of that separation. Celebrity is just an extension of religion, and even atheists have their own “stars”.

    The real deal with online technologies isn’t the mistakes we make with the first billion, it is the mistakes we make with the last billion. The human voice is liberated when all of us are on the net, and we can speak across languages (automated technologies accomplish that also) and then the stars should matter less, because humans will matter more.

    I never thought that the Cluetrain Manifesto was dead in the water, it was just held under water until we reach an age where we don’t need a calculator to work out what our R.O.F. is.

    Following is the old direct, the whole of religion would be dead in the water also if that wasn’t the case – but what is the new direct?

    I think the Cluetrain Manifesto is still the new direct i.e. organizations learn to talk in a human voice, and realize that there has to be a tipping point when people become fed up of anything other than actual human voice.

    For sure that isn’t going to happen in the near term, and it might interest those who are OK with being a part of the mass consumption system – I can’t think of a viable alternative to a world without consumers.

    What I can think of is free will. If free will exists despite a mass consumption system, then that is the humanity that is worth following – not follow like a stalker but follow like logic.

    A world predicated on celebrity will produce the same result, the question is whether the world ahead is changing or will remain the same. The kids of today are led by the adults of yesterday, but the kids of tomorrow will be the children of today’s kids – and those offspring may look upon the prior generation in a way that is revolutionary.

    These kids of today’s kids will be in a better position to discern the future, than those who we term as digital natives. That would be no different to the children of an alcoholic parent recognizing that they don’t want to live their life that way – and in that recognition, it will accompany a desire for the human voice, rather than the mechanized one.

    That day may come, but when it does, hopefully the last billion will be making their way online as well – then the whole world speaks, rather than an old world learning new world insights.

    [Em]

    • geofflivingston

      Fascinating comment. I love the concept of the last million, and the mistakes we make there.

      I agree on free will, but I also see a leviathan called business. Over the years and the centuries this leviathan always seems to win, and we are only able to stir it oh so slowly towards better practices. That’s why I think Cluetrain loses. I hope you are right and I am wrong. We’d all be better for your vision.

      • http://twitter.com/emerigent/lists/memberships Emeri Gent [Em]

        I tend to believe that there are pockets of the future living today but what is mistaken as vision is simply a failure to coalesce those pockets of the future. That failure isn’t personal, it is interpretative, as we gain greater visibility of our world, then our success is in noticing this future.

        If our conversations are about right or wrong or if our conversations are about ancient entities that never seem to change, we are not watching the streams of possibility but merely the big ocean of probability.

        As far as my personal understanding of the future is, that if the future is made in the present moment, then yielding presence is a greater challenge than beholding vision.

        [Em]

  • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

    Like most things, balance tends to help even if it cannot be the cure. I’m not big on automation, but also recognize the scalable limitations. Automated content sharing, with individual follow up (or team member follow up as you point out) tends to work nicely.

    • geofflivingston

      It’s a coupling for sure, I think alone one suffers for time, the other suffers for substance. A marriage is needed.

  • Simon Hamer

    Were there ever really any automated social media stars?
    Were these automated “stars” just the ones that shouted the loudest or adopted automation first ?
    I can remember several who made out they were successful and eventually they disappeared. Social media has to perform a function, and business has to decide which one of its needs it wants to allocate as a function to social media.
    We used to network in person to grow a business, now we network online, when you drag it back to basics, it is networking and building real relationships that is the function that is naturally laid at the feet of social media.

    Can automation fit this need, I doubt it.

    It is personality and belief in the “know, like and trust” that builds relationships that create new business for businesses.

    Automation creates exposure, but exposure needs credibility, and that credibility is only created by personal interaction between real people or the passage of time where brands are concerned.

    For me, I will just continue to be open and willing to actually get to know the people behind the brands and the content. The automated posts without interaction will soon be forgotten by all.

    Just keep social media truly social, and it’ll thrive, but it requires time, effort, a consistent voice and most importantly people to make it work. Automation only kills off the automated bit of the none social media … the truly social media will continue to create business.

    Klout may annoy many with its assessment, but it often spots the lack of automation and identifies real interaction.

    Keep it real folks. Don’t automate everything.

    • geofflivingston

      I think this is the point of the article: That automation backed with human strategy and interaction on the front end is the future. I don’t think it’s feasible for a pure social networking play anymore, not for any business of substantial size, $500k or more.

      So let’s follow this path. While a purist may argue for time, what happens to them when they start to succeed, albeit slowly? They get too big and need to scale. Hiring social media staff for every $.5 m in revenue is not the answer. You automate.

      It’s just reality, IMO.

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  • Adam

    Really thoughtful post Geoff. I think the two words that jumped out at me were “competitive advantage.” Can anyone really compete without automating a least a portion of their online engagement? Nowadays, I don’t see how.

    However, finding that balance b/t automation and personal engagement… not easy.

    • geofflivingston

      It’s a nightmare, really, but the pioneering days (and methods) are leaving us quickly. Thanks for chiming in!

  • http://twitter.com/CarolLynnRivera Carol Lynn Rivera

    Being a social media purist is a little like insisting we have to write with ink and quills because it keeps us connected to our craft. No pounding out 200 misspelled words per minute! Social media is not “supposed to be” anything. It is what it is for whoever uses it. I have social streams full of great content, I’ve met great people and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that because someone was too busy to sit down and personally post a link to me “purely”. Automation keeps the gears spinning and lets us do more with less. I can’t be up at 2AM to post content but my friends across the world appreciate the content I’ve scheduled for them. As a consumer I don’t appreciate full automation from the standpoint that there’s no actual “social” there, and no communication with someone (or a company). But if it works for their bottom line, then they get to do that!

    • geofflivingston

      I honestly could not keep pace without automation. My blog would be dead. As it is I already abandoned Facebook as second tier network, and using Twitter, Triberr, G+ and LinkedIn. That’s a lot! I couldn’t do it and market my business without the tools.

      Thanks for commenting, Carol Lynn!

  • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

    Totally agree with you, Geoff. I actually wrote a post about this a several months back after getting into quite an interesting discussion about this on Twitter. It was amazing to me how purists vehemently preached against automation. They said it wasn’t authentic and that engagement goes out the window. I call hogwash on that.

    Don’t get me wrong – your social media efforts can be totally robotic if you don’t automate the right way (auto DMs come to mind as a bad practice). However, I think scheduling posts is totally useful. We’ve long scheduled email campaigns – how is this any different?

    If we only sent out updates when we thought about it or had time, you’d find me sending out a bevy of tweets at 6 or 7 a.m. and not again for the rest of the day. That’s not very effective and forcing myself to hop back on and send something all day long is not very efficient.

    I can’t afford to spend all day on social media. I know most business owners that can’t. I often wonder how these purists make any money!

    • geofflivingston

      It’s great way to be if you’re a vested personality. Otherwise, the purist route is a great way to burn out and ruin your life, IMO. Like you I can’t afford to spend all day on social media, and wonder how people make money. Great comment!

  • http://twitter.com/samfiorella Sam Fiorella

    Technology and computers – in any field – can be useful or turn is into sloths. We choose how we wish to use them. I, like you use Triberr, a social media automation tool, for niche blog curation and syndication but I dictate how I use it.

    I don’t blindly share everything. I read all each community blog I subscribe to and share those that impact me or I feel are relevant to my community.

    Does that kill time? Well it’s Friday evening at 7:27 and here I am but it’s still my choice how I use the technology. It can manage me or I can configure it so that I manage it. Or at least that is what I’m attempting to do.

    Good article.

    • geofflivingston

      Funny as I scour Triberr at 6 am determining what to share. Cheers.

      • http://twitter.com/samfiorella Sam Fiorella

        Great. Now I know when to post new articles. 6 am. :)

  • http://twitter.com/swoodruff Steve Woodruff

    Geoff, I use automation in a limited way (mainly, scheduling “sharing” tweets), but there’s no way my approach as a solopreneur and focused network-builder would scale for a larger business. Automation tools are neither good nor evil in and of themselves (like pretty much everything else in life, right?) – it just comes down to purpose. I almost wonder if the social networking world isn’t going to self-stratify over time, into a marketing/comms/distribution layer, and a personal interaction layer. Right now, it’s all jumbled up. Focused, purpose-built, limited networks will likely be the solution to this conundrum.

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