The Flawed Thinking Behind The Anti-Automation Stance

by · June 11, 201251 comments

Ricky Lee Potts and I had a spirited discussion on Twitter Friday. He was apparently catching a replay of a webinar Erik Deckers and I had done to promote No Bullshit Social Media and was voicing his disagreement with a few points. Honestly, I love folks like Ricky because if you’re not vetting the information you’re receiving, not filtering it to ensure it works for you and your audience, you may as well follow the other lemmings off the cliff.

One of Ricky’s main points of contention was offered up in this tweet:

Rickly Lee Potts complaint

On the surface, and without considered thought, yes, automating one’s tweets might seem to be non-human. By technical definition, I’ve contradicted myself. But there’s a finer point here that the purists miss:

While I automate the sharing mechanism to bring good content to my audience, what is not automated is the discovery and review of that content.

Every single time I’ve shared content online since I’ve shared content online has been done after I’ve personally reviewed and determined that content is worth presenting to my audience. No one vets the information for me. I don’t automatically post anyone’s blog RSS feed or other content without first reviewing it with my own eyes and on my own time. If it is shared, you can rest assured no amount of laziness occurred while doing so.

The only offense I’ve committed is saving my audience from the annoyance of me vomiting 10-15 links in a short time span each morning (when I’m reviewing said content). I save them this pain by cuing up my shares to spread out throughout the day. Ricky pointed out that if he responded to one of my automatically posted articles, as a user, he expects an immediate response. I certainly monitor my stream for questions and comments, but it is flawed thinking to expect anyone to offer an immediate response on Twitter. Some people have meetings, lives, bathroom breaks, lunch, phone calls, etc., and thus, Twitter isn’t a 24-7 activity. If you, or even your company, can keep up that pace, good for you. But I’m betting there’s probably a time of day I could reach out to Ricky and get crickets for a while.

The entire point of the fun stories Erik and I presented in the early chapters of No Bullshit Social Media was to prove these very points. That the “rules” are only the rules if you test them and vet them for effectiveness with your audience. That what the purists (in this example, Ricky) might claim to be the “right way” isn’t always the right way, or sometimes even feasible. That you are better off knowing your audience, product, environment and such and make decisions that are best for them, not what some blogger person or influencer or conference speaker thinks is good.

It’s the same mentality DJ Waldow and I have taken with our new book The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing — Best practices are only applicable if you test and discover that they are best practices for you.

Yes, I automate about half of my Tweets — sometimes less, sometimes more. Yes, Scott Stratten and others have called me disingenuous and non-human and other things for doing so. And I’m fine with the criticism. I am because I know two things for certain:

  • I still vet the content personally and in a non-automated way
  • The content I share is useful and interesting to most of my audience

How can that be bad?

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/ChelseyJo Chelsey

    Great article, Jason! I completely agree with you on all counts. I actually do something similar with my Twitter account — Each morning, I go through Google Reader and select articles that are relevant to my interests and the interests of my followers (which are usually on social media, design, development, video and general marketing best practices). I schedule one post per hour throughout the workday.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that I am sharing things just to share them. I pick articles that I enjoy, find educational and provide value. I’m on Twitter all day, so I will check in to see if anyone has shared or commented on the articles. I think that what you (and I) are doing *can* be considered “automated,” but it’s definitely still “human.”

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Looks like we’ve got a lot in common, then Chelsey! Good on ya!

  • http://twitter.com/Advertising140 Andrew Davis

    I think the “automation” bugaboo is a symbol for a larger issue: inhuman interaction on social media. For example, if a brand responds to consumer complaints with a boilerplate response, does it matter if that response is sent using a bot, or a live community manager? No, because it lacks the “human” quality expected in social media regardless of how that message is disseminated. Likewise, if the automation process can be set-up where the consumer still feels like they are connecting with a brand, it’s meeting the true standard of importance. I would even go so far as to suggest that consumers won’t mind even if automated responses are obvious, so long as consumers feel like they are being heard. 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Love that take, Andrew. I concur … if the intent and reception is genuine, regardless of mechanism, I don’t see it as an issue.

  • Larry Irons

    I think the issue becomes most serious when enterprises overestimate the accuracy of automating social media for customer service issues

    http://skilfulminds.com/2010/06/24/what-are-the-organizational-limits-to-analytics-in-scrm/ 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great point and resource, Larry. Response automation and the like … just a train wreck waiting to happen. 

  • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

    I tweeted this, but will comment here as well: It’s a false dichotomy. No one sits on their email watching the clock to send messages at the optimal time. There are certain times where people are more likely to see your emails, tweets, facebook posts, etc. Why would you not take advantage of that? The problem is when it’s all automation, and no humanization. In other words, we need to be social media cyborgs. :) Take advantage of the tech, but not at the cost of losing our souls.

    • AnitaHovey

      That’s a great point about e-mail marketing. I hadn’t actually thought of that before, but it’s so true. I very much follow the same system as Jason, so thanks for giving me another talking point.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agree with Anita, Erik. Love that analogy. 

  • AnitaHovey

    I’m with you Jason. I automate a lot of my sharing, through Hootsuite scheduling and Buffer. I don’t feel guilty about it…it’s still human as you say. I’m still choosing what to tweet and when. I do a lot of my reading late at night. I’d be wasting my efforts if I sent a bunch of tweets then. But I am also around on Twitter all day, pretty much every day, between workshops and meetings, to interact with people. There has to be a happy medium or nobody would use Twitter.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Amen to that, Anita. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Kevin

    Using tools like buffer around links and content has made me much more social I would say. Before I would be concerned about Tweeting too much content in a row and feel like I was just verbally vomitting on Twitter. Now I know when I find something I can just hit the buffer button on my browser and it goes into a queue which will space it out. There is a difference between “automation” and efficient usage of tools. 

    • http://about.me/sueannereed Sue Anne Reed

      Kevin – I’m the same way. I love buffer and need to get back to using it more on my personal twitter account. I tend to do a lot of my reading and sharing of content later in the evening. I could share all of it between 11 pm – 1 am when I’m doing the reading, but does that provide value to anyone? Sharing it at times when people are more likely to see it is better, imo. And, because during the day I’m not worried about when I’m going to share that random piece of content, I can engage with other people and be social. 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Yep. Agree with Sue Anne here, Kevin. Though, I’m not sure I like you being more social. Heh. (For everyone else, Kevin and I are IRL friends.)

  • http://twitter.com/JenKaneCo Jennifer Kane

    I’m not anti-automation. But I also don’t believe that automation and real-time engagement are two sides of the same coin. Automation is simply the best Plan B for when you can’t be involved in real-time.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I can see your point, Jennifer, but automation isn’t plan B for me. I intentionally use it to be more social and share more content without inundating my audience all at once. If I couldn’t automate my shares, I’d probably share less and be less useful to folks. 

  • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

    I think there’s a distinction between automation and scheduling. As @erikjfisher:disqus said, we schedule emails, right? Why not schedule tweets? When Jason (and I) curate great content and then schedule it to go out at times we think will be convenient, we’re not automating, we’re scheduling. Vs. automation – when you are auto-tweeting everything in a particular RSS feed, for example, or auto-replying to every tweet. That’s where automation becomes more like automaton (and far less human), in my opinion. 
    However (and this is where some people will completely disagree with me), I think there’s a place for some limited automation as well. For example, I use IFTTT to automatically tweet posts from my own blogs; with my own blogs I’m 100% sure of the quality and I don’t want to forget to get them into Twitter (you could also use a WordPress plugin for this, and many people do). I don’t use automation for any other content curation, though, because what if something stupid comes across the feed? I don’t want to risk looking like a robot.

    • http://waldowsocial.com DJ Waldow

      GREAT distinction here, Stephanie. Well said.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Love. It. Thank you, dear.

  • Sheryl

    I agree with Ricky. Even if you have read and reviewed the content you are posting or linking to… it’s no longer real-time, which is the point of Twitter. You’re broadcasting, not being social, which obviously, is the point of “social” media.

    • http://waldowsocial.com DJ Waldow

      Ah, but Sheryl … who are we to make the “rules” for what the point of Twitter is … or is not. Since when is it real-time, all the time? That’s just not realistic. Now, my personal take is if you are asking a question on Twitter … something where you are hoping folks will reply to and engage … it would be unwise to automate that. In that case, it’s a conversation. If someone is tweeting out a link to good content, something that does not necessarily require a “conversation”, what’s the harm in that?

      • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

        Agreed, DJ. I’m certainly a purist in many ways, but I don’t get the scheduling and curating uproar. If I take the time to create a post and hit Submit, why does it matter whether it goes out now or six hours from now? If it’s about being around to respond, what’s the difference if I post now and take off for the day, only to respond tomorrow?

        The scheduling/curation is separate of your “human” posting. Both have value. It’s the insincere BS where you craft an auto DM that is meant to appear sincere, targeted at one person that annoys me. Along with following everyone, but whatever…

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Actually, Sheryl, the point of Twitter varies by user. The point of Dell’s use of Twitter is to broadcast deals and coupons. And several million people LOVE their use of it. It is a broadcast channel, not an engagement channel, for some. To have such a limited view of the proper use of the tool is to limit your own potential there, for you or your company. 

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m a purist in a sense, too. I want people to engage genuinely and in real-time when they can … it makes for a better experience. But when people are broadcasting for not engaging in real time (because they’re asleep, eating, working, etc.) it doesn’t make it a BAD experience. It makes it less ideal. 

      There’s not a black and white here. I use Twitter my way and it works for me and my audience. If you don’t believe that you should schedule content to share like I do, that’s fine for you. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/duncan.alney Duncan Alney

    Ricky Lee Potts is a purist. He also disagrees with the concept of BlogIndiana because it has evolved into a social media conference. 

    Part of your appeal Jason is that you curate highly interesting content in addition to producing your own. Semi-automation is necessary and okay as long it’s vetted – and when its coming from trusted sources – its absolutely okay.

    This is a tired argument. Guy Kawasaki answered this best many years ago. Don’t we have more important things to talk about? My question is so based on this purist framework of being human – should we disengage from any sort of automation? Isn’t social media a poor automated version of real conversation? Should we send smoke signals instead? Should we not have teams of people? Should speech writing be banned? What else will purists dictate next?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well said, sir. And thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/Ilana221 Ilana Rabinowitz

    How you use Twitter should be determined by what your objectives are. If one of your objectives is to be a resource and/or show thought leadership, the fact thaevery tweet doesn’t go out in real time is irrelevant. It actually shows a lack of concern for your audience if you tweet something the moment you find it and that moment happens to be 4:00 a.m. when no one will see it.  

    • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

      Agreed completely, Llana. Additionally, Twitter is not my core business (my business is on Facebook). I fully recognize that I don’t have the time necessary to be as successful on Twitter as I need to be. So I may use some shortcuts, knowing that it isn’t optimal, but also recognizing that there is only one “me” available to handle it!

      Bit again, the distinction may be necessary here between “scheduling” (which I do) and automation (following/DM, which I don’t).

    • http://oscarstech.com/ Oscar Gonzalez

      Boom.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Bravo!

  • http://waldowsocial.com DJ Waldow

    I think @socialologist:disqus hits the nail on the head. There is automation and there is scheduling. Not necessarily the same thing. 

    As @erikjfisher:disqus said (& Stephanie reiterated), we use an email marketing tool to schedule emails. We are not always there to reply the instant someone comments. Same thing with blog posts. Sure, one could argue that email and blogging is not the same as Twitter. Fair, but it’s just plain unrealistic to expect someone to be on Twitter 24/7/365. Probably unhealthy too.

    Should Jason Falls be refreshing this blog post waiting for the next comment to come in so he can respond? Personally, I don’t think so. 

    I have more thoughts on this, but am only on coffee #1!

    • http://about.me/sueannereed Sue Anne Reed

      Completely agree with @djwaldow:disqus …. 

    • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

      I like the differentiation on scheduling vs. automation. I think it still makes sense for a certain amount of automation, in regards to an auto response when a quick real response isn’t possible, but only as a back up. For the most part, I think we need to back off the ‘always on’ mentality of social and the web. People do need to sleep. I was woken up by my 9 month old son last night, and was amazed at the amount of scheduled tweets I saw when I happen to check my phone. 

      • http://waldowsocial.com DJ Waldow

        Yeah. I have a 9 DAY old son and have noticed the same thing. Ha!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      For the record, I checked and responded to comments at 9:35 p.m. ET, some 12 and a half hours after the post went live. It kind of proves the point. I can still participate in the conversation, in a relevant way, even if I had a lot of work to do today and didn’t get to jump in in real time. Why is Twitter any different than a blog comment? I check it and respond when I can. 

  • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

    I see no issues with automating sharing. Ricky seems to have that issue, but I’m thinking there are two sets of “purists.” I’m from the group that can’t stand automated DM’s that try to disguise themselves as sincere messages. And I also hate the act of auto-following everyone since it is again an insincere gesture, suggesting that you actually care what the person has to say (when in reality, it’s more a strategy to get as many followers as possible).

    My two cents. But good discussion.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Right there with you, Jon. Not a fan of auto-DMs or blasting to lists … but I can also argue for both under the right circumstances. Mainstream consumers tend to respond and/or engage with auto DMs (from the limited stats I’ve seen on the behavior). They seem to work to a degree. Certainly, those of us in the echo chamber have been conditioned to hate them. But that doesn’t mean they won’t work always. 

      But yeah, I hate them, too. Heh.

      • http://jonloomer.com/blog Jon Loomer

        Sometimes things that are “effective” just don’t feel right, you know? See black hat SEO.

        In the end, I guess it’s up to the individual to weigh effectiveness and their own sense of social media ethics.

        Good discussion!

  • http://journamarketing.com/ dbrazeal

    I find that alerts on my smartphone help me make better use of scheduled Tweets or Facebook statuses. If I schedule an update, I can forget all about it, and if someone responds, I get an alert. It allows me to respond in real time if that’s appropriate, without sitting around and monitoring Twitter all day.

    Not that I don’t sit around monitoring Twitter all day. That’s cool, right?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Great response! Notifications certainly do help you stay real-time without having to be plugged in the whole real time. ;-)

  • Nick Westergaard

    Great post, @JasonFalls:disqus ! Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to automate a tweet of this post for tomorrow when most of my community is online and I do want to take advantage of that as @erikjfisher:disqus  notes. Lively discussion around a great topic. 

  • http://twitter.com/RombeautC Rombeaut Catherine

    Very interesting post Jason, thanks! I follow you from France on Twitter, and I am glad that you use both automation and real time message, that way I am please to read you at any time even when you are sleeping… ;) I also use both because a lot of Americans follow me, it’s a good way to share and be connected at anytime, for what we are asked for and for what I am expected for. How could we be always connected anyway, if we want to share on facebook, twitter, google+ aso.. No  way! Still it’s not because we use semi-automation that we are not human, in the contrary, it’s because we are human, and that we have also a life that it’s good to use it that way, and answering back when we have to and sharing directly. So carry on what you are doing for me it’s just perfect!

  • http://mattiasgronborg.com/ Mattias Gronborg

    Great article Jason and an important topic to discuss. I really like the authentic approach you have when you embrace the feedback.

    Honestly, I was not a big fan of automatic tools, but when my skills improved and my vision grew I discovered that I needed to change my opinion. Why? Because I live in Sweden, and now one of my biggest online purposes are networking with people in U.S and this would be impossible without some help from tools and automation.

    Why? Because I need to sleep (proves that I’m a human) and the 9 hour gap between Sthlm and CA is to big to handle even with Red Bull. Tools like this support me to create social serendipity. Of course I’m also reading everything I put up in my Hootsuite publish stream. I not only use automation tools because of the time difference, I also use them for time efficiency in the same way as you describe. But I’m always investing the time reviewing the content (human intervention).

    Best!

    Mattias

  • http://twitter.com/FrameableFaces Frameable Faces

    I hate automating.  I do NOT hate scheduling.  Personally I believe there is a huge difference.  For me automating is when a robot sends a tweet as an automatic response such as a facebook post that automatically is sent (and cut off halfway through) to twitter (I admittedly did that a long time ago before I realized quickly it was bad form as I was trying to figure out twitter for our brand) or a “thank you for following me on twitter and please buy my crap” response that the twitterer doesn’t even know happened.  I think scheduling which is done by hand to spread out the info you are sharing is a totally different.  If that distinction were drawn I think everyone would get along….  :-)

    - Doug Cohen

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  • http://oziomedia.com/productreviews seo copywriting

    Many people are just confusing automating RSS posts from random websites with automating the scheduling of those posts. When you find good content to share, it makes sense to post it to a schedule that coincides with the users that you want to read it being online. Keeping up a manual schedule opens the process up to all of the usual human failings like forgetting or being caught up in other tasks and missing the right post windows. Automatically scheduling posts is the best way to make sure that your social media messages reach your audience.

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