Rule #1 of Twitter use – be helpful – right?  Does that make sense to you?  Absolutely.  Can you screw up your implementation of Rule #1 and ruin your Twitter presence?  Absolutely.    By the way, this rule applies to all forms of social media.

Let’s look at the idea of sharing in the context of two questions:

  • What to share
  • How to share

Automated social media – efficiency versus effectiveness

Megaphone by Kimba Howard on FlickrYou can automate parts of your social media presence.  ReTweet buttons are a simple example:  two clicks and you’ve Tweeted a useful link instead of typing it all out.  You can even set up automated Tweets, similar to E-Mail autoresponders.  Similar examples apply to other social media tools.

But here’s the important question:  Why automate?

There’s two ways to answer this question. One answer would address the methods used (efficiency).  The other answer delves into the more important question:  what’s your objective?  What do you hope to achieve?  What do you want your audience to do?  This reply delves into effectiveness:  Will automation help you achieve your goals?

When being helpful looks like spamming

Recently, Naomi Dunford of Ittybiz (http://ittybiz.com/what-should-i-tweet-about/) seemed to declare war on “useful” Tweets and called for a return (or resurgence) of informal Twitter chat, even designating a hashtag for this purpose.  A closer read of the post reveals the following key idea:  You’re not being helpful if you’re just presenting a guise of being helpful and creating a continual barrage of links.

Worse still, if all you’re doing is generating “helpful” output, you’re losing a big opportunity.

We’ve all seen these accounts, the ones that just post titles and links.  The worst offenders only link to themselves.  Actually, the worst offenders lie about what they’re linking to, but we don’t need to go there.

Since your blog posts and articles really should be helpful, pumping them out in an automated stream helps your followers by extension.  But when it looks obvious that it’s a machine at work, not a human being, it cheapens the gift by excluding the humanity.

Too much of this and it’s indistinguishable from spam.

When being conversational looks like spamming

On the other hand, if your social media output is purely social, you’ve need to be mindful of how this activity builds your business.  A number of celebrities or successful entrepreneurs churn out “personal” and “social” content with a minimum of links. Some look like they are just musing out loud or talking to themselves.

Granted, they may have less free time than working stiffs like you and me.  But they don’t look like they’re doing one of the most important things:  listening.  They’re just broadcasting, which is darn close to spamming.

The automation mindset obscures the need to listen

Automation is great.  It allows you to focus your time and attention on other things.  However, when information is being sprayed from the proverbial firehose, listening becomes even more critical.  People used to come directly to you with letters, phone calls and formal meetings and you had the ability to respond or deflect.  Now they talk to each other instead or they just complain to audiences, not to you.

If you delegate one thing, sometimes it’s easy to delegate a related activity.

I know that’s the MBA way, but you really need to think about delegating this activity.  You are the best listener and engager. You’re the one who should care.

The solution:  balance the automation with the personal touch

But you’re still limited by the same number of hours per day.  Automation may be a key component of the way that you communicate with the world.  It may be delivering valuable results to you.  If you want to automate Tweets to your blog posts, that’s fine.  But mix it up.  Respond to feedback, both on your blog and in Twitter.  Carve out some time to look for relevant conversations.

If you feel comfortable doing so, try:

  • using your Twitter accounts to just “hang out” and being social
  • acknowledge people (customers, suppliers, potential customers, remarkable people)
  • strike up a new conversation
  • experiment

Just don’t be the guy or gal who gets a machine to talk into the wind.  After awhile, too much “helpful” and too little listening just makes your voice blend into the cacophony we all live in today.  And that’s when you surrender the permission you earned to be listened to.

As Jason says, the comments section is yours.

Editor’s Note: Mark Dykeman of ThoughtWrestling and Broadcasting Brain is one of 12 new authors coming to Social Media Explorer. We’ll explain more on Monday.

IMAGE: Megaphone by Kimba Howard on Flickr.

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About Mark Dykeman

Mark Dykeman

Mark Dykeman is the founder and main brain of Thoughtwrestling, a blog devoted to helping you with creativity, creative thinking, idea generation techniques, problem solving and getting things done. He is also the award-winning blogger behind Broadcasting Brain. For more great ideas, follow Mark on Twitter at @markdykeman.

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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://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

    Hey Mark. I got some fodder for the comments section on this subject just yesterday with the CEO of a start up out here in the Silicon Valley. They spent a little time initially writing a script that scraped the web for links they felt were relevant, compiled them into a feed, and spat them out through their Twitter account. It didn't take much to explain to them how ineffective that would be over time. You can clearly understand why they are trying to find a way to have a Twitter presence, but they are a bit scared to dedicate more manpower and attention to it.

    I think automation is used best when it helps the person behind the wheel do more, faster. It is augmenting the routine elements of sharing. Being present to broadcast, but not present to engage simply misses the point of participating in the first place. I think your suggestion to “mix it up” is a very good one.

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Thanks Adam!

  • http://www.notaproblog.com Jordan Cooper

    I never really understood the hard line view of some people towards any automation whatsoever. As you've highlighted here, Mark, it boils down to a balance of efficiency & listening. Although sharing links has its place in the Twitter Marketing 101 mindset, I see no purpose in vomiting them out in chunks 5 or 6 at a time within the span of a half-hour, automation or no-automation. It almost smacks of arrogance sometimes, “here's some crap… and now I'm outta here.”

    I always attempt to block out my time accordingly between work & play, so I tend to spend an hour just reading posts, a few of which, I'd definitely would like to share. But out of pure *respect* of others' Twitter streams, I'll schedule these out beforehand throughout the day intermixed with “normal” live Twitter banter. Just because it's automated doesn't mean there's no listening going on… but to me, seems like a much more effective way of sharing links. I find it annoying when people bark out 12 tweets in a row, so why would I want to do the same to them?

    Of course, when all is said and done, use Twitter any damn way you'd like. If someone doesn't like it, they'll unfollow you. So what? There are worse tragedies in the world.

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Jordan, I understand your method and it does make sense: the machine gun blast of 10+ per second gets to be very annoying, so spreading things is considerate. At the same time, you intersperse manual content and that fits with what I wrote about balance.

    • http://www.RedheadVA.com/ Renee Shupe

      I agree with you Jordan and it similar the process I take. Honestly, there have been times where I've been absent from Twitter simply because I was too busy working on client projects and didn't even open Hootsuite to see what was going on. Doesn't mean I was listening, just later.

      I follow a similar path, where try to engage in conversation with people on Twitter and then intersperse it with bits of info I either found useful or something I thought some of my followers and readers might find useful. Some of this schedule, and some of it I don't. I have had it where I'm sit in the evening catching up on my feeds in Feedly and I'll send out two or three different links because I found the info interest.

      I think people need to adjust and use Twitter along with other forms of social media in a way that fits them and for some that might be appreciated by others, so yeah let them stop following you because in the long run they likely weren't the type of folks you wanted to interact with in the first place.

  • http://twitter.com/oliconner Oliver Conner

    I only tweet links I have bookmarked on Delicious – and I use http://dlvr.it/ to automate it. The service lets you make a nice little note and it shortens the link.

    This way I'm only ever sending links that I really consider worth it!

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Never heard of dlvr.it before, interesting Oliver.

      • Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

        Mark and Oliver, I do the reverse – I use http://packrati.us/ to send everything I tweet to my Delicious account. Same principle, different implementation!

    • Dorethia

      Thanks for this tip Oliver, I'm going to check it out… wow.. just noticed the great last name you have! :-)

  • Annie Noll

    You can always tell those who automate because when you RT them, they don't say “thank you.” Not that everyone has to say thank you, but you can just tell. It is a very selfish way to tweet.

    Although I do pre-schedule tweets in Hootsuite when I know I'm going to be away from my desk or can't tweet that often. But I always rush back to see if there is someone I need to thank for a RT.

    But, I never RT Guy Kawasaki. I know it's not really him tweeting. It is just his Twitter peeps under the name of him.

    • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

      Yeah, that's one of the disappointing things about Guy's account, but to each their own. I don't see anything wrong with your approach.

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Oh, I don't know about that, Annie.

      I don't automate any of my Tweets, and I don't always publicly say Thank You for re-tweets.

      I often thank people via direct message, where applicable, because I tend to see gratuitous thanking as another form of drawing attention to yourself.

      “THANKS TO [list of nine people] FOR THE RTs!” seems an awful lot like a passive-aggressive way of reminding others they should have been paying more attention to you.

      To each their own — I just raise this point as a cautionary tale about assumptions, and especially passing judgment on others' intent.

      • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

        I agree with Ike. I hope that people retweet what i share because they find value and not simply to get a “thank you”. However polite, I don't think one should feel obligated to thank everyone. I think it adds noise to an already busy Twitter stream. My 2 cents.

  • http://twitter.com/donovantwaddle Donovan Twaddle

    If we go back to basics, this sort of fleshes out the main reason businesses use social media in the first place: dialog. As businesses, if we're not using social media first to build community, we're doing ourselves and our followers a disservice. They need to know about our business, true. But a big part of our brand is what kind of people are behind the business. The personal touch is so important, but to strike a balance is paramount. The danger with automation is to lose the personal touch and become a link-spewing automaton.

    On the flipside, for those of us that are social media managers, automation is the only way to avoid becoming completely overwhelmed once we've established a client base. The challenge is to always provide useful content (links), and intersperse it with personal tweets, and those personal tweets should engage your followers. It doesn't have to be all business all the time, but engagement does build trust, regardless.

  • http://yoursalesplaybook.com paulcastain

    I think people who are in continual broadcast mode miss out on a huge opportunity . . . the dialogue! What a wonderful opportunity we have to interact with those who want to interact with our brand.

    Thanks for your valuable post!

    Respectfully,
    Paul Castain

  • http://twitter.com/selfemploy_free Beau Stevens

    I can actually identify with much of what was said in the …blog… I suppose in the end people will be people; automation is a hot topic in social media

  • http://mansmanifesto.com Owen Marcus

    I am looking at do more with Twitter. Your post gave me the direction I was looking for. Thanks.

  • Dorethia

    Excellent post, people who automatically post on twitter and don't ever have any 'conversations' are always suspect to me. I tend to unfollow…

  • http://twitter.com/BryanElliott Bryan Elliott

    Jason, this is spot on and something I experienced recently with a well-known social media listening service provider who seemed to be automating their content. I did my own kitchen test for a couple of months Retweeting their content with zero return engagement or response.

    It seemed ironic and actually funny over time that a company whose entire business model is built on social media listening (especially on Twitter) didn't engage me. Almost every article they wrote had something to do with listening, responding and engagement, so I called BS on them. When someone else who was reading the stream alerted a specific person on the company's team, I finally got a response.

  • http://BestSellerAuthors.com Warren Whitlock

    I agree with what you say, except the idea that you can give us a RULE. The best thing about Twitter is how we can all use it how we want. As soon as you put up a RULE, there is someone telling you “that way doesn't work”

    My rule is NO RULES… but I love conversation and sharing and do a much of both as I can

  • http://www.socialcubix.com/services/facebook-connect Facebook Connect Integration

    Great post! I completely agree you with you!

    The use of twitter in a right direction is something which many of us are not aware of! Your tips look pretty useful to me, I'll surely look forward to apply them your way! :)

    Thanks!
    -Desmond!

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/internetmarketingnickstamoulis Nick Stamoulis

    Proper use of social media, whatever the outlet, can make or break you. If you are sharing great content that is useful and has value, people will follow you and be responsive to you, but conversation is responsiveness on your part is important as well, it shows people that you are actually a person and care about the messages you are sharing.

  • Nicholas4

    A while back I was following somebody who tweeted really useful stuff most of the time. The trouble is his tweets came at a rate of one every minute. Whenever I look to my first dream I saw nothing except for his tweets. Eventually I decided to un-follow him. There were way too many tweets.

    He was obviously using automated software, which is fine, but he took it to an extreme.

  • http://descargar-ares.org/ Jeff | Descargar Ares

    Very good post.