So John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing fame posted a pithy little list of tools you can use to automate your social media activity the other day. He was trying to offer some options for the time-swamped small business owner who can’t sit on Twitter all day or spend hours online because, well, they have better things to do. Jantsch is a smart guy. He knows the social media space. I haven’t read his book, but it seems to have sold a lot of copies and he’s a well-received speaker at conferences around the world.
But damn, if I wasn’t irritated by his post.
I tweeted the link and asked my friends on Twitter to read the post, then promise never to use any of his tips. Of course, I use two of them — one, TweetDeck, has nothing to do with blasting spammy, pseudo-personal greetings; the other, Twitter application in Facebook, does post your non-reply Tweets as your Facebook statuses. Like John, however, I monitor responses in Facebook and converse with those people, too. That dissolves the impersonality of the act in my mind. (Feel free to tell me I’m wrong.)
That said, the other suggestions John made were essentially contradictory to the essence of why social media exists in the first place. His point was to say something like, “Sometimes you should automate the messages you send because the amount of time you have to spend on social media doesn’t scale with your audience.” But social media evolved because people were tired of being blasted marketing messages and not treated with individual care and attention. What Jantsch is recommending is a reversal of the personal and a reversion to the noise.
The next morning, he responded to my Tweet, and some playful poking from Shannon Whitley, with the following:
PRACTICAL TIP NO. 1
As-you-can is better than being Mr. Spamalot.
His first response (keep in mind they appear in reverse chronological order) offers two extremes — automate or do nothing. While I agree with John that as your network or audience scales, you have to manage your time wisely, I whole-heartedly disagree that automation — in essence, spamming — is the answer.
What John fails to see is that there’s no requirement for a business or an individual to respond to every single query from their audience, customers, followers or fans. We all know huge brands have millions of people to communicate with. We all know small business owners only have so many hours in a day. But because conversations on blogs, Twitter, Facebook groups, message boards and more are archived, indexable and public, just participating when you can shows your audience you’re there. And often times that is enough.
When an issue is in need of attention, you address it. When you have time to banter about with less urgent topics, you do. The fact you’re consistent is much more important than whether or not you’re ubiquitous.
I have two children. Often times, my social media activities go dark on the weekends. If someone asks me a specific question, I’ll see it Monday and respond. If not, I move on.
Social media conversations aren’t email. They aren’t support tickets. They’re personal communications. And they should stay that way.
PRACTICAL TIP NO. 2
If you can’t take the time to personalize the greeting, then don’t send the greeting at all.
Jantsch asks why a “warm greeting like when someone gets an email newsletter,” is consider spam. Show of hands. How many of you have ever thought of a canned, “thanks for playing” auto-responder or an email newsletter was, “warm?” I subscribe to social media email newsletters from Chris Brogan, a friend, and Paul Gillin, someone I’ve met, but not someone I know well. I don’t consider either of their email newsletters warm. I don’t consider them spam because I asked for them. I know they’re blasted to hundreds of people but the content is interesting to me.
However, sending an auto-response DM on Twitter to me is spam. I didn’t ask you to say, “Hey person who just followed me! Thanks for thinking I’m super cool. Looking forward to your Tweets! XOXOXOX.”
While Jantsch makes a point of saying you need to be careful not to self-promote in an auto-responder, I wonder how hard it is for him to not include, “Buy my book!”
For more on this topic, check out Amber Naslund’s, “Thanks for following. Now click my junk!”
Jantsch’s last response to me is one for the ages:
“The trick is to do it all — personal and automated.”
I’m hoping he means do personal and then do automated and not, “make the automated personal.” If it’s the latter, that might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s like saying, “The trick is to have kids but maintain your virginity.”
Maybe I’m being irrational (please tell me if I am) but by definition anything that is automated is NOT personal. Automation means you don’t have the time or inclination to do it personally. Thus, impersonal.
PRACTICAL TIP NO. 3
Participate in the communities you communicate with.
An audience member at Tuesday’s Social Media Club Louisville meeting asked me what I thought about PingFM, a tool that enables you to update your status on multiple social networks at once. I tried it soon after it hit Beta and set it up to post my updates to both Twitter and Plurk. But just a couple of days into the experience, I realized I wasn’t participating in the conversations on Plurk and was missing out on several on Twitter because the service (I used it via IM) disconnects you from those separate communities. What I was doing was blasting one-way communications, not monitoring or participating in responses on either Twitter or Plurk, essentially making me a spammer on both networks.
While I will again say that using the Twitter application on Facebook does mimic this spam-like function, if you monitor Facebook frequently and respond to those conversations based on your status, you’re fulfilling the obligation to participate in that community.
PRACTICAL TIP NO. 4
Never, never, never blast anything to people who haven’t opted in.
And yes, this applies to Twitter direct messages. Your canned, semi-personal response is a blast message because you have it set to send to anyone who follows you. They didn’t ask for your auto-response, so it’s spam.
More broadly, there’s a reason text messaging regulations require opt-ins and double opt-ins in some cases. Yes, the end user has to pay for the text, but the principle of the regulation is to ensure the customer or audience isn’t unduly inundated with crap he or she doesn’t want. There’s also a reason we have a do-not-call registry. People shouldn’t have to tolerate broadly targeted messages, marketing or not, they haven’t asked for, at least when it comes to “personal” communications in the social media space.
Now if we can just get someone to regulate non-opt-in spam email, we’ll be set.
The bottom line is that I’m a purist when it comes to what is spam and what is not. If you don’t have to think about it, put no effort into it and you’re sending it to people who didn’t ask for it, it’s spam. Even if you run a script that places their first name in the greeting and the name of their company or website in the body. Jantsch’s tips aren’t wrong, I just philosophically disagree with the premise.
But to his points, personal contact does not scale. The time and attention one person at a small business has to give to social media is going to be the same today with 10 followers as it will be in six months with 1,000. While there’s no silver bullet, the practical tips above will keep your voice both relevant and appreciated among your audience members.
And a special thank you to James Burgos for a direct request to write this post. Or at least the practical tips part. I’m sure James probably didn’t want me to pick on Jantsch.