The Danger of Automatic Feeds in Social Media

January 31, 2012

Note: This is a guest post by Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North. See Brad’s bio at the end of the article.

Participating in social media is time consuming, so it’s only natural that people look for shortcuts. However, some shortcuts become disastrous detours, and this is often what happens when a company relies on automation for significant portions of its social updating.

Automatic feeds come in two flavors. Fully automatic feeds publish to a social media platform without any human intervention. An example of this is setting up your Twitter updates to automatically feed into your Facebook company page.  Semi-automatic feeds require intervention. For example, my HootSuite social media interface allows me to publish the same message simultaneously on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and soon, Google+.

Why to Avoid Automatic Feeds

The catch is, while automation is tempting for publishers, it is often annoying to readers. The following three consequences of overfeeding are why you should avoid automation, or at the very least use it judiciously.

1. Stream clogging. Automation encourages publishers to over communicate. If you overload any given platform with updates, your connections will either mentally tune you out, or physically tune you out by removing you from their stream (think Facebook) or disconnecting from you altogether (think Twitter). Most social platforms enable users to finely tune and personalize their incoming content, dooming any type of mass merchandising effort. And even though you can’t stop your mail to prevent junk mail, social media users can and do stop messaging they regard as spam.

2.Redundancy. Publishers sometimes lose sight of how many of their connections frequent multiple platforms. When I see the same update on three platforms, I remember it, but not in a good way. My assumption is the sender either doesn’t understand me or doesn’t mind bombarding me. Either way, the sender is not inspiring me to interact or do business.

3. Inappropriate style. The composition of a tweet, which is limited to 140 characters, does not lend itself to doubling as an effective Facebook post. Conversely, updates from other networks feeding into Twitter may be severely truncated, rendering them cryptic or entirely incomprehensible. Each platform has its own stylistic conventions that encourage conversation and action. Ignoring them only renders your social media activity less effective.

How to Avoid Automatic Feeds

Why do companies use this sort of indiscriminate messaging? Besides the convenience factor, I believe many companies simply don’t have a clear and distinct communication strategy for each social platforms on which they engage.

For example, a B2C firm might use …

  • Twitter to announce daily Twitter-only promotions
  • Facebook as a place for customers to upload photos of themselves using the product
  • LinkedIn for business updates relevant to employees and stakeholders

A B2B firm might use …

  • Twitter to distribute industry news and analysis highly relevant to its customer base
  • Facebook to provide in-depth information on its products and solicit feedback
  • LinkedIn as a recruiting channel

You’ll notice that each example necessitates targeting a particular audience segment and then theming the message to appeal to that segment.

Putting a purpose behind social communication not only eliminates the temptation to use automatic feeds, it allows companies to give audience segments a clear and persuasive reason to connect and much more important, stay connected and engaged. A constant barrage of thematically unconnected updates might accomplish the former, but never the latter.

Any business in social media for the long haul needs a strategy that employs something other than convenience as the linchpin.

 

About the author:

 Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, an Internet marketing, Chicago-based agency. They specialize in niche, middle market B2B industries such as flame resistant apparel and thermoplastic injection molding. Follow @bradshorr on Twitter for non-automated discussion of all things marketing.

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