AUTOMATION, RECIPROCITY, AND THE VALUE OF A RECOMMENDATION

Margie Clayman recently wrote a post titled, “Do You Read Everything You Share Online?” It got me thinking about my own history in content dissemination, and I have a confession to make. Several months ago, I found myself getting lazy with my blog reading. I had, at the time, accumulated a list of established business bloggers whose content I trusted implicitly. So, to save time, I used Dlvr.it to automate tweets of blog posts from those bloggers at the moment they published. Did I actually read the articles? Well, yes. Most of the time, I would go back into my Google Reader and read the articles after they published (and therefore after I had already tweeted them). Eventually, I found myself getting responses to the tweets and, having not read the articles at the time, I wouldn’t know how to react. I would then have to go back and read the article before I could satisfactorily answer the tweet. After some time, this behavior became rather tedious and I stopped automating altogether.

What’s the point of my story? Well, I reasoned that automating tweets of articles was just fine as long as I trusted where those articles were coming from. The problem? People reading my tweets saw my sharing of the article as a signal that I had read it and found it meaningful in some way. I was giving the impression that I had read something that I hadn’t actually read. In short, I was lying.

I’m not the only one automating tweets. There is an endless array of accounts, especially business accounts, that–in the name of efficiency–simply plug in a bunch of RSS feeds and schedule them to shoot out to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn at various intervals. Do the owners of the account actually read the content? No way! That would take too much time. Automation is cheaper and, as long as people don’t realize it’s automated, what does it matter?

THE PROBLEM WITH AUTOMATION

Automation is generally NOT a good idea in social media. Why? Because it is in direct opposition to authenticity. In social media, people expect to interact with real people–not algorithms. But, again, if people don’t know you’re automating your content, what difference does it make? Here’s my answer:

  1. People will find out. It isn’t hard to tell an account that is automated from one that isn’t.
  2. Are you really asking me this question? That’s it. I’m revoking your business license. You just don’t get it.

The only thing worse than being inauthentic is being inauthentic while pretending to be authentic (CLICK TO TWEET). If you’re not really active on social media, the least you can do is be upfront about it. But, let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you have no qualms about pulling the wool over your customers’ eyes and tricking them into thinking you’re there when you’re really not. You’ve still got one HUGE problem…

Eventually, you will become the boy who cried wolf. If you’re constantly sending out automated messages, people will stop trusting the legitimacy of your messaging. What are you going to do when you actually have something that is important for your audience to read? They won’t care about it; it will be lost in the clutter. They will perceive it as just another piece of spam from your account. Automating your content distribution damages your credibility.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE EXPECTATION OF RECIPROCITY

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article by Dave Brock called, “Social Networking, Reciprocity, and Hypocrisy.” In the article, Dave mentions how people on Twitter will often follow him with the expectation that he will follow them back. In the same way, people will often endorse him on LinkedIn with the expectation that he will endorse them back. The problem? Well, in Dave’s own words:

I may not get the “rules” of social networking, but I think it is pure hypocrisy to like, endorse, follow with the expectation of reciprocity.  It’s a very transparent way of trying to “game” the system.  It lacks authenticity and creates “clutter” and misrepresentation in the social network.

In Dave’s mind, we should endorse those who we truly believe offer something of value. We should follow those whose content we truly want to see. We should never endorse to be endorsed or follow to be followed.

I use a service called Triberr that enables bloggers of similar interests to easily share each others’ blog posts to their respective social media profiles. At times, some members of my tribes have become upset that other members aren’t sharing blog posts. Sometimes, tribe members have gotten upset with me. But I only share content that 1) I have time to read and 2) I feel is relevant to my audience. Otherwise, the credibility of everything I share is immediately suspect. If I make a recommendation, I want it to mean something.

THE BOTTOM LINE…

I can’t remember where I read it, but I think it’s a pretty convincing argument. Would you recommend a movie you haven’t seen? Probably not. Even if it’s by a director that you trust, you probably wouldn’t say that it’s a good movie if you haven’t actually seen it. Apply the same principle to everything you do in business. Don’t recommend an article that you haven’t read (even if that author is sharing your articles). Don’t recommend a business person that you haven’t done business with (even if that business person is recommending you). Be genuine. Be real. Because, in the end, that’s the only thing that will enable you to keep your credibility.

Don’t recommend lightly if you want your recommendations to actually hold any water.

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