Like most, I’m still reeling from the events that happened in Paris on Friday. But, geopolitics aside, this blog isn’t about analyzing the roots of terrorism or the discussion of appropriate responses. This is a blog written by someone who writes words for other people and has a pretty decent idea of how to market ideas online. That being the case, there’s something that I want to talk about that happened on Friday from a professional sense. Because something happened in our world as web marketers – and it was appalling.

It’s indicative of the continued erosion of the value of social media as a vehicle for real engagement; of the vast number of so-called “social media experts” that have, time and time again, proven that they have no idea what social actually means.

While the human in me was recoiling in horror at what was transpiring an ocean away, the professional in me was recoiling at what I was seeing in my Twitter stream.

You see, when news breaks, Twitter is my default go-to. The media has largely proven itself to be an entertainment industry first, a money-making enterprise second, and an actual news reporting entity somewhere down around number eight or nine on the list. As such, I mostly ignore it. But the ability to get information quickly and from multiple sources simultaneously makes Twitter a no-brainer when it comes to following a breaking story.

My personal and professional streams are one and the same. The account I use to get news and information is the same account that I use to keep up with the goings-on in my industry. And, as incredible at seemed at the time, my industry just kept going on.

As Paris burned and innocent people died, so-called social media experts continued tweeting out self-serving links; links to posts they wrote, links to posts that other people wrote, links to classes they want you to sign up for, links to live video chats they’re hosting…the list goes on and on.

Of course, anyone who has been online long enough knows that these people weren’t sitting in front of their TVs watching this unfold while they wrote and sent these tweets. Hell, anyone who has almost any social presence whatsoever knows that most of what you see today isn’t actually composed in real time. It’s all automated – pre-composed and calendared to go out at regular intervals to ensure that your “voice” continues to be heard, even when you’re nowhere near a computer. It’s the new way of gaining “influence” and, frankly, it sucks.

You know why it sucks? Because there’s a dirty little secret that no one wants you to know. Here it is:

If it wasn’t for automated services, most of the people who run these accounts wouldn’t have anything to say.

Look at the tweet count on some of them…most are in the high 5-figures while some have easily cleared the 100,000 tweet mark. What’s the best case scenario for a signal to noise ratio on an account that is tweeting out anywhere from two to five links per hour? Or, perhaps even more importantly – when do they have the time to read the things that they’re recommending that you go out and read yourself?

They don’t have the time because they haven’t read the links. If they had, they would never get anything done. Mathematically, there’s simply not enough time in a day.

But above and beyond all of this: regardless of your opinion of automation, the role of social media in developing influence, engagement versus broadcast, or any of the other “issues” in our industry (because “issue” seems like such an overstatement in this context), one thing has become absolutely essential to understand:

If you’re going to automate your social media presence, you pause it when the shit hits the fan.

This is the price you pay for the gift of being able to put your “influence” on auto-pilot. The thought process should, quite literally, be:

  1. Oh my god, this is horrible.
  2. I need to suspend my social media automation, now. Not in a minute or two…right fucking now.

I unfollowed a lot of people on Friday for the sole reason that, in one night, they proved to me that they didn’t know jack shit about social, empathy, or – perhaps most simply – what it means to be a human being. If they knew the first thing about any of that, they would have known that shutting down the automation of their self-serving promotion was job one. Because social is still social goddamnit. We’re still people behind these keyboards and no matter how much you want to say that times have changed and the “social mission” has changed, your stream is still you communicating to the world.

And just like the death of someone’s parent is the wrong time to ask about that five dollars they owe you, a national and global tragedy is the wrong time to tell your followers about the 67,243rd link that you think they should read.

 

photo: Dunce, by Gary Birnie