The Case for Handcrafted Social Media (Or Why You Should Stop Auto-Updating Your Feeds)

Social Media

You follow the same person or company on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz, and every other time you see an update you get déjà vu. You think, "I've seen this before..."—and you have, because they're automatically posting the same content across different social media networks. Piping feeds from one network to another is a zero-effort way to broadcast content, but it also offers minimal returns.

Auto-tweeting a stream of blog headlines with bit.ly links to the full article doesn't invite conversation. Twitter posts, limited to 140 characters without images or video clips, can read awkwardly when they get sucked into and displayed on Facebook. FriendFeed and Google Buzz offer more places to automatically pipe headlines, photos, and videos, and host conversations amongst consumers, who may will suspect there are no actual humans on hand—and they're usually right. The Golden Rule of social networks is "you get what you give." Writing updates that suit the medium will yield a stronger community and better conversations than just broadcasting one-to-many headlines.

A recent manifesto by Game studio founder Tim Maly's, "Unlink Your Feeds," calls for a different approach. Maly argues that auto-broadcasting feed content to every social media network is akin to spam: bad for your fans, followers and customers, bad for the Internet, and bad for your reputation.

Maly writes:

You need to unlink your feeds and put a tiny bit more effort into using each service for what it is. [...] Each social networking site has a slightly different culture, with a slightly different grammar and set of conventions. When you dump your feed from one into the other, it can be jarring. It sends a message about your respect for the mores of the site that's receiving the feed. It tells us that you don't really care. It tells us that you aren't really paying attention.

Maly says anyone serious about their social media presence should take the time to handcraft their updates to each.

I imagine a world where people take each network for what it is and participate (or not) on those terms. Instead of a firehose slurry of everything buckets, I imagine separate streams of purified whatever-it-is-each-service-does. I envision users that post when they're inspired and don't mind skipping a few days if nothing particularly interesting comes up.

The most innovative brands and individuals have shown us that social media's best use is for direct engagement with fans, and auto-broadcasting feeds doesn't encourage that behavior. Look at JetBlue. On Twitter they use Twitter conventions like @replies and hashtags, and they promote related Twitter accounts like @jetbluecheeps. On Facebook, they post links to pages including images and respond inline to customer comments. They take advantage of each network's functionality and conventions.

Sound precious, impractical, and time-consuming? It may be. Even companies who have a community manager or customer service person on staff to oversee their social media presence may not have the bandwidth to handcraft updates every day for the myriad social networks out there. But you can choose one platform that best fits your audience, and tailor your updates there.

Prestigious tech blog ReadWriteWeb is giving that a try. While they auto-feed headlines to Twitter and Facebook, they're taking a different approach with Google Buzz. This week, community manager Jolie O'Dell announced:

We've decided that the last thing we need to do with Buzz is use it to promote the same stream of blog content — we're not that desperate, and we know you get that news elsewhere. Here's how we're using Google Buzz instead. For conversations! Actual, honest-to-god, open discussions between the RWW team and you, our wonderful readers.

ReadWriteWeb will dedicate resources to interacting with customers on Google Buzz: going to them, instead of asking them to come to the Web site and comment there. Will it be a waste of time or a boost for the brand? Time will tell, but having conversations with your customers on their terms and platform of choice seems like a good bet.

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12 Comments

  • Smash Hit Displays

    Social Media is becoming a convenient way of connecting with new and existing customers, as well as an excellent networking tool. I use social media on a daily basis and it has really expanded our business. Social media has also been used regularly used at trade shows because they allow exhibitors to reach out to their followers and fans and inform them of the event and what's going on at their display. I haven't noticed any promotional messages on Facebook or Twitter, but rather I am having great conversations with other professionals, which helps build relationships nationwide. Thanks for sharing!

  • Mark Robinson

    This lens is full of advice for anyone starting a handmade business. So you're an artist, designer, or craftsperson and want to take your first steps into making money from your talent and skills. You are now running a business, organization and planning are important and matters to your customer.

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  • Jeff Toister

    I really like the point of this article. I'm currently doing an experiment where I test how various companies use social media from a customer's perspective. I'm finding most companies I do business with are a lot more media and a lot less social. The truly good ones are using Facebook, Twitter, etc. to engage me and make my customer experience better, not just bombard me with endless announcements and promotions.

  • Jon Coon

    From a personal branding and corporate perspective I completely agree with this post. From a individual information sharing point of view I do not. If I read an article or come across an interesting event I do not want to take the time to tweet the link through bit.ly AND post it on facebook so the appearance is better. Therefore, a certain segment of the audience may not be able to view something very relevant to them. I simply want to get the information out in a manner than is most easily accessible to my friends AND followers. Essentially, reaching the widest audience. I understand this may not be the optimal approach but it is a big time saver. On the other hand, if I have a very large personal brand or if I was getting paid to build a brand I very likely would take the time.

  • David Osedach

    I like what GOOGLE Buzz is doing and can't wait until they are back on Huffington Post.

  • Jasper Blake

    A great point well made, and one that can't be reiterated too often. We are too bombarded by new ways to automate social media, especially on Twitter, and it is very easy to be lulled into thinking that it might be a good idea. I do auto-tweet blog updates, and I have been known to copy Tweets with links in them to Facebook & MySpace to pass on interesting stories, but I have resisted automation as much as possible as I do think the personal & tailored approach is better in the end. Its not the quantity of followers/fans that is important, it is the quality of the engagement. Better to engage with one follower who becomes a loyal customer than be followed by 100 that don't even look at your content after the initial follow. I often have arguments with people over automation and it is nice to be able to point to some validation for my approach! Thanks!

  • Marie Goltara

    This has to be one of my favorite articles. Syncing all of social networks, while simple and quick, definitely hinders the importance of each network. If Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others all had the same audience, there would be no need to have a presence on each of them. This is clearly not the case! I think it's great to be able to select certain content to be pushed into other networks, but not all of the content you post is going to be relevant in every single network. Really enjoyed reading your article, Gina!

  • therichbrooks

    Like everything else, this is a balancing act. I purposely haven't synced Twitter and LinkedIn, because they serve different purposes, and to a degree, I'm a different person on each. And, like you say, broadcasting to all your social media sites doesn't exactly invite conversation.

    However, sometimes social media is for being social, and for other times its about sharing/broadcasting information.

    I use ping.fm and hootsuite as appropriate. For most updates I use Twitter (and sometimes FB), but occasionally there's a blog post I really want to share with everyone, or if we have some big news, and then I ping my networks.

    Everything in moderation.

  • Patricia Mejia

    Thanks for this Gina. I find auto-feeds really frustrating. I find myself hiding even the people I like and respect who do this too much. For a pub like ReadWriteWeb I'll give them a pass. They put out so much great content that I don't mind seeing them in multiple streams, but for personal connections it's a real no-no. I think marketers are really struggling to juggle all of the new channels with the traditional ones that haven't really gone away. Auto-feeding content may seem like a low-maintenance way to get engaged but it really yields the opposite result when viewed from a follower or fan's perspective...total disengagement land.

  • Steinar Knutsen

    I totally agree it's unacceptable to feed posts to various social networks if you're not checking them regularly for any feedback and engaging with your readers. I do however see value in sending the same information through various channels depending on the audience, if you intend on engaging readers.

    Quite frankly, the average person doesn't have accounts on Twitter, Facebook & Buzz, plus a subscription to your newsletter, RSS feed and iTunes podcast. Most people participate in one of these and therefore have no clue that the same messages are being sent out to a number of networks.

    And those who understand this, know that if they subscribe to one of these communication channels that'll do the job, right?

    _______________
    Steinar Knutsen
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