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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.