Industrialisation of Social Networking for the Enterprise

La Palma - Pine TreesOr, to put it in other words, automation of your social networking presence. That worrying topic has been in my mind for quite a while, and, lately, even more so, specially, seeing how plenty of people continue to automate, even further along, their online digital footprints with the argument, amongst several others, that they have got to do it, because they just can’t find the time anymore to make it happen in a natural, authentic, self-driven manner. Yes, it happens. Yes, it’s a topic that worries me, because we are then running the risk of commoditising our very own online presence(s). And what for? Is it worth it? Probably not. Have we forgotten that with social networking for business we are all in it for the long run? Versus just the quick win of a few hundred followers or a quick sell through that automated post? Where did we leave behind the social business transformation?

For a good couple of years this is a topic that has started to concern me more and more, since I have begun to notice how plenty of times when you start engaging through online social networking tools, specially, on the Social Web, you bump into a whole bunch of interesting posts with relevant links, only to respond back, with the hope of starting off, or following, a conversation, and then to find out that no-one is at the other end, after all. In fact, they have all left and they have just got bots / machines doing the work for them. Pretty much like we have been doing with email for a good few years. And just like we commoditised email back in the day, it’s starting to look like we are commoditising social networking for business along the very same lines. 

Where did we go wrong? Why do we have to keep up with that constant urge towards busyness (and bursting online activity) vs. pause, reflection and adding relevant value where it may apply into the overall conversation? Haven’t we learned from the recent past? I mean, haven’t we learned that social networking tools are just not another marketing channel, but purely a conversation amongst peers on a common interest and with a strong urge to connect further along? Have we forgotten how for a conversation to take place out there in digital channels both parties need to be present and for real, like the authentic you and your thoughts, versus just another bot doing the work for you? And that if one of the two parties is not there, for whatever the reason, there is nothing wrong with that? It’s part of your overall digital footprint that we seem to keep forgetting about time and time again, but both providing value and being silent are two sides of the same coin, that is, you, that we all take and accept gladly. Thus why do we keep it up? It’s just unsustainable, rather insane and perhaps a bit tad disappointing that whenever you decide to participate in online conversations because you feel  that people are there sharing along, you find out they left the building long while ago! 

I am surely glad I am not the only one thinking about this relevant and important topic, specially, from the perspective that once we may have industrialised social networking I suspect it will be just too late to revert back. Mike Allton shares similar reflections on a rather interesting article under the suggestive heading of “How to Destroy Your Social Media Credibility through Automation“. An article that I can certainly recommend and which keeps reminding me as well how silly such automation can well be for a specific brand (And that includes your own personal brand for that matter) when you have got an automated digital presence and all of a sudden a global event (Specially, if it is an extreme negative) changes the whole game on what you have been trying to share out there, and portrait, when you are gone, but that everyone else can see the true, harsh reality: it’s no longer the authentic you and your messages, but those of a bot which schedules posts to show up on whatever the frequency.

Now, this has also been a topic that has been in my mind over the last few weeks, specially, when I moved into a new job inside IBM that has provoked a shift of focus from external interactions into internal ones mainly. During all of this time I have been thinking hard about what I would want to do, whether I would want to automate part of my digital external footprint, or just disappear into thin air with that new focus area of behind the firewall interactions. It’s not an easy one, for sure, because in most cases people expect you to be out there, and, if you aren’t, things aren’t going to be the same anymore. It’s starting to look like if you are not out there, online, sharing along, whatever that may well be, you are no longer worth it, because you won’t be showing up in their streams as often as you are doing nowadays. Have you ever felt that feeling of abandonment? It will come. In fact, that’s the main reason why I feel most knowledge workers have automated their own online social media presences; that is, to show they are still there, even just for the sake of it (never mind the value), even though they are not. La Palma - Roque de los Muchachos (Observatorio) 

Is that what I want to do with my own digital footprint? To sacrifice it and automate it in such a way that whenever I would share something it would no longer be me, the real me? I know how this issue may not concern plenty of people out there about their own digital footprint, but it does concern me. Last thing that I would want to do is to lose that authenticity and honesty in terms of being you behind your online digital tools’ presence. I am actually thinking that at that point, I may as well just go dormant  and stop sharing altogether. 

Thus while reflecting further along on this topic, I actually realised that I may not need to do anything that drastic altogether or, even, automate my way out of being an active 2.0 practitioner, specially, in the Social Web. And in this particular case it’s interesting to see how the clue was provided to me by one particular social software tool that most folks still keep being rather keen on terminating it. Yes, of course, I am talking about blogging. I am talking about how blogging helps every knowledge worker out there to realise that in terms of social networking for business, we are all in it for the long run! And, as such, it’s ok, it’s actually, advisable, to take time off. To go for periods of silence where things happen around you, but that people still know you are there, even if remote. To go for that relatively short, or long, hiatus, where things take another course, where the focus shifts elsewhere because the job requires it to a certain extent. 

The important thing is to always come back. To help people understand that while you may have been quiet sharing along those insights, opinions, conversations and what not, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are not reading or learning from them, along the way as a lurker. That’s what blogging is wonderful about. It allows you to have pause, to reflect on what really matters, and to shape up your own online digital footprint sharing what you feel provides the most business value in your interactions. Blogging lives on a different pace altogether and while this year, later on in December, I will be celebrating my 10th year blogging anniversary, I guess I still feel I’m just learning so much from that writing experience of one’s opinions and reflections that there is always something new out there.

So much so that I am sure you may have noticed how I have become a little bit quieter, more than usual, in one of my Big Three social networking tools for business: Twitter, while I have kept up with the online interactions and exchange for the other two (IBM Connections and Google Plus). The blog is different, because it’s an integral part of me, it’s an extension of my brain, my thoughts, my experiences, my know-how, my digital self-being and, as such, it will always be there. However, just like some times in the recent past, I may take a few days off from blogging, I know I’ll always be coming back to it. And I am starting to think that this may well be the very same approach I will adopt for other social networking tools, where I will become a whole lot more focused, purposeful and meaningful on how I interact thinking that while keeping up a presence out there may well be rather good, I think I am going in for the long run, for sharing in smaller portions part of what’s in my mind at the time, but ensuring that it is me the one sharing it and not whatever the bot in place. 

La Palma - Roque de los Muchachos (Observatorio)That’s part of the dialogue, the authenticity, and the brutal honesty to share across that while I am fully aware I will not be able to keep up with the same pace of interactions held online, externally, outside the firewall, like I have been doing in the last few years, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people can’t no longer find me. I’m there. I will be there. It’s just that I am thinking I’ll be focusing more on pausing, reading and reflecting on what other folks share across, and keep quiet myself unless I have got something really useful and valuable to share out there. 

I guess you could call it an attempt to redefine your own online digital footprint and personal brand, when things at work take a radical shift towards behind the firewall interactions. Perhaps that’s indeed what I have been thinking about. And in terms of the choice I would go for that I feel would represent me better I am thinking that I prefer to go silent and learn from others reading along than to automate an online presence that I know won’t be fair to anyone out there anymore, including me, since you are probably going to expect me and yet I won’t be there. Well, I will be. But in a different shape. I will be reacting, I will be conversing and participating, but with pause, challenging myself on how I can keep up adding value, versus adding unnecessary noise and pollution to already existing digital channels that I am sure we all have been having enough with lately. 

Thus if you see me going quiet for a relative period of time, don’t worry, I am not gone, I am not hiding, I am not giving up on my external social presence just like that. I am just listening and learning, from the lurker side of things, knowing that what I’m after is having that opportunity to continue build and nurture those personal online business relationships, but without industrialising it all, nevertheless still keeping up with that same authenticity, openness, transparency and engagement that I always thought was the best part of social networking tools. It’s just that this time around it’s becoming a whole lot more focused and on target of what I would want to do: keeping up with the learning curve of the networks I am part of by amplifying what I think provides value vs. just adding more unnecessary irrelevancy. I think I’m going to spare you all having to go through that. Something tells me that, in the long term, we will all be much better off …

What do you think? Think automation of your own online digital presence has had a significant impact that you would want to share along with us? Has it helped you? Has it damaged the health and trust of your social networks? I would love to learn more what you think in the comments, please… Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences. As usual, they are *greatly* appreciated.

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6 Comments »

  • This inspired a little 2×2 matrix, Luis:

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/69746264/presence.png

    Social Presence “is equated to the degree of awareness of the other person in a communication interaction.” [1] Seems fitting.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_presence_theory

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Joachim! Once again, SPOT ON!! Loving the quadrants and surely agree with the sentiment of where we should aim at, if we would want to start thinking of these digital channels in terms of so much more than just another set of marketing ones… We should be really upping the game and ensure folks understand how there are different dynamics at play, and how most often than not, we should be keeping things simple and to the point. Indeed, that Social Presence.

      Brilliant, once again, my friend!

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  • Makes complete sense to me, Luis. I can’t believe you’ll be forgotten, even if you’re not ‘around’ as much. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I wouldn’t really know how to automate my online presence. I agree it sounds appallingly inauthentic, though. Definitely to be resisted.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Simon, thanks for the feedback. Very insightful and right on the money in terms of where we may all be heading. I mean, I know how I may not be that frequent poster anymore on social networks, like Twitter, for instance, but the thing is that doesn’t necessarily mean I am not reading the interactions and conversations going on. In fact, they are an integral part of my daily dose that feeds my brain in terms of thought leadership, so it may seem as if I am not there, but I am, which is why I keep resisting the urge of having to automate my presence, and even more after seeing Joachim’s graphic in terms of what we should all aim at: Social Presence, that’s what will keep adding further up into authenticity, honesty and the real you, which is what matters the most.

      So don’t worry if you are not sure about automating your social presence. You don’t need to. That’s how trust and authenticity work. Showing and demonstrating the real you! :)

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  • daniel says:

    Luis,
    for me automatization has another feature: I have these bursts of activity where I may scan my feeds and find multiple items to share, or write three blog posts in a row… and I just don’t want to spam my people by publishing all at once, so I use a) Buffer to spread out my link sharing to FB and LinkedIn, and b) schedule blog posts on my blogs on the inter- and intranet.
    Of course I also feel that the “being inspired” is a much bigger part than the interactive, but that often comes with the new jobs and steeper learning curves, not?
    dan

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  • Jon Husband says:

    Bazinga !

    Nailed it, my friend. Stepping back and taking time off from all the frenzied jockeying, marketing and ‘solutionism’ is very useful (or at least so I believe.

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