Know your Audience: Ending the Mindless Aggregation

Ever log into facebook, only to find your news feed bombarded with one particular friend’s automatically imported tweets littering the entire screen?  Or on twitter, the entire screen filled with updates cut off mid-sentence, requiring you to mozy on over to facebook to read an entire thought?  At times it feels like an endless technological merry-go-round, with carbon-copied thoughts blasting your twitter, facebook, friendfeed, buzz, linkedin, and tumblr stream all at once.

With the rapid pace of innovation in the social networking sphere, more and more people feel compelled to join up and manage their presence in countless places.  It became just too time-consuming to manually update twitter, facebook, linkedin, friendfeed, and tumblr individually, so why not automate that process, save yourself some time, and reach a broader audience all at once?  Makes sense, right? As is often the case, the devil is in the details, and once implemented, just creates a mindless mess.

This problem crystalized, for me, earlier this year when a good friend of mine sent an e-mail to let me know he was disconnecting from me on linkedin.  I didn’t take offense, we’re great friends and connected on facebook and other places on the web, and I was surprised he even took the time to send an e-mail; so many of us would simply disconnect and move on.  But his reasoning really resonated with me-  linkedin, for him, was a place to network professionally, and my never-ending imported tweets were littering his feed, clouding the purpose of the site for him.

This simple e-mail provided a catalyst to re-think my approach to social media, why I join certain sites, how I engage different audiences, and how my participation (or passive automation) affects my network of friends and followers.

I came out of this process of self-rediscovery with some important lessons:

    Have a reason, a goal, for maintaining a profile or presence on networking sites: Why are you on facebook?  Is it to connect with friends, share photos, network with professionals in your field?  Simply joining because “everyone is on facebook” is not a reason itself.

    Passive automation breeds indifference, and disengages your audience from your content:  You may think that automatically feeding your content into as many places as possible is the best way to reach the largest audience, but doing so only reflects disrespect for your audience and the platform they’ve chosen to communicate with.  Take, for example, two elected officials in Pennsylvania.  Both are on twitter, both are on facebook, but one passively automates his tweets into facebook, while the other selectively posts his tweets onto facebook:

    As you can tell, the automated tweets from the politician on the left had left his followers disengaged, while the politician taking the time to selectively update his facebook page from twitter engages his audience. It’s a really basic concept- take the time to respect the platform you’re using, and your audience will reward you with their time and thoughts.

    There’s no “right way” to use social networking sites, but still take the time to learn social norms:  Everyone has different reasons and goals for connecting online.  Anyone that tells you on twitter that “you’re doing it wrong” doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  That said, just as you would behave differently in a corporate meeting with your boss than an after-hours happy hour with the boss, how you speak and interact on twitter is different than engaging with your friends on facebook.

How I speak and engage my audience at a large-scale rally is much different than how I engage my audience in a small workshop.  We take these social norms for granted in the “real-world,” but sometimes forget these norms online.  Seeing retweets (RTs) and hasthtags (#s) in facebook only lets your followers know you haven’t taken the time to thoughtfully post content onto your page, and it’s less likely that they will in turn take their time to thoughtfully comment or like your posts.

Social media, and the platforms we use to communicate and engage, will continue to evolve at a rapid pace, and with that evolution will come the overwhelming desire to automate content to save yourself time and effort-  just remember that the less time and effort you put into your own content, the less time and effort your audience will put into engaging with you.

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