I Design + Develop + Support WordPress websites

Why not to Automate Everything

A copywriter friend of mine, Christine Parizo, recently came across a request from a reporter looking for  a wordpress expert to answer some questions, so she thought of me. The reporter was looking for information on plugins that will automatically tweet and post to facebook when a new blog post is created. Now, there are all kinds of plugins out there that do this, but even if they all worked great (and I’m sure some of them do), I still wouldn’t recommend them.

I think automation is great. I also think the web is a great tool for automation. Even a website is a form of automation. You put up your sales copy, write a blog post, or put up a video, and it keeps on working for you automatically as a sales tool without you spending more time on that particular part of your site. Find a salesman who will do that!

But sometimes automation just doesn’t make sense. Think about it this way: You’ve just written a 1000 word blog post that you may have spent hours researching, or you’ve even just dashed off a quick 400 word post like this one is going to be because something sparked an idea, but then you let an automated bit of code take over when it’s time to write the whopping 14o characters it takes to promote the post on twitter. Does that make sense?

What these plugins do is take the post’s title, create a shortlink (from bit.ly for example) and post it using the authorization you gave it to access your twitter account. Sounds good so far, but what if that brilliant thing between your ears can come up with a better way to promote your post than by just spitting out the title? I bet it can too!

Once you’ve spent all that time writing your blog post, why automate that last crucial yet simple and fast step of promoting the post when you could probably come up with a much better way of promoting it in a fraction of the time it took you to write it?

My point is that automation is a great thing, but only if it either delivers the same same result in a shorter amount of time, or the time to “do it by hand” is greater than the reward of adding your own touch.

That’s my take on it. What do you think? Is all automation the right choice no matter how little time it saves, or does the human touch still matter on the web?

Comments

  1. Great point Terran! Adding your own touch is an important piece to how the information we share is received.

  2. I am glad to see a post like this! Most people are looking for automation to make things easier, even after spending so much time on their blog itself. I prefer personal/engaging posts about blogs VS automated titles and links.

    Thanks!

  3. Timothy Rayner says:

    Hm. Maybe just control of your automation is what’s needed. I think the attraction of autotweeting is that you don’t have to enter the same thing in several places. I set up my facebook page to autotweet because I didn’t want to go to two sites to write the same sentence.

    I think what is needed isn’t LESS automation but more creative bespoke automation. If you want to spread your work over numerous social networking sites and more, if you want to tweet comments about photographs about your work and different pages you sell on, like I do, then those 140 characters can soon become irksome. Far better to be able to have any new updates (flikr pictures, new products on sales websites, blog postings) intelligently updated. You can write your 140 characters elsewhere. To use a blog posting as an example – if you can’t use a 100 character blog title to gather enough interest in your subject matter and engage your audience then you’re not creative enough. That leaves ample space for the words “On my blog ” at the beginning and a shortened URL at the end. The same can be true of a short description of a flikr picture.

    The issue, I feel, is with off-the-shelf automation as it’s too generic and won’t work exactly the way you want it to, but if you can code and know what you want and the coding conventions needed (or know someone who can do all this) then I think it’s a worthwhile way of cutting down the workload.

    • Fair points, all.

      A couple of thoughts in response…

      I speak here in absolutes, while there are obviously “exceptions to every rule.” If your time is valuable enough to you whether for personal reasons or because your effective hourly rate is extremely high, then, yes any sort of automation may be worthwhile. In this case I might question why you blog at all rather than hiring that out as well.

      My one thought on the more custom automation you speak of is that you also need to think about the time and money you spend creating it. Is that worth the few seconds you’ll save? Even finding a good pre-built plugin is going to take time.

      What I’m really trying to get at here is that automation isn’t always the best answer. You need to look at the time you actually save vs the time it takes to create the automation solution vs what you lose in the personal touch.

      Or maybe you’d be better off outsourcing the entire blog writing process to a professional rather than automating. I just think it’s important to weigh the time gained by automation against other options and the benefits of those options. Obviously if automation will save you time (including the time setting up the automation), with no difference in outcome (or an acceptable difference given the time savings), then obviously you should do it. It just shouldn’t be a knee jerk reaction towards automation.

      This is kind of a tangent, but I’d also so that if all you’re doing on social media like facebook and twitter is autoposting your content your missing out on the interaction I think is the real power of these tools.

      You might find this post on a site that has hard data on an increase in traffic after turning off facebook autoposting interesting.

      • Hm. I didn’t say autotweeting was the ONLY thing I did. Posting on a Facebook page and tweeting have the same function so it makes sense to have the one forward to the other (and keeps my facebook page posts nice and concise – if I want to be more verbose with my facebook page I have other options (like the discussions section) so effectively in that case I’m just “tweeting” in twon different places but blogging is blogging and twittering is twittering. Why would I need to spend time writing a custom tweet and rephrasing stuff when the purpose of that particular tweet is to redirect people to a blog or a photograph, both of which should already have a description?

        You have a more valid point when it comes to the programming side but it needn’t be that complex. Once you know the code I suspect the script wouldn’t be more than a few 100 lines (I touchtype so writing a few hundred lines might be quicker than trying to hone stuff down to only 140 characters – although I’m getting better at that) I guess the main attraction of automation is that if I get onto facebook or twitter I get easily distracted by other stuff. If a lot of my tweets are tweeted for me then I can focus on other more important tasks more easily.

        • I came across your blog post while searching for arguments to back up my sense that our clients (I work for a PR firm that does social media) should be reducing their automation in certain areas. For example, I think that they should not be autotweeting their Facebook posts.

          I would question Timothy’s statement that posting to Facebook and then Tweeting is the equivalent of “tweeting in two different places” or that “posting on a Facebook page and Tweeting have the same function.” I think that the audiences are different, that for certain brands and topics Twitter is preferred while for others Facebook meets objectives better. Also, there are about 7 times more Facebook users than active Twitter users.

          I think there are far more “lurkers” than actual publishers on Twitter. On Facebook, meanwhile, people have more options to engage simply by liking or commenting, or commenting on comments. In short, I think the two platforms are quite different and each should have its own strategy.

          Part of that strategy is writing tight pithy copy for Twitter while writing something equally pithy and concise but perhaps including more questions and detail on Facebook. Also, the visual layout on Facebook means that having a YouTube tab or an e-commerce tab on the Facebook page is an option—clearly people won’t experience Twitter in that way until Twitter redesigns its user interface again.

          So, I’m going to recommend that my clients remove autotweeting and autoposting. Instead, I’ll recommend that they pay me to spend the time after I’ve written a blog entry to craft unique 140 to 180-character posts that accompany links I share on Facebook and Twitter. What do you think? Bad move?

          • Cody, I definitely agree with you. Any time you start talking money of course it makes it a harder sell, but I think the same arguments apply to your situation as those I made for people writing and promoting their own content. I just don’t see how it makes sense to spend all that time producing content and then to try to automate the minimal time investment to promote it.

  4. I hadn’t thought of this before I saw your post, and the one on WPMU.org today. (I’m late, but I get there eventually.) But now that I think of it, the responses I get do tend to be from links I’ve put manually onto FB and Twitter. (I usually can’t wait for the autoposter to do it, since it doesn’t happen immediately.) This is very, very interesting.

  5. Something else readers of this post might find interesting that I learned after writing it: Facebook has something called “Edgerank” which is how it decides whether you actually see a post in your “top news” feed. It turns out that manual posts have a higher Edgerank than those posted by an application.

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