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A screenshot of Guy Kawasaki's Twitter feed. (@guykawasaki)
A screenshot of Guy Kawasaki's Twitter feed. (@guykawasaki)

Amber Mac

Automated social media updates: cheating or just good business? Add to ...

Just before dawn this morning, Guy Kawasaki published dozens of tweets. From a link to beef jerky potato chips to The Skinny on Apple's new CEO. If you're not familiar with the bestselling author's publishing process you might think that he suffers from insomnia. However, Kawasaki makes it quite clear when talking to him that he has a team of people pushing out updates, automating the process so that his feed is active pretty much 24-7.

Does it work? Well, it depends on how you define social media success. Today @guykawasaki is hovering around 400,000 followers, a pretty significant community of listeners. Of course Kawasaki isn't the only one posting to Twitter and other sites without actually “being there.” The practice is pretty common and there are dozens of tools to make updates easier.

A newly launched service called Buffer has a new twist on automation. The company states that most people browse the web during short bursts, often flooding their Twitter stream with a bunch of tweets at once. What Buffer promises to do is to allow you to line up all this great content in a queue, so they're sent out periodically throughout the day to give you that “Kawasaki” effect without employing a team or staying up all night.

Buffer says on its website that it wants to help users “create an authentic and honest appearance on Twitter because we believe there are no short-cuts to succeeding on a platform where engagement is so crucial.” If you're in the social media space, chances are that you hear this term “authenticity” a lot. In fact, when I published my book last year this was one of the three pillars of proper execution, a social media rule of sorts that encompasses transparency and accessibility.

For some, automating tweets is the antithesis of this. My good friend and social media speaker Scott Stratten routinely shares his (strong) feelings about this topic on Twitter with messages such as: “Automating tweets is like sending a mannequin to a networking event. Don't try to have presence without being present.” While I often agree with Stratten, I'm not quite sure that automation is such an evil habit. I think there are certain times when scheduling tweets within a social media management tool and cross-posting to multiple networks all at once are okay.

Where authenticity becomes important is when you're having conversations on Twitter. This is one skill that Stratten has mastered. To grow a grassroots community it's key to reply to individuals in your own voice and engage in a meaningful way. Some businesses need to hire people to do this work for them, which I have seen done well and done poorly. Probably the biggest no-no on social media sites is when a public figure pretends he or she is doing the tweeting, but in fact it's someone else -- this is where transparency is key.

Sure, in an ideal world we would all spend every minute of our day writing really thoughtful posts that come straight from the heart. However, in some cases, sometimes an update doesn't necessarily require a whole lot of TLC. For example, what I like about Guy Kawasaki's content is that it's, well, great content. I don't need him to butter it up with his own words; after all, sometimes I just want to read more about jerky potato chips (well, not always, but you get the point).

In short, automation isn't an authenticity killer, but don't do it without continuing to engage so you're “present” when it counts.

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Follow on Twitter: @ambermac

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