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Keep One Hand on the Wheel

Image courtesy of Twitter, PhotoShop CC 2019, and JT.

Image courtesy of Twitter, PhotoShop CC 2019, and JT.

My Aunt Anni speaks German, which makes sense because she’s from Germany.
Heidi and John are former colleagues of mine who speak German. They met when John was in the Air Force and stationed in Germany. Heidi was a local girl who John fell in love with and married.
Beyond those three people, I can’t think of anyone else in my world who speaks German. Most of us only know the few words and phrases we learned from watching Hogan’s Heroes.
That’s why it seemed bizarre when I scrolled through my Twitter feed a couple of years ago and saw that a buddy shared a link to an article with a headline written in German. I clicked through and found out it wasn’t just the headline. The entire piece was in German. Naturally — because it was on a German newspaper’s website.
Was it a joke? Was there some cleverly hidden meaning I didn’t get?
Not a clue.
So I sent my pal a WTF text.
He wrote back and said he was using a news aggregator tool to curate content and share it with his network. It turns out he hadn’t read the article. He had no idea what he was tweeting. The robot just churned away and shared content on his behalf. But the robot didn’t give a shit what language that content was in.

The Relevance Race

I can’t remember for sure which tool my buddy was using. There are a bunch of them out there, including, Feedly, Curata, and PublishThis. 

They’re all minor variations of the same flavor. You set up your profile, select the news categories you’re interested in, and then go on with your life while the algorithms do all the heavy lifting.

When I started noticing these tools around 2012 or 2013, it was about the same time a lot of people were getting on the “content curation” bandwagon. Every social media guru [insert air quotes and sarcastic tone with that word] and marketing expert was preaching about the importance of finding interesting, relevant things to tweet about every day.

But that concept felt disingenuous to me. The idea of programming your way to relevancy always made me cringe. Plus, if everyone is finding and sharing, then who is reading?

While I sat on the sidelines and watched the content whores trying to out-link each other with hourly tweets, something about their efforts didn’t ring true. Some of these people were tweeting 15, 20, or even 25 links a day. You might need to sift through a hundred articles, blog posts, opinion pieces, and infographics to find 20 that are worth sharing.

There’s no way most of those people were consuming that much content. And if they told me they were, I’d believe them about as much as I believe the person who owes me money and says, “Wow! It’s so crazy that you called right now. I have the check here on my desk, and it’s going out in the mail today.”

Why yes. That IS crazy!

Eventually, I realized some of my marketing brethren were relying way too much on automation, and a lot of them didn’t even know what the hell they were sending out.

Don’t Make Me Use the “A-Word”

I wanted to make it through this article without saying “authenticity.”
It has become such a buzzword that it seems trite at this point. However, there’s still something to be said for the notion. Being authentic never goes out of style. 
The Great Content Sharing Race of 2012 has died down a bit over the past few years. But I still see a lot of automation that I think is misplaced and overkill.
If you’re a solo operator or run a small business, then keep it real. When you share something you’ve actually read and care about, it’s clear that YOU wrote the intro or commentary that goes along with it. But we can tell when you’re faking it — and that’s a huge turnoff.
We’d rather read something from the real you in your own voice once a day or once a week than see a dozen posts every day courtesy of artificial intelligence.
And it’s not just AI that strips away authenticity. I feel the same way about scheduling posts through services such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, or HubSpot. 
Those scheduling tools have their place, but you're at risk if you take a set-it-and-forget-it approach with them. It’s too easy to easy to get lazy and not look with a critical eye at what you have scheduled. Here are a few real-world examples I’ve seen of what can happen when you mindlessly plug content into a scheduler:

  • Posts promoting an event “next Thursday” when it was actually “this Thursday” or “tomorrow.” 

  • A tweet that went out on a Wednesday but ended with, “Have a great #Sunday.”

  • Blog post links that broke after a website update but were still shared on social media months later.

In the first two cases, the wording worked for the original tweet, but someone scheduled the same content for future dates without thinking about timeliness. And with the last one — well, that’s what happens when no one minds the store.

Admittedly, none of those mistakes will singlehandedly sink a business. But they're sloppy and show a lack of attention to detail. If I'm a potential client looking at you as a possible vendor and I see you making mistakes like that, then I might wonder if you'll be equally sloppy with the work you do for me.
If you’re a bigger company with a social media team, then post scheduling and automation make sense. You build in checks and balances to make sure nothing wonky slips through the cracks. Even then, you have to keep one hand on the wheel by continually monitoring your social media for anomalies.
But if you’re a sole proprietor like me, or you run a small shop, then you should post in real time when an idea strikes or when you come across something interesting. Don’t force it, and don’t automate your way out of being genuine.
That’s the main lesson today. However, we can’t wrap up without a lesson on the top four German words I learned from watching Hogan’s Heroes:

  • Jawohl = yes

  • Schnell = fast

  • Raus = out

  • Fraulein = a young German woman who somehow manages to date an American trapped inside a POW camp


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John Terry