Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Uncanny Valley of Social Media

You know it the moment you see it. You get an email, or a Direct Message, and it's friendly, outgoing...and wholly automated.

"Hi /Your Name/!" It says in imperturbably cheerful tones. "Here's what I can do for you!" Build your website presence, advertise your business, get more friends/followers/contacts, whatever. When you don't know that person and you don't need that thing, you just dismiss it as spam and move on.

But it feels even weirder when you do need that thing, or know that person and are creeped out by the lack of real connection between you, that person and the message you're reading. Who is it for, you wonder? Why am *I* getting it?

You are looking at the Uncanny Valley of Social Media.

Automated Social Media seems like the most obvious and helpful tool. One message across all your platforms will reach the most number of people with the most efficient use of your time. But this is where the Valley lives. In the same way that Advertising works better when you invest money in it to saturate your audience with your message, Social Media works best when you invest time to make your interaction with people authentic and relevant.

Your audience will be able to identify automated Social Media Marketing instantly. You, your business and your message go right into their mental spam filter and not only have you missed your opportunity to connect this time, you've blown it for next time too. Depending on your industry, this could be anywhere from minimally damaging to massively so. A website designer is going to have a harder road to hoe to make a connection on the second try than someone who is selling, say, chocolates.
Your "efficient" form of communication may be perceived as even creepier than you intend it to be. Watch this:

In the above video, you know *exactly* the moment you can see that the face is human, and when it is not. The video was created to study what factors people use to understand when a face looks alive. You can understand instantly when that face is an animation and when it is human. Even knowing that you are watching a simulation, it's hard not to be creeped out by it. Equally, even when I sign up for your newsletter, the tone of your communication might indicate to me that there is no one in there. Like eyes, words are incredibly powerful. Sending generic messages, spammish offers of business development help and automating one message across multiple platforms are dead giveaways. It doesn't take a sophisticated user to identify when a communication is fake.

To avoid the Uncanny Valley in Social Media focus on messaging that is actually relevant to your audience and addresses their needs directly and individually. Take time to get to know your audience, otherwise, you're just another 'bot.
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