It’s tough to keep track of activity on the Twitterverse sometimes. This is how Twitter, or social media in general, draws you in and sucks away your time. The drawback of live streaming, immediately accessible social and media platforms is just that: it’s 24 hours, it’s always on. Inevitably, logging off Twitter means checking out from social media and missing out on conversation points, interesting articles, and opportunities to extend brand reach. Unless you forgo sleep (nope), a social life (absolutely not), or work (who else is paying the bills?) you can’t be online 24/7 even if your social platform is. Sure, you can hire someone to do it. But – let’s be honest – do you really want someone else take over your electronic identity?

Many of my friends have opted to shut down their online presence because of the live action allure. The prospect of real-time updates and news is too distracting. Information overload, addiction, distraction, overstimulation. Whatever you want to call it, some people find it bothersome to keep up so they choose to opt-out. E-mail, some say, is sufficient. Accessibility is limited to telephone, e-mail, and physical location… and it’s enough, for now. The people who can afford to opt-out of social media are not authors.

So what do you do if you are an author and need to engage with your audience? How do you manage your online presence without compromising time or interactivity? For the savvy social media maven, there are a few options.

Thy name is automation and thou can be a godsend.

A brief warning before I dive in: automation, generally speaking, is bad. Automation compromises genuine social interactions and actually distances your audience. Automation can drive people (read: fans) away and must be used carefully and with restraint. Those who use automation to socialize are undercutting social media’s value and potential.

That being said, some automation is useful because it can remind you of updates and keep you focused on the bigger picture, rather than the minutiae of each tweet in your stream. The automation service I prefer is called Ifttt and it’s completely free. The premise of their service is very simple: if I do this, then automatically do that for me. If this then that.

Ifttt works like this: you provide account information for all the services you want Ifttt to use. These are called channels and you can activate them one at a time according to your needs. Their list of channels is by no means comprehensive, though it includes the most popular services and communication methods. You select a channel and choose from a list of possible actions. Then you choose a second service, one that you want your initial action to fire to or trigger, and select a reaction. Then you customize the result in text, appearance, and additional information. The end result is a task which can be turned on or off or edited as your platform evolves and your needs change.

For example, I want to be notified every time a new person follows me on Twitter. Once I’m logged on, I activate and select the Twitter channel and choose the “New Follower” action. Then I choose a reaction channel, which I want to be e-mail. I use Gmail so I click that channel and select the “send message” reaction. Once this is selected, I can customize how the message appears in my e-mail inbox: do I want a specific subject line? How about content of the message? Now I don’t need to check Twitter twenty times a day to see if I have any new followers (or mentions, retweets, and DMs). Ifttt checks for me and notifies me. I don’t have to login to Twitter at all to know if there is activity on my account. I have a service to tell me when there is activity and then I can decide if or when I should use it.

Here’s another scenario: I’m going out of town, to a foreign city, and can’t bring my laptop. However, I will have my cell phone. Solution? I create tasks in which Ifttt sends me text messages when I receive an e-mail, a mention on Twitter, a message on Facebook, or a new item in my RSS feed. I can specify in the task how much information about the “action” (online activity) is included in the text and then I can evaluate the urgency of a response. Updates on my RSS feed are particularly useful because I can subscribe to local news, event listing, or business feeds before I go. Then I’ll know what’s going on as I travel and while on location. I’m informed and available… if I choose to be.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the ifttt service is nice but who needs to be updated 24/7?  Isn’t this process as much of an aggravation and time waster as being logged in to your social media platform all the time? Well, yes and no. If used with restraint, the real appeal of the Ifttt services is its notification possibilities. You can direct the service to send all social media activity to a single channel. For most people this is an e-mail inbox, while others do it all from a smartphone. Whichever tool serves you best, whatever service you rely upon most: you can direct all social media activity to it using Ifttt. The purpose is to spend less time checking your online platforms, waiting for updates or a conversation. Using automation services to make social media work harder for you is beneficial – helping you troll it, stalk your ex, or act as a virtual assistant is not.

I don’t need to stay on Twitter to keep up with the conversation. I can step away and let Ifttt remind me when it’s time to log back on. If I happen to visit sooner, I chose to spend my free time there. The virtual world doesn’t own my attention span, the physical world does.

Focus on the interactive aspect of social media, not the live stream.

4 thoughts on “Good witch or bad witch? Automation and the 24/7 live stream of social media channels

  1. Good article. Thanks for breaking this down so that old farts like me can begin wrapping our heads around this otherwise daunting new phenomenon.

  2. Thanks for a very good article. I just discovered Ifttt today. The notification possibilities are great for cutting down on clutter, true. But the other thing that drew me to it right away was the possibility to consolidate my information with ease, automatically.

    I use Evernote as my digital shoebox, as it were, for notes and info of all kinds. But I hate the labor and time of having to copy-n-paste everything to a note. So having Ifttt do it all automatically for me is wonderful (especially for adding my Diigo bookmarks to Evernote).

    • Hi JD,
      Thanks for the comment. I’ve never used Evernote before but I do agree that having Ifttt do the menial labor is the best feature of all. The challenge of social media is how many tools exist for communication and sharing. I love how Ifttt helps me manage all the different outlets – Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Email, Pinterest, Youtube, etc – and consolidates information effectively.

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