Don’t Let Automation Destroy Your Authenticity

One of the most effective ways to become more productive and manage your time is by automating low-value, repetitive tasks. Every week new apps are released that will connect to your online accounts and do some work for you. I’m a huge fan of this progress, however, I get concerned about these services having an unintended effect of trading some of your authenticity away just to save a little time.

There is a growing popularity of automation tools like Zapier, If This Then That (IFTTT), and Microsoft Flow, and it’s becoming easier and easier for average people to build their own personalized automations.

Even easier are tools like dlvr.it which will monitor sites and automatically post to social networks on your behalf. I’ll admit that I’ve tried dlvr.it for a couple of months and it has saved me time because I don’t need to remember a laundry list of sites that I want to further discuss on Twitter (it does the posting for me). Unfortunately, things got weird for me when people re-tweeted and responded to my tweets about articles I hadn’t actually read yet.

That crossed a line for me. As informal as social media can be, people do react to tweets, posts, and shares in a very personal way. As a result, I recently stopped using this automation and decided to find a middle ground I am comfortable with.

This made me reflect on the ways automation can impact the perception of your authenticity. As I weighed the arguments, I expected that my opinion would change if I considered it from the perspective of an individual (e.g. my personal Twitter account) vs. an organization (e.g. my company’s Twitter account). To my surprise, the answer stays pretty similar for both situations.

Be careful which kinds of human interaction you automate

Every year around the holiday season I get greeting cards from friends and family. I also get them from companies that I do business with. I’m never impressed with the generic holiday greeting cards from my insurance agent. It’s a great concept, but I can see that they were printed in bulk (with a mail-merge), include a laser-printed message and signature, and were sent from another state. How many people receive this kind of card and feel warm-fuzzies?

I like my agent, and I don’t think he’s even directly responsible for the cards (it’s the parent company that sends them out). Sadly, the card that’s being sent out on his behalf actually serves as a reminder that I’m not getting a personal card/call/email to wish me happy holidays.

I get plenty of other impersonal mailings from the insurance company, ones that I don’t mind at all. Who in their right mind would expect their billing statement to have a personal touch? The non-personal, but personalized, holiday greeting card is a perfect example of the wrong kind of interaction to automate.

Set appropriate expectations to maintain your authenticity

Take a moment and think about something as simple as an order acknowledgment email for a purchase you make online. Few people today would expect this to be personally crafted and sent by a live person. In fact, for me, and many others I know, that email should be in my inbox right away. It’s a tangible thing that makes me feel satisfied that the order I just placed is real.

However, 10-15 years ago (or maybe even less than that) most people wanted to know that there was a human being looking after their order. Why is this?

Expectations changed.

They may have changed for something like an email that confirms an order, however, the prevailing expectation I see on social media is that people expect (and believe) that posts are coming from real people hitting the Post button. Make sure your authenticity is not compromised by over-automating this kind of interaction.

Setting these expectations grows increasingly important “bots” become more mainstream. Bots (a.k.a. chatbots) are growing in their ability to handle requests for information (through a request from somebody) and automatically respond with an answer (or with a request for additional details or context).

In my experience I’ve seen bots with very wide differences in how successful they are–but little irks me more than a website offering me a live chat with an agent…but then it turns out that the agent is actually a bot.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to reiterate that I am by no means speaking ill of the services provided by dlvr.it, IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, or others. These are very exciting tools that can improve the productivity of individuals and organizations alike. There’s a line when it comes to communication, though, where automating for productivity could compromise your authenticity–and I highly encourage that you take the time to ask yourself where that balance is for you.

Do you automate communication tools like email or social media? Do you think I’m overreacting? Sound off in the comments below.

Matthew C. Anderson
 

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