"Automation is sand in the social gearbox."
So says Axel Schultz at the end of a provocative blog on Customer Think called When the Social Media Bubble Burst. I think he's more right on his ending line than he is on his title. Automation does have a way of gumming up the social works.
I wrote a week ago about a large-scale example of this in the mortgage banking industry. Let's go micro now, and have a look at small-scale automation.
Let's have a look at the nuts and bolts of creating 'friends' on YouTube. The more friends you get, the more people look at you, the higher your ratings go on YouTube.
Here is a transcription of a video from TubeToolBox.com.
So you're looking for an automated way to get more views to your YouTube videos; but you don't want to risk losing your YouTube account by using tools that could get you flagged or banned. So you lead a lot of subscribers, and actual views, ratings and comments from other YouTubers so your videos get traffic. But you don't have the time or the money to spend marketing them.
So you run Tube Toolbox, and you collect a few thousand users in just a few minutes who have watched and commented on videos similar to yours. You know that they're the best friends and subscribers to have, because they watch videos in your niche, and leave comments on them.
So now that you have your list of targeted YouTube users, you start sending automated friend request and auto-subscribe to their channels. This software runs in the background, which means you're free to do other work while Tube ToolBox is hard at work. You can even let it run overnight, and pick up friends and subscribers while you sleep.
Then when you come out with your next video, you just send your video to all your friends with a friendly message letting them know about your new video, asking them to rate and comment on it.
In comments on videos increase, you will start to notice your videos making it to he the most discussed, most viewed and top-rated sections in addition to others where the bulk of YouTubers watch videos.
Now your videos will get thousands of views with people subscribing to your channel, and adding you as a friend on auto-pilot. As you build momentum, your reach increases, and your videos have their best shot at going viral.
Before you know it, you'll add thousands of friends, subscribers and views to your YouTube videos.
TubeToolbox is hardly unique. Nor are they doing anything wrong or illegal. But what they are doing is yet another version of "sand in the social gearbox."
Take the germ of a social idea: a video, together with a way for people to "like" it and pass on their likes to others. Now automate it. Va-voom. Instant increases in friends, followers, statistics, etc.
As long as there remains a glimmer of personal connection, the automation of a function, driven to the limits of scale, will drive it further down the road of impersonality.
This is the story of spam. It is the story of customer 'loyalty,' as an emotional feeling got re-born as a statistical movement. It is what happened in the mortgage business, as mentioned previously.
It isn't automation per se that is the villain. It is the substitution of process for interaction; the substitution of transactions for relationships.
Much of our time is spent designing businesses that are by bots, of bots and for bots. If management equals measurement-the dominant managerial philosophy of the day-then all we need are sensors and calculators. We can manage in our sleep.
And when we can create 'friends' in our sleep, on auto-pilot, we are nearly there. He who gains the most friends wins, so everyone tries to gain more friends. The usual end is either a monopoly or scorched earth. Certainly there aren't many friends left.
Unlike Axel Schultz, I think we'll evolve an answer. It will have to look like opting out of the mechanical arms race, because Schultz is right about the sand and the gearbox.