Is An Automated Response Better Than No Response At All?
[I'm trying something slightly different here. Some of you may have hear me musing about snippets on Twitter last week, but basically, "snippets" are ideas that are longer than tweets but shorter than my normal posts. We'll see how it goes.]
There are two conversations that I'd like to join. The first post is Naomi's You Are Not A Bad Person And You’re Not Doing It Wrong - a post that contains a lot of ideas and frustrations that we've been talking about for a month or so now. I'd like to draw out one particular point from the post:
Thanks to a pretty aggressive spam filter, less than 1% of those emails are junk. If outsourcing is impersonal and autoresponders are offensive and ignoring them is career suicide, exactly what am I supposed to do with those emails?
Though we share the same challenges, the intensity of hers is much higher. But here's the deal: I personally hate email autoresponders. I hate getting them, and for that reason, I don't use them. (That's not quite true - hold that thought.)
There comes a point, though, where I can't answer all of the email that I get. Thanks to my internalization of Email Triage, I can normally respond within three days, but the more I do the things that are helping grow this blog, the more that three days stretches to four and five days. If I want to stay on top of it, I've got to do that in lieu of writing.
I've already talked about not being able to reply to blog comments, so you can imagine what it feels like for me not to be able to be a part of the conversations that people are starting with me. Right now, instead of telling people that I can't or won't reply, I'm saying nothing - which isn't cool. But it's also not cool to personally respond to everyone saying that I may not get back to them, and I don't want to have an autoresponder tell them that either.
Sorry, I probably won't get back to you. And instead of me having to personally tell you this, I've invoked a computer script to tell you it because I don't have the time and heart to do it myself.
Have a great day! Ugh.
Who Needs To Personally Say Thank You When Plugins Can Do It For You?
Then I was reading Ari's guest post on Remarkablogger about the One Blog Comment Plugin You Should Be Without and I was struck by the idea that having a plugin send people to a page that "Thanks" them falls under this same category. Is it really a thank you? Doesn't a genuine thank you require a person behind it?
This plugin is much like Comment Relish, which sends an email to first time commenters thanking them for commenting. I have no doubt that Comment Relish is incredibly effective, but, given that I help people deal with email overwhelm, I'm not a big fan of sending people something that essentially gives them another thing that they have to process.
In theory, I'm a bigger fan of Comment Redirect (the plugin discussed in Ari's post) because it doesn't add to the heap, but the question still stands: is it really a thank you?
Auto-follow DMs vs. Aweber Lists
Consider another example that Twitizens love to rail against: the dreaded auto-follow DM. Whether or not most people agree, I'm not a fan of those, either; if you'd like to thank me for following you, having a script send an email to me is not the way to do it. (See email issues above.)
Yet, at some level, I've invoked technology to send welcomes and thank yous, too. If you join my newsletter, you'll get emails from "me" saying welcome and thank you. Why is it that I hate invoking an autoresponder in one context but not another? Sending a commenter to a "thank you" page is functionally no different than sending a message that says "thanks for subscribing to the newsletter," so what gives?
I'm honestly not sure on that one. I have a feeling I'll be chewing on it for several weeks, but in the meantime, commenters get the same treatment as those emails I won't respond to - silence. Which is the same treatment that new Twitter followers often get.
Whether We're Offline or Online, We're Still Dancing
I think what's at play is that we're trying to assess online interactions in the same way that we assess offline interactions, but we can't. If someone walked up to you and started talking to you, you could ignore them, but it'd be much worse than saying I'm sorry - I can't talk right now. Each of us has a tug to respond to other people because we've been hardwired and socialized that way, but our wiring and socialization isn't keeping up with the reality of online interactions.
If it were as simple as saying "Do whatever feels comfortable to you," it'd be one thing, but it's not. Though the context of the interactions are different, they're still social interactions. As in any other social interaction, there are three considerations: what I want and how I behave, what you want and how you behave, and what the standard social norms are that govern our interactions.
It's that least piece of the dance that I'm most concerned about. Social norms stay in place because individual actors in the group continue to follow the script. We're in a realm where we're defining the social rules faster than we can process them, and while we each have to draw our line somewhere, we're not drawing it in the vacuum.
The reason a real response and a real thank you works is because the recipient of the communication feels seen and heard. You took the time to interact with them. Lines of code can't replace that any more than holding a doll can replace the warmth of a human embrace. But is holding a doll better than nothing at all?
Right now, I don't know whether an automated response is better than no response at all. So I'll turn it over to you: which do you prefer? After all, you're part of the dance, too.
(So much for a snippet. I had a feeling that would happen.)