Why software, plugins and fancy algorithms WON’T save your business

This story from The Guardian a couple of days ago made me laugh…

‘Facebook fires trending team, and algorithm without humans goes crazy’

In short, when Facebook’s fancy algorithm was left to its own devices it started pushing out false news stories, offensive headlines and “a story about a man masturbating with a McDonald’s sandwich”.

Who would have thought robots could be so insensitive?

Not to gloat, but this is precisely what I’ve been banging on about for the past year in these eletters.

All these new software tools, automated SEO systems and algorithms are fine… they make running a business easier… and they’re becoming more accessible to small businesses and start-ups… no doubt about that.

But don’t be duped.

The robots haven’t taken over quite just yet.

These things shouldn’t be at the core of your business. They’re a sideshow.

Above all things, to run your business successfully you need to be human. That means selecting and sharing stories you believe will mean something to the kind of people you want to attract to your services.

And yet the pioneers of the new digital age have been trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

For years, Facebook gave the impression that they’d mastered the science of the algorithm – as if their top mathematicians had discovered the secret of Internet alchemy.

We were told that their futuristic form of automated curation would select the kind of news, links and trending stories that each individual would most want to see. It was all based on that person’s choices – their clicks, shares and ‘likes’ – not Facebook’s.

They’ve denied any accusations of political bias, claiming that the algorithm sets the agenda, not humans.

But then in May this year, leaked documents showed that as well as their hallowed algorithm they had teams of people – yes, HUMAN PEOPLE – sifting through the stories just like any traditional media company.

In other words, Facebook is just another information publisher after all.

They’re doing what I do – and what every business needs to do – and that’s to find and curate useful, relevant and topical information based on the desires and beliefs of their target customer.

That’s how you build relationships. That’s how you develop a bond of trust. That’s how you grow your social media following and get people to read your blog posts and email newsletters.

Of course, only months later, Facebook decided to sack their trending news team and all hell broke loose.

And the moral of the story is…

Algorithms are powerful tools, and they’re becoming ever-more sophisticated… but they can’t run a business.

The same goes for all the latest SEO tricks, traffic strategies and Google hacks that people to sell you. All those plugins and software gadgets that magically solve problems for you.

Don’t let them distract you. Don’t spend all your time and money on them, thinking they’re going to act like some kind of Internet traffic tractor beam, effortlessly pulling in customer while you sip Piña coladas in your golden dressing gown.

The robots won’t take over.

In my view the future is much more likely to be a fusion of human and machine. This is what I would call cyborg curation.

Created by humans in cahoots with the latest tools, those same humans will guide, sifting and select what’s eventually seen by their audience.

Because while Facebook are sacking their staff, other businesses are recruiting curators.

For instance, Apple’s streaming service uses human editors who are experts in music to create playlists that attract an audience. There’s so much music to listen to, most people can’t handle it – so they prefer recommendations from others who share their tastes.

Apple’s belief is that genuine PASSION for music can’t be replicated by machines, and this will give humans the edge over their automated rivals.

Of course, Spotify (that’s the service I use, unashamedly!) has the very same idea.

James Foley, Spotify’s UK’s Senior Editor says this: “Behind each playlist is a hypothesis we build based on who the target audience is and what musical parameters we want to apply.”

This is what you should be doing before you think about using any of the clever platforms and tools.

You need to build an accurate profile of the kind of person you want to attract to your business and services. That means coming up with a human identity and not a set of statistics. You need a clear idea of their likes and dislikes, their world view and their emotional make up.

Once you’ve done that, you can go out and seek the kind of information they need, or are most likely to enjoy. That’s when the tools come in useful.

For instance, www.Feedly.com will help you build lists of articles based around topics, but it’s YOU setting the agenda and making the final decision.

There’s also Google Alerts which monitors the Internet for articles, videos and news based on your key topics. But again, what you decide to share must be based on you.

So that doesn’t mean scooping up and sharing everything you can find on Facebook and Twitter, just because it’s on topic and the headline looks good at a glance. The last thing you want to do is increase the clutter and noise for your followers and readers.

You need to be a trusted authority and show your particular taste and personality. That means being discerning and picking only the most interesting, unusual and useful information.

For more information on how to do this, I’d highly recommend you look through this very website.

Last month’s DU newsletter was all about curation tools and how to use them to select and share information that increases your website traffic, email subscriptions and social media following.

Meanwhile, let’s hope Facebook don’t rehire their news team in the near future… at least until we learn more about the versatility of a McChicken Sandwich.

This article first appeared on Digital Upstart. Read more and comment here