The popularity of marketing automation and social media marketing has taken a quantum leap forward over the last few years. But does automating the naturally conversation-led practice of social marketing make business sense? Or does automation remove what makes social media such a useful marketing tool – human dialogue? This article explores the reasons for and against automating social media marketing strategies in order to consider some of the do’s and don’ts of social automation.
Reasons for social automation
Automating digital marketing processes can help free up resources, increase effectiveness and improve the manageability of some platforms if done right, and produce more effective digital channels and campaigns.
Whilst ‘traditional’ social media marketing can require a lot of time to be dedicated to status updates and community interactions across multiple social platforms, automation allows messages to be planned ahead in bulk and pushed out when the time is right. This is great, and most automation systems also allow you to push a single social message to several platforms at the same time, saving even more time.
Bulk uploading means that teams can integrate social into their strategy, with the majority of outward communication being able to be scheduled ahead of time. Bringing this set-up time to the front of a project means less time devising, distributing and diagnosing social messages during a campaign – Leaving more time to focus on social engagement.
Some automation strategies engage automatically with other social publishers based on keyword and content-based algorithms. This can lead to a much wider audience with relatively similar interests, which is great for when it’s time to publish your messages. And of cause a wider audience means more likelihood of social sharing.
Increasing your audience base this way can be a quick and relatively painless process – Just input some basic information and the system will engage with relevant social audiences and messages automatically. However people tend to talk about a wide variety of topics on social, so it’s always worth investigating the system’s algorithmic rules to make sure you’re not following someone who happened to just mention one of your keywords one time.
Other social automation systems will aggregate content from your social audiences, meaning you can get a quick insight into current topics and trends. This is a great feature if you’re working in a fast-paced market, and want to join in industry-wide debate or discussions.
By accumulating content in one interface it also means that it’s easy to browse through and share relevant topics quickly (albeit manually). This type of view often allows you to see your messages and how your audience (and often your audience’s audience) are engaging them with.
Why social automation doesn’t work
On the flip side, social marketing automation can produce a robotic and impersonal persona, with very little real-time relevance and almost no audience engagement.
Social platform variants
One of the problems with social marketing automation is down to how social platforms work. Or rather, how they vary. Each social platform is different – The content that is published on LinkedIn is different to that which is published on Twitter. Other platforms such as Pintrest, Snapchat and Facebook have different content standards, too. These differences make it sometimes difficult to produce one message that suits all (or multiple) platforms.
Whilst producing messages for multiple platforms isn’t a problem as such, it does contradict to an extent the notion that social marketing automation is less demanding. Having to plan ahead for multiple content types can sometimes be more time-consuming than simply using native social applications as and when required.
Real-time social relevance
There are two potential issues regarding real-time relevance and social automation. Firstly, it’s impossible to know if the time that you schedule your messages for will be appropriate. Even the most seemingly harmless social messages, posted at the wrong time, can be disastrous.
The second issue relates to response time. Responding quickly to a lead, Retweeting a customer’s photograph and sharing a Google+ post from a respected author are all time sensitive. Scheduling these actions for hours, days or weeks later may be too late.
No ‘real’ engagement
Arguably the biggest issue with social marketing automation is the lack of ‘real’ engagement, such as replies and comments. Without this dialogue between social accounts, feeds can often be perceived as impersonal and sometimes ‘spammy’. This perception often works against accounts when trying to engage with audiences through ‘manual’ messages.
Not participating in real engagement limits exposure and means starting genuine conversation with potential customers is less likely.
Some automated systems try to mimic genuine conversation, but audiences almost always identify these messages as spam, and social platforms are becoming more and more hostile towards this style of marketing. This strategy also risks alienating a social account from its audience.
Remembering the breakdown of content is simple. By adapting the 5-3-2 rule of social sharing by Kevan Lee from Buffer, it’s advisable that 50% of social content should be others (shared, comments, replies), 30% marketing focused (scheduled campaign messages) and 20% personal (real-time).
How to use social automation
With the above reasons in mind, here’s a few do’s and don’ts for social marketing automation:
Social marketing Dont’s
- Exclusively publish scheduled content
- Schedule messages to publish during controversial periods
- Think that one message will suit all social platforms
- Follow people who only mentioned your relevant keywords once or twice
- Only post your own content
Social marketing Do’s
- Use scheduling and bulk-uploads for campaigns
- ‘Manually’ engage with other people’s content
- Include comments and replies in your social strategy
- Understand the different social platforms and their preferred content
What others think
Social automation tends to split the crowd – And it’s easy to see why. There are good points and bad points to the strategy. Hootsuite (a popular social automation platform) asked it’s community what they thought about social automation (through Twitter, of cause), with some interesting responses.
Personally, I think that as long as it’s used as part of a social strategy (rather than as the entire strategy) and doesn’t rely on black-hat following techniques then social marketing automation can help improve social return on investment and be a valuable asset to any social media marketing professional.