More than 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month and over 500 million Tweets are sent per day on Twitter. Fortunately the amount of content you’re responsible for each day doesn’t add up to the millions, but at times, it might feel like it.
Social media moves at an incredibly fast pace, putting pressure on content creators to continuously supply their feeds and followers with new content. And that’s just the outgoing content; somewhere in that process you have to respond to all of the incoming messages from followers.
This is when social media automation tools start to sound really good. And why not? The sole purpose of these tools is to make you more efficient and your workload more manageable. But did you know that if executed incorrectly, social media automation tools can do more harm than good?
What’s So Bad About Social Media Automation?
Let’s be clear. There’s nothing inherently bad about automation tools—they’re life-savers—but they’re easily misused. Think back to a time when you followed an account on Twitter and received an automated Direct Message thanking you.
It’s happened to all of us, and the very fact that you’re able to pinpoint a single DM out of the dozens or hundreds you receive says something about the quality of automated messages—they stand out. Why? Because despite their politeness and overuse of exclamation points, they’re generic.
There’s nothing wrong with thanking new connections, but automated messages have to apply to a variety of people and so they’re written with a general audience in mind. That lack of personalization can make your brand seem insincere and uncaring right off the bat.
People unfollow accounts on Twitter for various reasons, but 29% said it’s because of too much automation. Don’t risk losing followers before you even have a chance to interact with them because you’re overusing automation tools or not using them correctly.
Read on to learn how you can use successfully integrate automation into your social media strategy without alienating followers.
When is it Right to Use Social Media Automation?
If your goal is to automate as much as possible so you can be hands-off, then your approach to social media is all wrong. Social media is built around conversations. If you’re not interacting with other people, you’re just broadcasting and may as well stick with billboards as a form of marketing.
Your work doesn’t end once you’ve gained a follower; you have to remain engaged throughout the journey. Successful businesses use social media to humanize their brand and form connections with potential customers and strengthen relationships with loyal fans. These interactions aren’t just formalities—63% of people are more likely to buy products from brands who integrate social media.
That is why social media automation should never be used as a replacement for sincere interactions. It can, however, enhance them. The goal of automation is to help you work more efficiently so you have time devoted to customer engagement instead of pulling you further away from it. Here are four instances when social media automation should be used.
One of the simplest ways to build an engaged audience online is by sharing great content. Relevant content can help you
- Increase brand awareness through followers sharing your posts with their networks
- Gain recognition as an industry expert or thought leader
- Inspire followers to take action, such as subscribing to a newsletter or making a purchase
Keeping your social accounts updated with new posts sometimes feels like a struggle. Instead of always creating fresh content on your own, take advantage of the great content created by others. This is a fantastic way to show your audience that you’re a valuable source of information and willing to share the spotlight.
Automation aids this process by letting you schedule your updates, freeing up time for actual engagement rather than curation. Instead of immediately sharing every piece of content you find, or bookmarking it for a later date, schedule the content so it fills in gaps between timely or brand-related posts.
A social media tool like Sprout Social can help you schedule and manage your outgoing messages. Additionally, if you manage multiple social accounts, our Bulk Scheduling feature lets you update multiple profiles at once, instead of having to draft and schedule the same post over and over. And with ViralPost integrated into the Sprout Queue, you can discover the optimal send times for content to maximize engagement.
A word of caution: Don’t just schedule and walk away. It’s important to remain aware of what’s going on in the world around you. You don’t want to miss opportunities for real-time commentary, and sometimes you might want to pause publishing all together if a crisis or tragedy strikes.
Also, make sure that your scheduled posts aren’t time sensitive. Not only do deadlines change, but if you’re unavailable to answer questions around a pressing issue, it can wreak more havoc on your brand than a content shortage. Keep in mind that 53% of consumers expect a brand to respond to a Tweet within an hour, and if that Tweet is a complaint about the brand or its products, that number jumps to 72%.
Your RSS Feed
A well balanced content strategy will have original content mixed in with that which you’ve curated. If you have a company blog, use automation to share your latest posts to your social media channels. With Sprout Social, you can connect your RSS feed and create a schedule to auto-Tweet new content. If your blog is updated multiple times a day, this is a real time-saver.
Just be mindful that your auto-shared blog posts don’t come off as robotic. If a social feed is just a stream of titles and URLs, it’ll scream automation and turn off followers. The goal of this should be to ignite conversation and increase social shares. Generic links without context doesn’t give your followers much to go on. Make sure the copy accompanying your shared blog post has personality.
— Allison Rosen (@SproutAlli) October 30, 2015
— Larry Jennings (@larboz) October 30, 2015
— Laurel Slutsky (@LaurelSlutsky) October 30, 2015
Even the smallest changes, like those featured in the Tweets above, can help your automated message feel less robotic. If the entire Sprout team used the same prompt to share every blog post, our Team List on Twitter would look pretty robotic.
Automation is especially helpful if you like to perform a little A/B testing with your headlines and calls-to-action. Rather than drafting new updates for the same posts multiple times a day, do it all at once and schedule them throughout the day or week. This can help your future shares to be more effective by determining which tone, topic or call-to-action resonated most with your audience.
When Not to Use Social Media Automation
When used correctly, automation can be very beneficial, but it requires a balance. You don’t want to automate your entire social media strategy. You might have an influx of incoming messages, but no matter how busy you get, automation should never be used for customer interactions. It’s the easiest way to call negative attention to your brand.
People are talking about your brand online and smart marketers know the value in monitoring those conversations. Now there’s nothing wrong with setting up an automation tool to watch for mentions, but how you respond is critical.
In this example, a Twitter user points out the unfortunate timing of American Airlines’ automated response. The original Tweeter expressed negativity about the brand, but the airline obviously didn’t read it based on the response provided. Instead the system caught a keyword mention and automatically delivered a canned response.
This was a missed opportunity to engage, gather feedback and maybe even convert a fan. Receiving a reply like this one is almost worse than not replying at all.
Using a social media monitoring tool like Sprout can help you watch what’s being said. The platform will automatically track keywords you set up and notify you when mentioned. This gives you more time to focus on your responses. Additionally, our Trends Report includes insights like:
- Terms you’re often mentioned with
- Hashtags you’re often mentioned with
- People frequently talking with you
- Other accounts often mentioned with you
Social Media Contests
@phi162 Hi John, apologies on the "spammy" tweet from our AT&T account. It was improperly sent.
— Chris Baccus (@cbaccus) March 8, 2012
Social media contests can be massive undertakings with a lot of moving parts. While automation can definitely be helpful in these situations, there’s no guarantee that it’ll go off without a hitch.
In another example, AT&T unintentionally spammed thousands of Twitter users when its bot-based Ticket Chasers’ campaign was improperly set up. The intent was to identify and Tweet to people who met specific criteria:
- People who lived in cities where the promotion was running
- People who mentioned basketball or March Madness
But instead of targeting individuals who met all three requirements, a flood of Tweets was sent to users who met any of the conditions. In order for automation to work, especially on such a high profile campaign, you need to make sure all pieces are in place and running correctly. Instead of saving the brand time, AT&T wound up having an avoidable social media crisis on its hands.
Celebrating your fans is a huge part of your social media strategy. It’s important to show your appreciation and acknowledge their loyalty to your brand. When you have hundreds of thousands of fans, automation often comes into play. But sometimes even the best laid plans go awry.
In an effort to celebrate becoming the first NFL team to reach 1 million Twitter followers, the New England Patriots set up an automated system to thank its fans. Remember what we said earlier about automated thank-yous? This is a little different than automatically DMing a new follower though.
Each Tweet featured a Patriot’s jersey with the fans’ Twitter username on it—a nice personalized touch. Unfortunately, either the filters on the system failed or they weren’t in place to begin with, and the Patriots accidentally Tweeted out a username with a racial slur.
We apologize for the regrettable tweet that went out from our account. Our filtering system failed & we will be more vigilant in the future.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 14, 2014
A simple mistake turned a fun way to engage fans into a PR nightmare. When it comes to interacting with fans directly, automation isn’t always the best choice.
To Automate or Not to Automate?
Ease into social media automation slowly. The concept of having more time is an exciting one and it’s easy to want to dive in and automate everything. Pace yourself. Take a close look at your existing strategy and business goals, and then give serious thought to how automation can help you achieve them.
Where are some areas that you can free up time without having it negatively impact your customers? Remember that social media automation benefits from conversation, and vice versa. Social media is designed to humanize brands and bridge the gap between consumers and businesses. Don’t remove the human element from your outreach strategy completely.
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.