AI won’t replace social teams: Here’s why
Every new advancement in tech sparks new possibilities—and new fears. This new era of artificial intelligence (AI) naturally has social teams thinking: Is an AI social media manager about to take my seat?
When it comes to AI social media tools, I’m optimistic…and this is coming from someone who regularly thanks her Google Home to keep it happy.
Rather than replace social media pros, the adoption of AI in marketing has the potential to make human creativity and strategic thinking more important. The more monotonous tasks AI can take on, the more you can focus on growing your strategy, and business, and do more of what you actually like. Imagine that.
Let’s get into why AI likely won’t be taking your role, and how using AI in social media can help you focus on the impactful part of your role—and less on the busywork.
Why the “AI social media manager” isn’t coming for your job
The role of social media manager has always been relatively future-proof—last year, it was the third most in-demand marketing position. And social media marketers have always had to evolve how they work. In the 2010s, that meant creating an Instagram strategy. In 2021, it meant gutting your social strategy to prioritize short-form video. Today, it means adding AI to your social media skills to keep all the plates spinning.
To help explain why AI is not about to take your job, I talked to Jeff MacDonald—Social Strategy Director at Mekanism and AI optimist. “I don’t think social media managers should be concerned about AI taking their jobs,” Jeff explains. “To me, all AI is going to do—if you know how to use the tools right—is help you accelerate your work and decrease how long typical tasks take.”
That’s not to say that social media managers won’t be impacted. “It’s going to augment everyone’s roles, our job will be different. But I think, I hope, people will like that difference, and like spending less time in front of screens and more in front of faces.”
So let’s make the case for why an AI social media manager is likely not coming for your seat at the table.
Putting AI in charge is risky
From spreading disinformation, to creating posts based on offensive AI output, putting unchecked AI in charge of social can create a brand crisis—any communications leader’s nightmare.
“From an ethical standpoint, I don’t think you’re ever going to put your social on autopilot,” Jeff explains.
You’re going to be steering the ship…I think that’s where the line will be. We’re going to see AI as an assistant.Jeff MacDonald
Social Strategy Director
Instead, Jeff suggests treating AI as an idea launchpad. “You’re going to be steering the ship. You need to make sure what’s happening on your social channels is human-fed and human-curated. I think that’s where the line will be, we’re going to see AI as an assistant.”
People want to connect with people
Jeff says it best: “I don’t think anyone wants to hear a response from a computer.”
It’s hard enough for brands to create human connection. People crave authenticity on social, and they can spot boilerplate, AI-generated posts and responses a mile away.
Social media work is about more than just creating on-trend posts. It’s about connection, and building a community—a human element AI just can’t fully replicate.
“Everyone is still going to want human-to-human interaction—the thing that’s most important about community building— to be driven by an actual person,” Jeff says.
AI still needs a human touch—from prompt to product
AI is only as good as the ideas, and editing finesse, humans contribute—especially when you have brand guidelines to adhere to.
And while you can train AI to capture your brand voice or tone, there are other issues at play. “Many AI models are trained in the past,” Jeff explains. “ChatGPT can now browse the internet for more updated information. But for the most part, it’s old data. So if there’s anyone in any industry that needs the latest information, it’s not going to know the latest trends.”
But even when AI does analyze the latest data from your channels, comments or larger social space, it can’t always grasp human nuance. “It may not know that the 50K mentions your brand received are all from people who are being sarcastic and actually don’t like something your business is doing, or the direction a campaign is going in.”
Without a human touch, this has the potential to leave you with inaccurate insights, and lead to poor business decisions.
The case for embracing AI in social media workflows
Social teams are already catching onto the benefits of these tools. According to a Q2 2023 Sprout pulse survey of 255 social marketers, 71% have started to integrate AI and automation tools into their workflow. And 82% of that group report that those tools have already driven positive results.
AI is not only helpful for social media marketers—it may ultimately be needed to future-proof your skills, and preserve your team’s time as your role gets more complex. Let’s get into why.
Takes over the manual tasks so you can focus on the big challenges
The more social evolves, the less bandwidth already-crunched social teams will have. The need to manage your limited time and work efficiently will only become more necessary—that’s where AI in social media can help.
To Jeff, that’s the core benefit of AI. “It’s about the opportunity to offload that mental burden that every social media manager has onto a computer,” he explains. “AI is the perfect work buddy who never gets tired, who always wants to come up with the next idea or take a pass at that next brief for a client project you’ve been pushing off.”
When it comes to content creation, tapping AI for initial ideas can spark creativity when you’re in a rut. And that can help you battle social media burnout. Speeding up content production opens up more time to dedicate to strategic priorities. Think: experimenting with new content formats or digging deeper into performance metrics.
AI tools can also help you get more out of your content with optimization recommendations. For example, Sprout Social’s Optimal Send Times and hashtag recommendations maximize your reach—while sparing you hours of manual engagement and performance analysis.
Proves your impact and helps you make better business decisions
As the role social plays in an organization becomes more sophisticated, you’ll need more sophisticated insights to inform better business decisions.
AI analytics and automation tools mine massive amounts of data faster than the speed of social vs. the hours or days this would take manually.
You can look at large data sets and speak to numbers and data with more intelligence than we’ve ever had the ability to do before.Jeff MacDonald
Social Strategy Director
Let AI handle the time-consuming task or pulling data and creating reports so you have more time to analyze those insights and incorporate them in your strategy. As Jeff puts it, “You can look at large data sets and speak to numbers and data with more intelligence than we’ve ever had the ability to do before.”
According to our 2023 State of Social Media report, 51% of business leaders say they use social media data and insights to inform their company’s business strategy. And 48% strongly agree that social media data and insights will be a primary source of business intelligence for their company.
AI gets you the insights you need in seconds. For you, that means less time aggregating data, and more time acting on it.
Enables you to be proactive vs. reactive
According to a Q2 2023 Sprout pulse survey, the top two challenges for managing a brand’s social presence are identifying and responding to emerging trends, and changing algorithms.
Using AI enables your team to get ahead of these challenges. As Jeff puts it, “AI-driven analysis truly adds a special use case where all of a sudden you have the skills to be a true trend spotter.”
Social listening is one tangible way AI and automation give you superpowers—and information—to help you be proactive. Listening tools sift through billions of data points to uncover trends, insights and business intelligence crucial for your organization.
Social media listening can uncover trends among your audience. The Scout Agency used it to discover an interesting trend among Georgia-based customers of their client, Martell: They were mixing the brand’s cognac with sweet tea. They used this insight to introduce a Martell and sweet tea cocktail at Atlanta Falcons games. The drink became the top-selling cognac cocktail at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Not all trends are positive. Social listening can help you identify an issue bubbling up before it becomes a brand crisis. Purdue University used Sprout’s Social Listening tools and alerts to detect spikes in certain topics and get ahead of potential issues.
Reclaim time for human-to-human connection
There are often so many tasks to balance that you’re left with little time for the “social” part of social media.
AI tools can free up time for social teams to connect with each other, and other teams who could benefit from social media intelligence. As Jeff puts it, “By using an AI tool, social media teams can do more of what they’re excited about. When was the last time you had free time to talk to teammates about what they want to do on accounts, and what gets them excited?”
This extends to your social customer care efforts, too. Using chatbots or AI-generated responses for FAQs frees you up to get creative with audience engagement and focus on high-level issues.
And for social media marketers nervous about getting called out for AI-generated responses, remember: AI should never be alone behind the wheel. You’re in charge. Lean on AI to draft responses, but lean on your editing skills to humanize them.
Where will AI social media skills take your social workflow?
AI is here to stay. And the technology gets more sophisticated, so too will the social media teams who choose to adopt it.
Hopefully we’ve put your mind at ease and given you some ideas about how to make AI work for your workflow, skills and role.
To learn more about AI in marketing today, register for our The State of Social Media & AI webinar on June 1.
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