Is Social Automation Anti-Social?

Ammo Somal

Ammo Somal

Ammo is an engaging writer, researcher, and communicator, with a penchant for humor. Back in the UK, he worked in communications and creative for everything from insurance companies to video game festivals. Ammo’s skills as a content/multimedia coordinator have been honed through creating and managing content and planning multiple editorial ventures.

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It’s nice to have things done for us, isn’t it? From machine-led assembly lines to paying bills and brewing coffee, automation simplifies our lives and leads to innovation. But scheduling your thermostat is one thing; scheduling a social interaction is quite another. If used without due care, automation can be the antithesis of an authentic, human connection, so why do marketers insist on over-using marketing automation to interact with consumers?

Here’s why social marketing automation tools are the little robots that sometimes shouldn’t.

It could enable bad behavior

Let’s face it: We love automation because we’re lazy. Who doesn’t want to be able to “set-it-and-forget-it” and take a big old nap? Unfortunately, complacency doesn’t leave a lot of room for proactive or flexible messaging, which means you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to listen and build trust. In the social world, automation reduces relatable brands to auto-replying, tweet-scheduling robots. Your consumers are not rotisserie chickens, so why are you treating them as such?

As part of your process, once you’ve published an email campaign, blog or social post, best practice is to check how your message is resonating. It’s hard to keep an eye on user feedback, answer comments, pay attention to open rates, and deploy real-time testing if you’re automating your content.

Automation can breed a laissez-faire attitude, one which doesn’t require tweaking or improving. It encourages you to push a button and walk away, patting yourself on the back over sales quotas, impressions or other metrics without proper context.

It could lead to a pr nightmare

We live in a crazy, unpredictable world. Let’s say your brand schedules a post about “blowing customers away” and then a hurricane strikes before your post is pushed. If you’ve set-it-and-forget-it, this post will go live in the midst of a potential humanitarian disaster. Your brand will look thoughtless at best and downright callous at worst. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time—and as we’ve seen in the past, insensitivity is never a solid marketing strategy.

Furthermore, posting your content in real-time means that you catch mistakes before they happen ‘automatically’. A final read-through can make all the difference between a thoughtful, well-crafted message and an embarrassing, viral faux-pas. We’ve seen this over and over (how many of those “Hello FIRST NAME” automated emails do we have to suffer through?) and big brands are just as guilty as the little guys. In 2017, McDonald’s clearly automated, unfinished tweet became the laughing stock of Twitter, while rival brand Wendy’s was able to take advantage of the misstep and land an absolute zinger. You may also recall the horrific New England Patriots’ tweet of 2014, a result of automating their online sweepstakes winner announcement. Needless to say, the backlash was swift and just. 

It might not even work as well as we think

Finally, it looks like marketing automation tools may not be as useful as you might think. According to HubSpot, marketing automation platforms focus solely on the middle funnel, offering “no solution to generating new leads to nurture in the first place.” And with it being the social era, the sales funnel doesn’t exactly work in the way that it used to, either.

However, the main issue here is not in automation itself. It’s in the human element and how we use it. Four in ten marketers don’t use targeting in conjunction with automated marketing, which is equivalent to standing and screaming at the crowd, hoping that the right person hears you. In a similar vein, marketers love to collect huge databases based on automated processes, only to do nothing with said databases, leaving them to decay. Automation, in theory, is great, but the human element of moving the data across the funnel is where it starts to malfunction. 

So is that shiny new marketing automation tool worth it? If you use it correctly, in conjunction with other tactics, and don’t get lazy, it could be. But, a lot of the time it’s all spam, no glam, and the results are a bag of mixed nuts.

Again, we’re not saying all social automation is bad or that the technology itself is terrible. We just want you to be aware of the dangers of over-automating. If there’s something to be said about marketing in the social era, it’s that it should be social. It should be human. You wouldn’t automate a conversation with a customer in real life. Plus, you already lose some of the precious value that a face to face conversation brings when interacting online, so why further this separation by letting R2D2 do your talking?

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