The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Social Media Automation

Mark Lerner
Mark Lerner Director of Marketing, Oktopost

Posted on July 27th 2014

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Social Media Automation

Are social media and marketing automation mutually exclusive? It’s a question every marketer should ask him or herself. On the face of it, the words “automation” and “social” in the same sentence seem a little counterintuitive. However when it comes to social media, there is some synergy.

So what exactly is automation, and how does it relate to marketing on the whole?

Marketing automation, by definition, is anti-social. Automation implies a one-way, “spray and pray” type strategy. However, the modern-day realities of marketing require platforms and software that allow marketers to automate certain aspects of their activities. How could a marketer possibly go through tens of thousands of leads in a system, and identify which ones should receive certain emails? Quite frankly, it’s impossible. In years past, such problems didn’t exist, but nowadays they are a daily reality.

Marketo – a remarketing, lead nurturing, and email-marketing platform is an example of an extremely powerful automation tool. This platform, and ones like it, lets marketers create powerful “programs” in order to get the right email content, to the right people, at the right time. Again, this type of highly targeted marketing would be impossible without an automation platform.

Even with marketing automation platforms – and email automation in particular, there are a few ways that can deflect the knee-jerk negative reactions people may have to obviously automated emails. First of all, if someone receives an email from “info” or “contact” it’s blatantly clear that it’s an automated email. Make sure that you use a real person’s email address in the “from” section. Additionally, phrases such as “To Whom it May Concern” or just putting “Hi” in the first line, without a name, will not cut it. Platforms such as Marketo allow you to use “tokens” that automatically input the lead’s name as well as other information. Make sure to sign the email as a real person rather than “The Team.”

Social media, however, is a bit different. Given its name, social media requires a human touch, given that it’s focused on interaction and engagement. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ are fantastic two-way communication channels. They allow marketers to interact with their target audience in a way that was not possible just a few years ago. With the advent of content marketing, social media has now become the number one channel for B2B content marketing. Given the quantity of content that is generated by today’s content marketer, scheduling out posts for this distribution can be incredibly time consuming and labor intensive.

There are marketers out there that don’t quite “get” social media, and therefore abuse its wide reach in order to blatantly spam their social connections and communities. This practice, in the end, will only serve to marginalize their brand within the social media world.

So let’s get down to it, here is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of marketing automation:

The Good

As mentioned previously, there are many benefits of automation – and, in many cases, it is required. Having a small marketing team (or even a large one) that is responsible for various marketing activities beyond social media makes it very hard to be 100% focused on each aspect. There are plenty of platforms that are used to automate other aspects of marketing, particularly email. There is also tons of reading material out there on best practices tied to automating marketing activities, but when it comes to social media, there seems to be a dearth.

Scheduling social posts in advance – a relatively new concept, is probably the most necessary aspect of social media automation. Manually going to each social channel and each profile to create and schedule posts can be an impossible task – especially for a large company that manages hundreds of profiles and company pages. Even for a company that only manages a few profiles, this can be a task that is just too time consuming.

While some of the social channels themselves, Facebook in particular, do allow you to schedule posts for future times, this functionality is limited to say the least. What’s more, scheduling out posts to numerous profiles and company pages would require logging in and out of each one manually. This becomes even more cumbersome when it needs to be done for multiple social networks. This is clearly not a sustainable strategy.

So how does one easily schedule out posts on a large scale? Generally speaking, a third party platform is your best bet. While there are various third party platforms that have post scheduling functionality, professional marketers will want to choose one that easily allows them to create and schedule posts on a large scale, across multiple social networks – especially LinkedIn and LinkedIn Discussion Groups.

A marketer needs to make his or her decision on which platform to use based on his or her needs. If your company posts a few times a week, or just blasts out tweets without really adding additional social content, the choices are many – however, using Oktopost will allow you to accomplish much more, in less time. Creating messages before hand and then easily scheduling them out across all your social channels is crucial for any professional marketer, so make your choice carefully.

Even the process of automating the scheduling of posts can be tiresome – especially if it’s done on a large scale. One solution would be to establish a post queue; namely, this means utilizing a third party platform that allows you to pre-define periods of time during which posts will go out. Simply create a post, or find content to curate, and throw it into your queue; this will allow you to schedule out posts well in advance.

Oktopost users can utilize post queues within the platform, which enables them to create unique queues for each profile in their account.

The Bad

The ability to leverage social media is not an inherent skill. Rather, it is something that is learned over time. Many marketers gain the skills necessary for social media marketing through blood, sweat, and tears – otherwise known as trial and error. As such, no one can blame a marketer that “does it wrong” – in fact, this blog post is specifically written for those types of people.

As mentioned earlier, simply blasting out posts without adding a human touch – namely, not creating your own message within the text of the post – is not only ineffective, it is also counterproductive. The truth is, if someone wanted to follow an RSS feed, they could jus sign up for something like Feedly. Your Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ pages and profiles are not simply a forum for blasting out content, they are a place to engender discussion. That is not to say you shouldn’t share content, quite the opposite, sharing content is one of the best ways to get people to engage – it just has to be the right content, and presented in the right way.

There are a few additional aspects of social media that should not be automated. Firstly, there are programs out there that will automatically make you a Twitter follower of anyone who follows you. I won’t name names, but you can easily find them. In my experience, this is a terrible strategy.

Why? I’m glad you asked.

You might feel that the more followers you have, the better your Twitter account looks – this is false. People aren’t stupid. If they see that you have fewer followers than people you are following, or an equal number, they will know something is up. You could have 200,000 followers, but if you are following 300,000 people then you are negating any benefit you would get from a large community – never mind the fact that your followers, by and large, may be totally irrelevant. It is better to have 500 followers and be following 250 people, but know that all of them are thought leaders in your industry.

Scheduling posts in advance is a very important strategy – so too is curating content through your social channels. However, if you just schedule out posts or tweets as-is, meaning without adding unique social content (the text with the post itself) then you are just acting like a spam bot. Twitter, in particular, shouldn’t be used this way. Hashtags and tagging of others are two fantastic benefits of Twitter. By automatically scheduling tweets that just include the title of the article you are sharing, rather than unique messaging, you are denying yourself that benefit. Obviously, automating tweets to be scheduled is important, but when doing so make sure to include relevant hashtags, etc.

One of the most egregious mistakes made by social media marketers is to set automatic “Thank Yous” when someone tags them in a tweet or follows them. While it might seem like a nice idea, in reality it is quite annoying. The person on the other end can easily tell that this is not authentic – and many times it will have the opposite effect – you may even find yourself un-followed.

The Ugly

The above mentioned no-nos for social media automation are understandable; in fact, most people make these kinds of mistakes before learning the ropes. However, there are certain social media automation practices that are just inexcusable. My hope is that marketers will read this post and understand how ugly these practices really are.

Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all have the option to directly message other users. For Twitter, the person has to follow you, while on LinkedIn users with premium level access can directly message people outside of their networks. There are people (unfortunately, many people) who utilize certain tools to automate outreach through direct messaging. It doesn’t matter how much you try to cover up the fact that your message was automated, it will be blatantly obvious. In general, trying to pitch your product or service via direct messaging is a bad practice. Of course, directly messaging someone on social media in order to connect and for networking purposes is completely acceptable – and highly suggested. However, this should be done in an extremely personal way and without any spammy sales pitching.

Each social channel has its own audience. LinkedIn, for example, is full of business professionals. Additionally, each channel has its own requirements in terms of message length; for example, Twitter’s 140 character limit. Given these facts, why would someone want to schedule out the exact same message for all of their social channels? Hillel Fuld, CMO of Zula, said it best:

“What’s that? The audiences ARE the same across all platforms? Oh really? Then (pardon the caps, but yes, this bothers me even more…) WHY WOULD YOU MAKE THESE PEOPLE SEE THE SAME THING MULTIPLE TIMES?”

Posting the exact same thing to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ will not only fail to get you additional followers or clicks, it will establish you as a spam bot – and this is not what you want to be known for.

Social media automation, like other marketing automation strategies, is a reality in today’s marketing world. The concept of automating social media may initially seem like a bad practice, there are many positive aspects to it – as long as it is done the right way. Social media automation, done correctly, can expand your community, bring traffic, and generate leads. On the other hand, doing it the wrong way will have the opposite effect. Just remember, social media is really about engaging with your community – by communicating and sharing valuable content, you will be able to establish thought-leadership and, in turn, generate valuable leads.

I would love to hear your experience with social media automation. Do you find it to be a good practice? If so, feel free to add to my list in the comments box below!

The post 'The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Social Media Automation' first appeared on the Oktopost Blog.

Mark Lerner

Mark Lerner

Director of Marketing, Oktopost

At Oktopost, Mark has helped the B2B social media marketing platform establish itself as the go-to platform for B2B marketers to generate leads and measure ROI. Mark is a marketing expert with years of experience in the world of startups and social media. He has a BA in Psychology from Boston University and an MBA from Florida Atlantic University. 

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