If you're one of my social media coaching clients you've likely heard this a few times. Feel free to skip this post or use it as a friendly reminder to engage, engage, engage! If not, read on.
There are a lot of ways to automate social media participation. Note I said "participation" and not "engagement". You can participate at some level on many social media networks without actually engaging anyone in conversation, but what's the value in that? In order to really educate/encourage/support/influence or otherwise engage someone they have to want to take action.
One of the most common goals of many social media strategies is to create evangelists for your product, your brand or your cause. To do this you need to inspire people and talk with them. You need to show you've listened to them and support them in their own efforts, You need to deliver information to a receptive mind that wants to help you spread the word because it just feels right to do so. They willingly become ambassadors because they believe in you. Rarely does that happen from a stream of broadcasted pronouncements of your greatness. You might as well go back to direct mail campaigns.
Social media is work. Just as much work as any other component of your marketing strategy. If you expect to simply build a web site, a blog or a Facebook page and instantly see a boost in traffic you're going to be very disappointed. Nothing is more embarrassing than building a Facebook page which nobody "fans". It just makes you feel like a loser. Now, if you take that same Facebook and feed it on a regular basis with content that educates your readers and creates questions in their minds for you to answer personally on the page and by direct contact, you've built something that will truly engage and encourage them to share that information with their friends on other networks.
So here's the deal. There are parts of your campaign you can automate. Automate your searches and listening tools like NutShell Mail, your statistic reporting tools like Trackur and Radian6. Then use that information you've gathered to create good useful content and decide who to reach out to. Avoid using automated broadcasting tools unless you are closely monitoring the reactions and reach out with a response almost immediately to engage that user with a personal touch.