When automation takes over your social media

After reading this crazy outsourcing story, and hearing more about the internet of things, you’d think I’d have more faith in machines.

While I agree that automation does help scale businesses, I can’t help but compare it to outsourcing plumbers. Similar to being unable to solve your plumbing issues by hiring someone remotely, you can’t replace your community manager with third party apps and hacks.

They are of course some great tools out there that help make my job much easier, but relying on them to perform key activities might be only efficient and not very effective. There is a very noticeable difference between the social media profiles of companies that try to take short cuts and those providing a more personal experience. Imagine how you feel when you have to deal with an automated voice system that keeps saying, “Sorry, I didn’t get that” or a remote employee with a choppy connection and poor English.

Here are some examples of social media automation gone wrong from your customers’ perspective, as well as some advice on how to go the extra mile and delight your online audience.

1. Automatic Follow

Your favourite chocolate brand finally got a Twitter account, and they are offering a shout out to their first 100 followers. This is enough of an incentive for you, and you follow only to discover they’ve also followed you back. Score! Long after the shout out you decide to stick around, only to suddenly notice they’ve unfollowed you. Is it something I said, you wonder… and now every time they show up in your timeline you feel a little sad until you eventually unfollow them.

This is the result of the auto follow back. Think it’s better to auto follow back everyone and sift the list later? Think again. Unless you only plan to unfollow obvious spam accounts, your audience would be happier if you never followed them in the first place. Instead, set some time once a week to go through your new followers and examine their profiles before following. Waiting a short period of time before following will also allow you to ensure the new followers will continue following you for the long-term.

2. Automatic Unfollow

You receive a new follower after moving from the east coast to the west coast. Judging by the picture and bio, this may someone you’d like to add to your professional network or a shady recruiter looking to pitch new talent. You decide to engage before connecting, but you’re unfollowed before you ever get an answer. Well that was random… you conclude the individual was a shady recruiter.

Increasing awareness for your startup will involve targeting and connecting with many prospects that have never heard of you before. A technique I’ve used in the past is to strategically follow and unfollow individuals according to set criteria. However, this method is only effective if it is combined with engaging each individual and only unfollowing those who did not respond or follow back within a longer period of time than a week. Unfollowing someone who followed you back is rude. They will notice. They will get annoyed. They will unfollow. You’ll also be wasting your time if you don’t plan on interacting with the individuals you choose to follow, which may serve an incentive to follow you back. Instead of hoping they follow you back, increase your odds by introducing yourself or replying to one of their tweets, even an RT or favourite will do.

3. Automated DMs

You receive a DM from a software startup you just followed with an invitation to try their product. Eager to sign up you attempt to DM the startup back with a couple of questions. You remember that Twitter only allows you to DM followers (they haven’t followed you yet), and quickly send them a public message. After waiting several hours, the startup notifies you that they are no longer accepting beta testers. Beta testers? The product looked so great you were willing to pay for it… Oh well.

This trend is definitely dying out, but those of you who still send out automated DMs – you might want to think twice. Social media is a two-way conversation. If you don’t plan on responding to follow up questions on LinkedIn, stop using it to pitch prospects. If you don’t want your clients to comment on a picture of your spouse, adjust your privacy settings. Social media has the power to make your brand approachable, so don’t disappoint your customers when they do try to reach out to you.

4. Automated Thank You’s

Your favourite app tweets out, “Check out our latest update – you’re going to love this one!” Seconds later the app crashes. The team might not know the app is broken so you decide to tweet, “Not working on Android, anyone else have issues? RT @myfavapp: Check out our latest update – you’re going to love this one”. Instead of an answer from the team, you receive a thank you for the retweet. They aren’t responding to any of their @mentions, so you figure out it was a weird automated tweet and resort to using a different app.

The advantage and disadvantage of publishing any automatic updates, more on those later, is creating the illusion that you are currently online. While some people have become accustomed to delayed responses, even though an article was just shared, starting a conversation while you’re away is bound to confuse your customers. Further more, the old fashioned RT allows your followers to retweet you while adding their two cents, or at times a question (which your should actually answer). A better use of automation might be to favourite the retweet, and respond if needed at a later date, though this might also backfire if the comment is negative. A community manager will be able to easily distinguish between the feedback, and even take regular Thank You’s to the next level by including a personal message as well as follow up.

5. Automated Updates

Thanks to Buffer you are able to share every article you read, while being able to space out your updates. You understand companies must use the same type of tools, but you wonder how the CEO of a respected brand manages to screw up every single update. The punctuation is lacking, apostrophes show up weird and in addition to being unreadable, the CEO just shared an inappropriate cartoon during a national tragedy. She may be a great CEO at an exciting company, but this is getting too much and you decide to unfollow.

As I mentioned earlier, there are some great tools out there but also not so great ones. Test each one out and support the creators, but don’t continue using the tools if the technology just isn’t there yet. Updates that are accidentally sent to the wrong social network do more harm than good, and unreadable statuses won’t attract quality followers. Remove any third party apps that consistently fall short, and ensure your community manager quickly deletes and/or apologizes for the inappropriate content.

What some are other social media automation mishaps? Please let me know which ones get you riled up in the comments.


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