When Automation Goes Wrong: A Better Approach to Social Media - Duct Tape Marketing

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Given the sheer scale of social media and the number of social channels (there are over 90 social networks) – and the volume of people using them (Facebook has over 1.59 billion active monthly users) – you could say it’s a bit of a chore keeping up with everything.

Between monitoring, posting, and staying engaged, I’m not surprised that marketers try to automate the process as much as possible. But that’s not going to keep people engaged or grow sales through social.

In fact, automation is the opposite of what we should be doing, when you consider that the whole idea of social media is to provide that direct, authentic engagement with our audiences.

And sometimes, brands pay the price for that automation.

We Love Social Media Fails

I think we put social media fails from brands right up there with celebrity gossip. Sometimes those fails are interesting, sometimes they’re eye-roll-inducing, and sometimes they’re just a trainwreck you can’t look away from.

Domino’s Pizza is the first brand that comes to mind.

When Automation Goes Wrong: A Better Approach to Social Media - Duct Tape Marketing

After receiving a compliment on its Facebook page from a clearly satisfied customer, Domino’s fired off the wrong auto response, posting a message that said “Sorry about that!” It’s great that Domino’s is prepared for damage control – every brand should be.

Unfortunately, that automation disconnected Domino’s from its customer, and resulted in some negative feedback in what could have otherwise been a flawless bit of customer praise.

Oh, Oreo…

Oreo has received some praise in recent years for the mastery of its marketing messages, such as its quick thinking during the Super Bowl blackout in 2013.When Automation Goes Wrong: A Better Approach to Social Media - Duct Tape Marketing

But even a brand that has it together like Oreo can slip when it comes to automation. It might feel like you’re in full control when automation is set up, but that control goes out the window when you start involving the public.

Oreo found this out in 2014 when it tweeted what was clearly an automated reply to a Twitter troll. That automated response led to a lot of negative PR for the brand.

When Automation Goes Wrong: A Better Approach to Social Media - Duct Tape Marketing

Reach Out and Touch… Everyone. As Quickly as Possible.

AT&T had attempted to set up an automated campaign around March Madness. The campaign was supposed to create personalized tweets that went out to basketball fans around a Ticket Chasers campaign where fans could win NCAA tickets.

When Automation Goes Wrong: A Better Approach to Social Media - Duct Tape Marketing

Unfortunately, the automated campaign wound up targeting a much larger audience than intended, which grew by the minute and quickly spammed a huge section of people. AT&T responded by quickly deleting threads and shutting down the bot, and its head of social media at the time issued a formal apology directly to Twitter followers.

When Automation Goes Wrong: A Better Approach to Social Media - Duct Tape MarketingBaccus-5

Automation Has Its Place in Social

You never think it could happen to you, but the above examples weren’t intentional. They were accidents – and accidents can happen.

I’m not advocating that brands and marketers stop using automation; it certainly has its place in your marketing strategy. If you want to effectively use automation, then use it to:

  • Schedule posts when your team is going to be offline, or if you’re going on vacation or to a trade show/event.
  • Fill up your content calendar by using tools like Quuu or Buffer. Then you’re filling in gaps around your real-time posts.
  • Find the best times to post content to get the most eyeballs.

When Automation Goes Wrong: A Better Approach to Social Media - Duct Tape Marketing

None of that really takes away from your engagement with your audience. You’re still posting great real-time content and rounding it out with stuff you’ve curated or scheduled ahead of time to keep up with your audience.

To avoid incidents like those above:

  • Don’t make automated direct messages or automated responses part of your strategy. That ruins engagement, especially if you’re not there to reply.
  • Don’t try to use scheduled content to blast the same message out to every social channel. You need to cater content to your audience segments, as well as the network you’re on.
  • Don’t just curate and automate content posts when you haven’t read the content or can’t screen it.

Keep It Authentic

A better approach to social media is to treat it the way it was meant to be used: to directly engage your fans in a sincere and authentic way that best represents your brand.

If you’re strapped for time, I get that. I know what it’s like to have a packed schedule. It’s hard enough finding time to breathe, let alone post to 3 different social networks throughout the day.

When you’re struggling to get authentic posts out and keep engagement up, then it’s time to either invest in an agency that can manage it for you, delegate it to a team member, or hire a virtual assistant who can keep the social content flowing based on your strategy.

How do you maintain and grow your engagement on social media? Do you use automation tools or do you have a team that handles it for you? Share your approach with me in the comments below:

Aaron AgiusAaron Agius is an experienced search, content, and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands, including Salesforce, Coca-Cola, Target and others, to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, his blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.