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The 4 Caveats of Automated Social Media

robotSocial Media Automation is the new black as those engaged in Social Media begin to find elements of it too demanding, or those beginning their Social Media journey sensibly try and make it sustainable from the outset. It is quite understandable. To execute Social Media well requires commitment and time; and small teams or individuals with limited bandwidth will find that a challenge.  The automation tools market is exploding as a result - bringing with it benefits and dangers. Personally, I try to automate as little as possible.  As someone once said, "a unicorn dies every time someone schedules a tweet." On principle I think there are elements of Social Media that it is perfectly acceptable to automate - within certain caveats.  These are them:

  1. Remember what you have done.  This is most important. Last year, Tesco in the UK forgot that it had a scheduled tweet signing off for the the middle of a PR crisis about  horse meat found in its burgers. This would have been bad enough, but the chosen language of the tweet made it even worse: "It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets." There are many examples of these, and this one involving a death at a Radiohead concert is probably one of the most sickening.  The key is, remember what is going out.  Do not schedule so much that you can't.
  2. Respond. Scheduled posting is a great way to stimulate engagement with your audience, but you need to be there for that engagement. Nothing is worse than engaging with a company, or even a person, and being ignored - especially when your post asks for engagement. Continue to monitor and manage your Social Media. Automating does not mean you can forget about it. Authenticity is so crucial in the Social Media environment and you will be very quickly exposed if you are not genuine about your commitment to your audience.
  3.  Optimise for each network. A tweet on  LinkedIn looks ugly and will fail. Equally, a long URL on Twitter looks like laziness. I personally think it is a mistake to post the same content routinely and automatically across several networks without tweaking for the nuances of each. It looks like what it is: scant regard for your audience.
  4. You can't automate a conversation.  So don't try. Automated Direct Messages or tweets thanking people for their follow, or pre-programmed messages from customer service accounts in response to routine problems also betray your lack of seriousness about the channel and subsequently your customer. No one likes talking to a machine, this is why customers are embracing Social Media over IVR-dominated contact centres.

This article here at Buffer is an excellent guide not only to some of the many pitfalls of automation, but also a useful list of automation tools.  Buffer is indeed a terrific tool for automation, but also a very popular and transparent one. For instance, if your short URL begins with "" - or  "" or "" for Hootsuite - people will immediately suspect automation even if it isn't the case and engagement with that tweet is likely to be much less.

I have come across a couple of strategies that seem to work for people and seem valid. I spoke to a former colleague the other day who ifttthad a very simple but seemingly ingenious recipe for automation.  Every day on the bus to work he choses some content for the day ahead on and then schedules that for posting during the day on Buffer. But importantly he had notifications set for responses and engages with his replies.  So it was genuine, but just recognised that throughout the day he would be tied up in meetings without the luxury of time to post spontaneously.  Another colleague uses "If This Then That" to great effect, but again - if you engage him on anything he has posted he will always respond quickly and genuinely.

I think for the most part, the rule of thumb is that for your "Affinity Content" strategy scheduled or automated posting is perfectly fine and in fact a quite sensible deployment of tools to reach an outcome within obvious time constraints. Expanding on an earlier fishing analogy, you can view it as trawling for engagement - like speculatively hanging a line over the back of your working-day-dinghy. Anything beyond that and you are in serious danger of being a unicorn killer!

If you're serious about Social Media, want it to succeed, and aren't merely paying lip service, then staff it or outsource it to someone who can manage it professionally for you.

What is your view on automation - for or against? Leave a comment below...