Social Media Automation – How Much Is Too Much?

October 27, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

I get a lot of crap for being a social media purist. People like Michael Gray and others joke that I would never send out an automated tweet or schedule any of my social media activity like some social media pros. And for the most part, they’re right. It’s not my style.

I believe in the human side of social media. I think social media is most effective when it’s centered around creating lasting relationships with people. And I’m sorry if that sounds honky dory and simply adorable, but it’s what’s worked for me and it’s what continues to work, every day, for our clients. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t use some automation in my day-to-day social media life, because I do. I have to if I want to function.

Here are a few social media tasks that I automate and a few that I promise I never will. I’d be curious to see what your own list looks like, if you’re willing to share it.

Tasks I Automate

Email: I tried to find a more tactful way of saying it but – email sucks. Or at least, it’s a time suck. I automate my email by setting up strong filters to bucket emails based on presumed intent (Google has trained me so well) and by creating canned responses to emails I received frequently. I’ll never auto-reply to an email that is sent my way, but I’ll often have 90 percent of my response already written to the questions I get a lot (Can I get a quote? Can we talk? You spelled that wrong! Why do people follow you on Twitter when you’re so useless?). Email is one of those repetitive tasks I try and take charge of as best I can and that means automating it as much as possible.

Keyword tracking via RSS: It probably won’t surprise most of you to know that I track a whole lot of keywords to stay abreast of the conversation around Outspoken Media. And it can get a little time consuming when conversations span different platforms. I automate the process as much as I can by using RSS to track brand mentions. Because I spend so much time in RSS anyway, it’s a lot more efficient for me to build my listening station there than to create a separate dashboard. That’s a huge time-saver for me.

Tasks I’d Never Automate

Twitter DMs: OMG, STOP! I mean, do you ever have a positive reaction when someone sends you an auto-DM after you were conned into following them? No, you don’t. The whole process makes you want to disinfect yourself. So why would you do that to another person? If you feel the need to WELCOME! someone into your Twitter network (perhaps see a doctor about this), then you can take three seconds to write them a personal message. You only have 140 characters. It’s not like you’re being asked to craft a novel. If it’s important enough to do, it’s important enough to do well.

Cross-Posting Between Social Profiles: All of the auto- and cross-posting people do on their accounts is a huge pet peeve of mine. And it’s not because I enjoy posting the same piece of content to multiple networks manually, it’s because I think those little human touches matter. As a social media consultant, I spend a lot of time help clients make their social presences more human. We work to create content together and to create a satellite community that people want to engage with. Every time you place an automated piece of content into that community you make it harder for people to trust it. Think about it, when you go to someone’s Facebook page and all you see are automated postings in the form of blog posts, FourSquare checkins, whatever, it tells you that person isn’t really there. It makes you less inclined to interact with anything on that page because there’s no sign of life. If you’re trying to create pages or accounts that your customers will feel comfortable interacting with, then I don’t think you can automate major parts of your presence. If you do, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Twitter conversations: Michael Gray often tells me that it’s his job to make it look like he spends his whole day in social media, not to actually be there. And I get that. I understand why people schedule their blog posts (old and archived) to auto-tweet, why they sync their Facebook and Twitter updates, and why they pre-write a tweet to go live at 6pm that tells the world they’re hungry for dinner. However, if your goal in social media is to be a part of conversations, then I think you’re doing a disservice to yourself and to your community when you automate a conversation. Yeah, you can schedule a tweet to go live about your dinner plans, but what do you do when people respond to and you’re not really there? You’re setting them up to be ignored. You’re setting your stream up to look unauthentic and like you’re not really part of it. Again, the more artificial elements you put into your stream, the harder it is for others to trust it.

So, when is automation too much?

For me, automation stops being okay when it stands out and when it detracts from the humanness of your account. And as a business owner or a marketer, I think you know it when you see it. When it comes to my own personal preferences, I choose to automate tasks, not interactions. That’s my line. But that doesn’t mean that’s what’s right for you (even if I personally think it is ;) ).

What are your thoughts on social media automation? Where do you draw the line for your personal and/or business accounts?

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