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How Social Media Automation Can Help — or Harm — Your Cause

Human beings are social animals. Opposable thumbs certainly helped, but communication and co-operation has seen us ascend to the very top of the evolutionary tree. The rise of social media can be seen as a technologically enhanced extension of that basic desire to communicate. Even when pressed into business use and led into marketing territory, social media is fundamentally about communicating on a human level and forging relationships. When used to its full potential, it’s not a one-way delivery system for announcements and press releases, but the basis for a conversation.

Automation would seem to fly in the face of all that. And in some areas it does. Very few people are going to engage if they feel they are being spammed or are conversing with a ‘bot. Automation does have its place, however. An effective social media campaign can be a very time-consuming ongoing process. Small businesses especially may lack the resources to fully implement their social strategy the way they would ideally like to and automating certain tasks can save both time and money.

Do I even need social media in the first place?

Social media marketing has become an essential buzz phrase over recent years but it can still be hard to quantify. A definite monetary return on investment can often be provided for traditional marketing campaigns and areas such as localization. The benefits of social media are often less clear and the people holding the purse strings are frequently reluctant to throw resources at such a nebulous area.

It often pays to look beyond the return on investment and consider some of the secondary effects. There is strong evidence that social signals now influence the search rankings on Google and other major search engines. Improved branding also has positive effects on search ranking and you can also use social media to earn more and better links. All these factors can provide a handy boost to your search engine optimization efforts.

On a more ‘human’ level, social media can lead to word-of-mouth recommendations and aid customer retention. Both peer-to-peer recommendations and your own social media presence can be used as an aid as customers seek to determine the quality and legitimacy of your business before making a purchase.

Which tasks should be automated?

If you decide to take the plunge into social media, you’ll want to do so as efficiently as possible. It’s still about building relationships and it might even be fun, for some of the time at least. When using social media for business, however, you’re looking to achieve certain effects. And, like any other business process, you’ll want to get the best possible results for the least outlay.

Social media automation can certainly cut down on some of the time and effort required but you should take care on where you apply it. In broad terms, automation should not be perceptible by your audience and it should bring some kind of value.

Scheduling posts to go live at certain times can be very useful. This can be particularly important if you are working across different time zones or with international audiences. A word of caution though: if your posts go viral or otherwise receive a large amount of responses, you don’t want to be asleep or in retreat on a sun-drenched beach somewhere, at least not without some cover in place. People don’t always expect an instant response to comments on a blog post. If replies flood in to a tweet and you’re not there to answer them however, that can be a dead giveaway that you’re using automation.

You can also share posts across multiple social media platforms and use automated processes to find strong sources of industry-specific content that will bring value to your audience. Sites such as HubSpot and HootSuite allow you to manage and schedule your profiles and content, and to monitor and analyze your stream.

Automation can also be useful for the collection and interpretation of data beyond simple metrics like the number of followers and likes. Say you are testing the waters on a new product and release a series of messages across different content formats, such as private messages, videos, blog posts and social network updates. You can use personal URLs to track actions on each message and each channel, essentially giving you a better idea of what works and what doesn’t before your full launch.

Which tasks should never be automated?

Some of the tasks that should never be automated include the creation of custom content designed to showcase your brand message or personality. Personal messages, especially thank-yous, also deserve the personal touch. Don’t automatically follow every follower you gain as many will themselves be ‘bots and automated retweets can dramatically reduce the quality of your social media presence. Auto-DMs (direct messages) can also be a major turn-off on Twitter. Cookie-cutter messages are often recognized as such and the Twitter audience is increasingly coming to view them as spam.

Automation is not all bad. It has a lot of uses but it has to be used wisely and combined with a high level of customization to strike the right balance.

Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, Inc. , a provider of  translation services in California and all over the globe. Launched in 2001, Lingo24, Inc. now has more than 200 employees spanning four continents and clients in more than 60 countries. Follow Lingo24, Inc. on Twitter: @Lingo24

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