Automation: The Dirty Word in Social Media Marketing

Opinion: Before you give up on the idea of automation altogether, let’s think about how email evolved

Most forward-leaning brands have social media teams using social listening software to aggregate, filter, sort and manually respond to conversations. These platforms have become essential for brands to know what their customers are saying about their brand—at scale.

And while this is a good start, brand marketers should be doing more to drive engagement and business outcomes at scale in social media. Automation, while often seen as a dirty word in social media marketing circles, can help.

Automation and one-to-one marketing

To drive greater levels of engagement, social media marketers should reply at scale with content in response to specific actions. Let’s call these triggers. The triggers could be people posting about a certain person, hashtag, photo or topic. And the content could be anything from a behind-the-scenes video, to points, promo codes, contest entries, concert tickets and more. You get the idea: Any digitally deliverable thing can be sent right back to people.

While the merits of this approach are manifold, it’s the use of automation that often creates challenges for social media marketers. To reply in real-time and at scale with content in response to triggers, marketers need social media marketing automation software. They need the ability to listen for certain actions and automate responses to people who trigger them.

Yet I know that automation can be a scary word for social media marketers. After all, many of us grew up in the field as community managers—as people tasked with creating, managing and growing relationships with our customers—which at first blush appears anathema to automation.

The email parallel

However, before you give up on the idea of automation altogether, let’s think about how email evolved. I don’t think anyone would deny that email has evolved to become the workhorse of one-to-one marketing, and yet how many marketers spend their day emailing people individually? They simply don’t. Instead, they use automation and data insights to deliver personalized email at scale to their customers. And, it works.

For example, Safeway creates individually tailored emails with different versions of deals based on customer opt-in choices and their shopping habits. Safeway’s email program produces a 224 percent higher click-through rate and a 330 percent higher click-to-open rate than the industry average. And this is just one example from many of how email automation coupled with data insights is delivering higher engagement and loyalty for brands.

Automation and social media

“This is great for email, but social media automation software just isn’t mature enough yet.” This is another concern I often hear. However, social media marketing automation software has evolved to reach the point that email automation has.

For example, social media automation tools have the ability to segment users and send the right content, at the right moment, back to the right person, all in real-time. And all of this can be done through the use of complex rules such as influence score, frequency, language translation and geo-fencing.

Social media automation has evolved to effectively handle the level and sophistication of automation brand marketers need.

Indeed, the next evolution of social media marketing will be to take a page from email and apply automation to further engagement and one-to-one marketing. For example, Marriott, a leader in this space, uses automation to reward customers active in social media in real-time. It targets social media users that mention the brand and offers them loyalty points that are instantly added to their accounts. Marriott has found that this approach has resulted in a 100 percent conversion rate.

Become more strategic

The last concern I hear from social media marketers about adopting automation is more personal; many are afraid that automation will somehow take over their job and sideline them. To address this concern, let’s look again at the evolution of email marketing.

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