Smart automation

Over at his always thought-provoking blog, Rich Becker shares a post today entitled, Will Automation Steal the Soul from Social? It’s an enlightening read and a great discussion starter.

In the post, Rich makes the following compelling arguments on why automation is bad for social media:

    • Bots (fake, automated Twitter accounts) attract bots, giving accounts the aura of popularity while never reaching a real human being;

 

    • The [platform] shift from conversation to broadcast is a symptom of what marketers measure. They measure actions (tweets, retweets, link clicks), which discourages dialogue. It discourages it because conversations are not valued on the action scale;

 

  • As soon as you start thinking about people in terms of numbers, whether how many followers they have or some secret sauce social score, there is a good chance you have already lost them.

All valid points; all real reasons why smart folks like Rich are questioning the value of automation in the social space, and whether it’s destroying the fabric of social’s early promise.

While, to a degree, I agree with Rich, I’m also a supporter of automation and disagree that it’s “stealing social’s soul”.

Automation and User Responsibility

The main reason for any form of automation is to make lives easier. This can come in many guises, but let’s just break it down to the two core users for whom automation offers benefits – consumers and marketers:

    • Consumer automation: includes simple solutions like coffee makers, cruise control on cars, smartphone app updates, loyalty card benefits based on usage, PVR and more. Instead of manually having to carry out these “chores”, it’s taken care of for us, allowing us more time to do the things we really enjoy.

 

  • Marketing automation: includes email list cleaning, CRM updating professional career changes, targeted updates based on online demographic use, filtering of leads versus service issues versus queries and more. This type of automation allows marketers to scale more effectively instead of being pinned down by “smaller items”.

However, even with these two basic breakdowns above, and as useful as the different solutions can be, there’s also the ever-present danger that automation can be abused or rendered ineffective, for one simple reason – user responsibility.

While cruise control for a car can take the stress out of driving, it can also make us lazy when it comes to being aware of the road around us. While targeted updates based on audience time online can help laser focus your content strategy, it can backfire horrendously if a national tragedy strikes.

User responsibility is key for any part of our everyday decision-making process, but especially when it comes to automated actions versus manual ones. Automation is hugely effective and beneficialbut only if the user respects the flexibility that automation offers.

Automation and Conversational Insights

One of the points I highlighted from Rich’s post at the start of this one was the fear/belief that automation is causing social platforms to shift from being conversational tools to conduits for social proof measurement as a success metric.

While Rich has a point – and you only need to look at the popularity of tools like Klout and Triberr where social reach and impressions are driving factors of success – these are the kind of soft metrics that, thankfully, brands and marketers alike are beginning to separate themselves from.

A survey carried out at the start of this year by ArCompany and Sensei Marketing highlighted the growing need for real metrics – leads, sign-ups, contact, inquiries, sales, etc., – in businesses of all sizes.

While social proof can be a metric of popularity, which in itself can be viewed as a metric of authority, it’s increasingly being seen for what it is – usually fluffed-up numbers with very little actions behind them. This ties perfectly into Rich’s premise that the bots are taking over and diluting the effectiveness of a message – promotion, ad, content, etc.

That being said, automation can – and does – help with identifying insights that inform marketers to be smarter and more effective.

Tellagence Discover Visualization

For example, let’s say you want to AB test the acceptance of a new product on the market. You know who your target audience is, but aren’t quite sure what will tip them from potential customers into researchers of your product into customers. So you use automation.

    • You craft a series of messages across different content – email, video, blog posts, social network updates – and program them to go out at the same time, and then different times;

 

    • You use PURLs (personal URLs) to track actions on each message and each channel;

 

    • Your filtering software cleans out the bounced emails, the non-shared content and your low traffic blog posts;

 

  • It then analyzes the content that worked, what times were best, where, and on who, and essentially details what your strategy should be for the full launch.

But that’s just part of the story.

Using text analytics software, you can track all the pieces of conversation around each method – how it made recipients feel, what the overall sentiment was, where a sale would have occurred had there been just the slightest change in information available, who sways your audience’s decision, etc.

Instead of relying on the data – as strong as it is – from the automated AB testing, you’re combining these results with human intelligence and how we can identify the nuances of otherwise unimportant phrases, if left to technology.

And that’s where automation both benefits and is benefited conversational insights.

    • Automated data and research only leaves the strongest lead opportunities;

 

  • Conversational insights enhances that research by diving deeper into the context that could allow for other opportunities outside those identified by automation.

Without automation, you wouldn’t necessarily have had the data to implement text analytics software; without the conversations text analytics insights allowed you to access and instigate, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to implement improved and more effective automation next time around.

Automation’s Own Filter – Choice

Automation, especially in social media, is one of these topics that always seems to polarize opinion. Rarely is there a middle ground – it’s usually “automation sucks” or “automation works”.

As Rich eloquently states in his post, this leads to a future of two possibilities. In Rich’s words:

…marketers will either push messages to the point where they become irrelevant (direct mail and pitch lists) or the platform will eventually elevate the rates until it is inaccessible (television) to anyone except those with deep pockets (television and radio). When that happens, people will migrate away to other networks instead.

There’s also a third option, though – choice of acceptance or not. Instead of people being forced to flee platforms, there will be more options to allow you to filter out the crap you don’t want, whether that’s simply to mute a person, brand, link blast or similar.

Facebook’s already trying to improve their algorithm. Using the same filtering technology that allows you to share why an ad isn’t welcome in your stream (and thus only provide ads you want to see), the network now enables you to do the same with updates by your friends.

While this might be for non-relevant updates at the moment, it could also be used to mute known automated solutions or technologies, ensuring that only manual updates by real people conversing with each other make it into your world.

As mentioned earlier in this post, user responsibility and accountability has a lot to do with how invasive automation is. If the type of filtering currently being experimented with lives up to its potential, lack of user responsibility may be one less thing we have to worry about, and see automation become a more welcome feature of today’s online experience.

Only time will tell.

image: Rob Cottingham

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41 comments
ShubhamSaxena
ShubhamSaxena

i agree its about balance. but bit confusing.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@CM_Meg Thanks, Meghan - some great thoughts being shared in the comments, always great to read!

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

CM_Meg Thanks, Meghan - some great thoughts being shared in the comments, always great to read!

mickeygomez
mickeygomez

Danny Brown Look, Danny, I apologized for that already. :P  Seriously, though, it's such a challenge. I have the luxury of not really caring what my score is or who is monitoring my social channels. I fully respect that not everyone can do that, given the buzz around scores and engagement numbers and return on investment (the latter two being most relevant, as far as I'm concerned). And if my business was communications, or marketing, or content strategy, or one of many professional tied directly into this as a communications stream you can bet I'd probably be doing the same.  Unfortunately, though, the net result is less engagement, not more. Twitter seems to be evolving into a gauntlet of people standing on milk crates using megaphones to get your attention (filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing). RichBecker

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

RichBecker Oh, don't get me started on the "OK, now I have all your attention, I'm going to unfollow you because you're too much for my own attention span" actions, mate! ;-) mickeygomez

RichBecker
RichBecker

Danny Brown  mickeygomez You're absolutely right Danny. Social scoring did help drive some of the automation bubble. Klout demanded more broadcasts in order to capture more actions (and never take a vacation). But in order to increase broadcasts, people turned toward automation and so-called best practices that suggested we had to broadcast once every hour to have an impact (or whatever). We can't lay it to blame on Klout exclusively, of course. Even some top Twitter people gamed appearances when they reversed their erred "follow everyone" model in favor of an erred "100:10,000" model because the new model looks like everyone wants to follow you but you're too busy to follow everyone. (Never mind they already filtered the stream with dashboards and what not.)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Neicolec That raises an interesting dichotomy, Neicole (the conversation around content versus the curated content to drive conversation further along the viewing cycle). Like you say, for journalists and analysts viewing Twitter, they're (initially) scanning for headlines and what would make a great story. Diving deeper into that is an option based on further needs. And yet some of the conversations around the headline could add even more context, and elevate a great story into a truly impacting and memorable one.

Neicolec
Neicolec

I agree it's about balance. I personally use buffer and triberr (to a much lesser degree). I read what I share, though, and manually select what to share. I just use those tools to space out my posts so that I'm not dumping all my tweets at once. And I'm also online all day (and often in the evenings) and interacting. I don't like tools that auto-tweet articles you haven't even read. I have to admit that as I've gotten busier, I'm less likely to add my own text to the preset tweet, though. 

That said, as a marketer, it's a challenge. To even get seen in the stream and maybe get to a conversation, you have to have volume. Especially for businesses that don't have much of a budget, automation tools may be the only way to cost-effectively get enough visibility to even begin making real connections.

I think it's also interesting that people complain about the amount of automation and news/promotion tweets on Twitter, and yet Twitter has become hugely valuable in part because it's a headline machine. You go to Twitter and scan the feed and see tons of interesting news articles and blog posts. Many of us have come to rely on it as a new source. Yet it is only a news source in part because people are using it for content marketing/promotion. 

Neicolec
Neicolec

I agree it's about balance. I personally use buffer and triberr (to a much lesser degree). I read what I share, though, and manually select what to share. I just use those tools to space out my posts so that I'm not dumping all my tweets at once. And I'm also online all day (and often in the evenings) and interacting. I don't like tools that auto-tweet articles you haven't even read. I have to admit that as I've gotten busier, I'm less likely to add my own text to the preset tweet, though.  That said, as a marketer, it's a challenge. To even get seen in the stream and maybe get to a conversation, you have to have volume. Especially for businesses that don't have much of a budget, automation tools may be the only way to cost-effectively get enough visibility to even begin making real connections. I think it's also interesting that people complain about the amount of automation and news/promotion tweets on Twitter, and yet Twitter has become hugely valuable in part because it's a headline machine. You go to Twitter and scan the feed and see tons of interesting news articles and blog posts. Many of us have come to rely on it as a new source. Yet it is only a news source in part because people are using it for content marketing/promotion.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

mickeygomez RichBecker You know, this might be biased, since I have no love for their methodologies, but I can't help but notice the timeframe of automation and less engagement ties in with the rise of social scoring. We're told by the likes of Klout that to be influential, and thus have our content noticed, we need to be more active and tweet more. So we roll out the automation tools and the curation tools, and amplify our Twitter stream. Scores might rise, but in the meantime, what effect has it had on time to converse?  I dunno. Like I say, I'm biased, but that stands out as a possible correlation.

mickeygomez
mickeygomez

Thought provoking posts indeed (from you and @RichBecker).

I drifted away from Twitter a couple of years ago, and as I'm slowly re-engaging I'm finding it to be slow going. After reading this, it occurred to me that the reason may have a lot to do with the automation. I see the same posts over and over - headline after headline after headline on my lists, even the lists I have of people I KNOW are engaged with their audiences. I witness very little of that engagement, though. And when I do send a tweet, I generally don't get much back at all. 

I realize that the platform has changed, and that I use it for personal rather than professional purposes, and that because I've been away for a while it may take a while to build a responsive network back up. Even so, I don't know how long I'll be interested in tweeting into a vacuum. 

I wonder where the balance lies?

Latest blog post: Do I Dare To Eat A Beet?

mickeygomez
mickeygomez

Thought provoking posts indeed (from you and RichBecker). I drifted away from Twitter a couple of years ago, and as I'm slowly re-engaging I'm finding it to be slow going. After reading this, it occurred to me that the reason may have a lot to do with the automation. I see the same posts over and over - headline after headline after headline on my lists, even the lists I have of people I KNOW are engaged with their audiences. I witness very little of that engagement, though. And when I do send a tweet, I generally don't get much back at all.  I realize that the platform has changed, and that I use it for personal rather than professional purposes, and that because I've been away for a while it may take a while to build a responsive network back up. Even so, I don't know how long I'll be interested in tweeting into a vacuum.  I wonder where the balance lies?

RichBecker
RichBecker

You just nailed the entire problem here, Danny. As long as we place more value on volume, frequently, and reach as opposed to impact, value, and sustainability, we will be continually forced to move in the wrong direction. Small businesses don't always need nearly as much broadcast as they are lead to believe in social. It's a myth. What they need are fewer interactions with more depth that lead to expansive conversations because the few interactions that they have are filled up with so much quality that we can't ignore them.  In fact, we might even say that this conversation, yours and mine, will far outweigh any other no matter how many people read either or both conceptual models because it defies all those things we measure — frequency, reach, volume. Ergo, you and I might remember this exchange of ideas ten years from now. But I doubt if either of us will remember what we simply retweeted last week. We need a new standard of measure, Danny. We need less robotics.

OpEdMarketing
OpEdMarketing

Danny Brown OpEdMarketing Apt analogy lol (and expecting the blow up doll to write killer CTAs)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

OpEdMarketing Yeah, that's like replacing high class hookers with blow up dolls. OK... maybe not the best analogy... ;-)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

jpalomino Personally, I love Buffer, and use it regularly. I find it to be more authentic than something like Triberr, since at least with Buffer you need to physically be on the web page to share, either via a button or browser add-on. This indicates traffic and reading - something which the one-click share Triberr option doesn't guarantee.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

RichBecker Hey there Rich, I guess it comes down to definition of "thoughtless action". I completely agree that blasting crap out at people every twenty minutes is lame; but then, for the SMB who doesn't have the budget or resources to scale to a wider audience to keep them afloat, automated marketing and promotions allow more interaction, which could be a life-saver (and also keeps platforms social). Perhaps the platforms are to blame, too. Look at Twitter - they seem determined to nix third-party app support, and have you use only their web version or Tweetdeck. But say I preferred Seesmic, or Tweetbot, or Twitterrific, etc. The lack of ability to use these apps, based on Twitter's draconian approach to API calls, makes Twitter less enjoyable, so I move away. That's not to say poor automation isn't to blame for an exodus - but perhaps the parent company has more to do with it than we allocated blame for? And yes, it's a great discussion and appreciate you leading it, mate.

RichBecker
RichBecker

But again, Danny. The only way this premise works (and it is a good one) is if one defines automation broadly as you have. I don't agree with such a broad definition because there is significant difference between automated tasks based on thoughtful action and automation based on thoughtless action, which favors frequency and reach and clicks and shares. 

And so, without that clarification, I think the idea of where we differ (slightly) becomes a bit misrepresented despite being well intended. Twitter, as you and I both agree, is a great example. It feels much more broadcast heavy compared as opposed to the conversation heavy format that made it popular.

And yet, I cannot thank you enough for picking up on this conversation and expanding it. It have clearly given me something to think about in the days ahead. This is becoming an increasingly important topic. It could even be the most important or we really might risk losing out on where social is most powerful — making connections on a one-to-one, one-to-some, and one-to-many scale. 

RichBecker
RichBecker

But again, Danny. The only way this premise works (and it is a good one) is if one defines automation broadly as you have. I don't agree with such a broad definition because there is significant difference between automated tasks based on thoughtful action and automation based on thoughtless action, which favors frequency and reach and clicks and shares.  And so, without that clarification, I think the idea of where we differ (slightly) becomes a bit misrepresented despite being well intended. Twitter, as you and I both agree, is a great example. It feels much more broadcast heavy compared as opposed to the conversation heavy format that made it popular. And yet, I cannot thank you enough for picking up on this conversation and expanding it. It have clearly given me something to think about in the days ahead. This is becoming an increasingly important topic. It could even be the most important or we really might risk losing out on where social is most powerful — making connections on a one-to-one, one-to-some, and one-to-many scale.

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic

I will use buffer on occasion - generally when I'm super busy. But I'm pretty active in social so it's fairly rare.

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic

I will use buffer on occasion - generally when I'm super busy. But I'm pretty active in social so it's fairly rare.

jpalomino
jpalomino

What are your (and others) thoughts on using a tool such as BufferApp to update your Twitter/FB/LinkedIn feeds throughout the week?  Like you said, I think there needs to be a middle ground between automation and conversation, and I like to use a mix of both -- but I'm curious to know what others out there are thinking (and doing!)

jpalomino
jpalomino

What are your (and others) thoughts on using a tool such as BufferApp to update your Twitter/FB/LinkedIn feeds throughout the week?  Like you said, I think there needs to be a middle ground between automation and conversation, and I like to use a mix of both -- but I'm curious to know what others out there are thinking (and doing!)

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic

Agreed OpEd.  At KAYAK, our first step with new clients is online networking and social best practices training – an unfortunately fancy term for "get back to conversations" training. Time to focus on the dialogue instead of the counts.

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic

Agreed OpEd.  At KAYAK, our first step with new clients is online networking and social best practices training – an unfortunately fancy term for refresh their conversation training. Time to focus on the dialogue instead of the counts.

OpEdMarketing
OpEdMarketing

Good post Danny.  We've had clients who've bought Marketing Automation Tools who thought they could replace a marketing team.  These tools are meant to complement a marketing department and reduce workload, not replace a marketing department :)

OpEdMarketing
OpEdMarketing

Good post Danny.  We've had clients who've bought Marketing Automation Tools who thought they could replace a marketing team.  These tools are meant to complement a marketing department and reduce workload, not replace a marketing department :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@Neicolec That raises an interesting dichotomy, Neicole (the conversation around content versus the curated content to drive conversation further along the viewing cycle).

Like you say, for journalists and analysts viewing Twitter, they're (initially) scanning for headlines and what would make a great story. Diving deeper into that is an option based on further needs. And yet some of the conversations around the headline could add even more context, and elevate a great story into a truly impacting and memorable one.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@mickeygomez @RichBecker You know, this might be biased, since I have no love for their methodologies, but I can't help but notice the timeframe of automation and less engagement ties in with the rise of social scoring.

We're told by the likes of Klout that to be influential, and thus have our content noticed, we need to be more active and tweet more. So we roll out the automation tools and the curation tools, and amplify our Twitter stream.

Scores might rise, but in the meantime, what effect has it had on time to converse? 

I dunno. Like I say, I'm biased, but that stands out as a possible correlation.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@RichBecker Hey there Rich,

I guess it comes down to definition of "thoughtless action". I completely agree that blasting crap out at people every twenty minutes is lame; but then, for the SMB who doesn't have the budget or resources to scale to a wider audience to keep them afloat, automated marketing and promotions allow more interaction, which could be a life-saver (and also keeps platforms social).

Perhaps the platforms are to blame, too. Look at Twitter - they seem determined to nix third-party app support, and have you use only their web version or Tweetdeck. But say I preferred Seesmic, or Tweetbot, or Twitterrific, etc. The lack of ability to use these apps, based on Twitter's draconian approach to API calls, makes Twitter less enjoyable, so I move away.

That's not to say poor automation isn't to blame for an exodus - but perhaps the parent company has more to do with it than we allocated blame for?

And yes, it's a great discussion and appreciate you leading it, mate.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@jpalomino Personally, I love Buffer, and use it regularly. I find it to be more authentic than something like Triberr, since at least with Buffer you need to physically be on the web page to share, either via a button or browser add-on. This indicates traffic and reading - something which the one-click share Triberr option doesn't guarantee.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@OpEdMarketing Yeah, that's like replacing high class hookers with blow up dolls. OK... maybe not the best analogy... ;-)

RichBecker
RichBecker

@Danny Brown  @mickeygomez You're absolutely right Danny. Social scoring did help drive some of the automation bubble. Klout demanded more broadcasts in order to capture more actions (and never take a vacation). But in order to increase broadcasts, people turned toward automation and so-called best practices that suggested we had to broadcast once every hour to have an impact (or whatever).

We can't lay it to blame on Klout exclusively, of course. Even some top Twitter people gamed appearances when they reversed their erred "follow everyone" model in favor of an erred "100:10,000" model because the new model looks like everyone wants to follow you but you're too busy to follow everyone. (Never mind they already filtered the stream with dashboards and what not.)

RichBecker
RichBecker

You just nailed the entire problem here, Danny. As long as we place more value on volume, frequently, and reach as opposed to impact, value, and sustainability, we will be continually forced to move in the wrong direction. Small businesses don't always need nearly as much broadcast as they are lead to believe in social. It's a myth. What they need are fewer interactions with more depth that lead to expansive conversations because the few interactions that they have are filled up with so much quality that we can't ignore them. 

In fact, we might even say that this conversation, yours and mine, will far outweigh any other no matter how many people read either or both conceptual models because it defies all those things we measure — frequency, reach, volume. Ergo, you and I might remember this exchange of ideas ten years from now. But I doubt if either of us will remember what we simply retweeted last week.

We need a new standard of measure, Danny. We need less robotics. 

mickeygomez
mickeygomez

@Danny Brown Look, Danny, I apologized for that already. :P 

Seriously, though, it's such a challenge. I have the luxury of not really caring what my score is or who is monitoring my social channels. I fully respect that not everyone can do that, given the buzz around scores and engagement numbers and return on investment (the latter two being most relevant, as far as I'm concerned). And if my business was communications, or marketing, or content strategy, or one of many professional tied directly into this as a communications stream you can bet I'd probably be doing the same. 

Unfortunately, though, the net result is less engagement, not more. Twitter seems to be evolving into a gauntlet of people standing on milk crates using megaphones to get your attention (filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing).

@RichBecker 

Latest blog post: Do I Dare To Eat A Beet?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@RichBecker Oh, don't get me started on the "OK, now I have all your attention, I'm going to unfollow you because you're too much for my own attention span" actions, mate! ;-) @mickeygomez 

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