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 beneficial – but 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.
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