No, You Can’t Automate Social Media!
Over the past two years or so, social media’s increased popularity has really done something for those assuming that it’s all a “get rich quick” opportunity. The widespread adoption of social media has caused for hordes of “experts” to suddenly come into town assuming that they can totally own this niche. These new “Internet Marketers” take Twitter by storm, using automated Twitter tools in abundance that give them the true appearance of expertise. They are no-name people who all of the sudden have 22,000 followers while following 23,000, but that doesn’t matter because a newbie trying to market his business sees this 5 digit number and gets excited about the opportunities to reach so many people so quickly.
It’s a Utopian mindset but one that clueless business owners step into after following an “expert” and hiring him for services. Many unsuspecting business owners blindly spot the riches of social media based on the appearance of numbers (even though those are usually deceiving). They think, “This guy must be great; he has 30,000 Twitter followers! What’s better than that?”
It’s unfortunately a situation I’ve been picking up more and more on as I see users building their entire social media marketing empire on the basis of automation.
A few months ago, a big named blogger called out another “expert” for writing an eBook that included a blog post from this blogger without attribution and completely verbatim. The thought process likely was that he wouldn’t get caught. Someone, though, recognized the content and reported it to the original blogger who rallied his audience and successfully had this original blogger amend his document. Where was the eBook author during all of this? I wanted to know since I never heard of the guy. Who was he, I wondered, and was he credible? So I hopped on Twitter for a sneak into his daily activities. Despite the fact that he had over 50,000 Twitter followers, his entire feed was a broadcast. There was no engagement and his ratio of followers to following was close to one-to-one. It’s kind of hard to have a relationship with 50,000 people, is it not? A 1:1 ratio at that level brings up a few red flags, but most notably, automation, especially with regards to automatic reciprocation of every single incoming follower.
But that was a few months ago, and I’m naive enough to think that others won’t be so silly in their online engagement activities. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on building out a social media strategic plan for a really interesting company. Their social media efforts were spearheaded by a guy who looks like a nice dude, but after studying his personal Twitter feed, it was almost the same kind of thing: the process was almost wholly automated. Effort was placed into collecting articles and scheduling them over time to give off the appearance of a “fresh” and “relevant” Twitter feed, but engagement was kept at a true minimum. Essentially, the actual user’s Twitter account became a broadcast medium but not a conversational one.
Sadly, that same strategy was passed onto the client’s Twitter feed as well; with the exception of a single @ in a full month (that was a response to a question), the entire Twitter account was fully automated. He must have spent an hour or two collecting posts to schedule throughout the month, adding no real value to the client’s stream, thereby capturing no leads and empowering customers. Plus, one of his automated tweets even advocated auto-following users, which some very keen customers noted and caused him to remove that tweet and apologize for endorsing the tactic!
So when I finally got access to the client’s Twitter account to begin promoting their services, I didn’t know what I’d find but expected the process to be a tad easier. However, following their home Twitter feed was really difficult. I was reading tweets from a sea of twitterfeeds, which if you’re unaware, are totally automated posts that come from processing RSS feeds. It seemed that none of the accounts this Twitter account was following were actually manned by people — and there were hundreds! Twitterfeeds are hardly the kind of thing a real human would ever want to read, especially one that wants to embark in social media marketing. It’s a great tool, but it’s not one you’d exclusively want to dedicate your Twitter efforts to. And it doesn’t help for marketing — at least not the social kind. If I wanted to shout it out, I’d buy a billboard over the Strip in Las Vegas. Preferably one that was visible from the top floors of the Mirage, Treasure Island, the Palazzo, and heck, while I’m at it, the Bellagio. Why not?
A similar tactic was mirrored on the client’s Facebook account; there was no user interaction, just a bunch of messages that were cross-posted from Twitter to Facebook that were scheduled in advance. There were fans on the Facebook page, but what is keeping them there? A great product — nothing more, nothing less.
Yet there’s so much more that can be done online, and it doesn’t involve only using tools. Tools make your life easier, they’re really a small fraction of the process of social media marketing. Having a solid social media strategy and realizing that social media marketing involves dealing with people is critically important. Here are some rules of thumb to consider when considering a social media marketing strategy:
Engagement is Everything
I can’t stress it enough: social media marketing is a social activity! People are flocking to sites like Twitter and Facebook and other communities because they are online communities where they can learn from and hang out with their peers. The success of a social media marketing campaign strongly revolves around engagement. Broadcasting works better as a billboard.
What kind of engagement can you do? That’s not as difficult as it seems: find people talking about you and respond to them. Find people talking about your competitors and tell them about your own opportunities (use your best judgment though). Find people talking about your industry and chime in! Add value by finding blog posts or articles of interest to your followers and make sure to credit the author of the article, especially if he’s on Twitter! (e.g. “Just found this great post on green and orange widgets by @tamar”).
Numbers Do Not Dictate Influence
There are some people who will automatically follow everyone who follows them on Twitter. As a result, they have incredibly huge following numbers even though their followers may have also used automatic methods to get new followers. It’s actually more common than you think. I’ve been autofollowed by many people simply because I’ve tweeted about Internet Marketing and Social Media Marketing, and I’ve seen my peers accumulate followers for doing the same thing. The funny thing is that some of my peers will auto-follow these folks back, making the entire process automatic.
When I first signed onto Twitter in 2006, I used to manually review every single incoming email notifying me of new Twitter followers just to see if there was a synergy between our accounts. Am I interested in what the other person has to add? If so, I followed them. With the number of followers that come and go, and due to Twitter’s widespread adoption, it’s now a bit difficult to manually review the dozens of followers I get on a daily basis. I now employ lists as a way to follow people in my own defined categories (though it still has a shortcoming; the process is still manual!). This method may or may not work for you; my point of illustration is simply to explain that the process of following (both on Twitter and on lists) for me is a completely manual one, and it may be advisable for your own account integrity to avoid following everyone just because they’ve elected to follow you. Are you genuinely interested in everything the 15,000 people you’re following have to say? Will you even pay attention to your home feed? These are questions you need to seriously consider before you automate.
Tools like Klout can really help you find the influencers among those who are merely twitterfeeding it up the wazoo. If their number is low (I’d say a Klout of 35 or less counts for low/no influence among social media experts, though this can be debatable), even if they have 302,402 followers, they’re not influential. If you’re hiring a social media marketing practitioner for your business, look at their Klout. If it’s low, they aren’t exerting enough influence on their own accounts to be influential enough on your account. Even though some of us are busy helping clients, we should still find time to nurture our own account and grow it organically.
Automation is Okay… in Limited Quantities
Sometimes it’s okay to share content you love. I have close friends and colleagues who share sponsored posts from major blogs among the other posts they share from these large online publications. They do it because they generally love ALL the articles — and so what if there’s an infrequent article that thanks the blogs’ supporters?
Running through automated tools is fine, but it’s not something you should be doing regularly. There’s only so much genuity that comes out of automating your Twitter account. And it also proves that there are thousands (millions?) of blind Twitter users who think it’s a numbers game.
Remember, engagement is key. Respond to the people who are around you. If you want to stand on a podium and start shouting through a megaphone, by all means, do it. Just don’t do it on Twitter if you want a return on your investment. Twitter is a community and you’re a member of the congregation. You need to respect your peers and treat them as they deserve to be treated.
Thanks to social media’s widespread adoption and thanks to a really open API for platforms such as Twitter, it’s inevitable that people will take advantage of the latest and greatest of Twitter tools — and then some — to eliminate the need for manual labor while still charging an arm and a leg for services. Don’t fall victim to this trap, and make sure to evaluate the people you’d be hiring to ensure that they are real people and not set-it-and-forget-it bots. By taking a more automatic route, you’re missing an opportunity to capture the attention of some people who really can matter for your business, so don’t forget to be human too. It’s that easy.
Photos by Shutterstock.