Social media automation: It’s all about striking the balance

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By Alexandra Reid

I’ll come out honestly and say that I’ve been using automation software for a long time now. Social media purists, go ahead and hiss at me if you will. I only ask that you hear me out.

For the last year or so, I’ve used automation software to schedule posts for this blog and tweets for Twitter. Just last week, I went a bit farther and purchased an automation tool to help me grow Twitter communities. And you know what? I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about it. As a social media enthusiast and community manager for multiple accounts, I find it a necessary time saver.

Let me be quick to say that I do not use automation software for everything. In fact, I only use it for those menial, repetitive tasks like hitting the “post” and “follow” buttons. All the important work, including crafting messages and direct messages, engaging with others, searching for quality articles to share and locating those key industry influencers is done manually by me. In no way does the automation software deplete the quality of my accounts. It’s because of the automation software that I have time to engage with good people, which, while essential and the most fun, is often the most time consuming part of social media.

With great power comes great responsibility

Using my automation software, I can uncover thousands of Twitter accounts for a chosen keyword within just a few seconds. That doesn’t mean I’m going to click the “start” button and follow every single account on that list. Not only would that be irresponsible, as a number of those accounts are likely to be spammy, outdated or otherwise distasteful, it would dilute the relevance and influence of my accounts, as my follower-following ratios would be greatly imbalanced and not all of the accounts will be significant simply because they contain the chosen keyword in one way or another.

Instead, I spend some time going through the lists and selecting those that I think would be relevant, based on profile information, tweets posted and follower-following ratio, which is what I would do anyway using the Twitter web-based client. The only thing the automation software does is search the mass of accounts quickly for focused keywords and put them all in one convenient place.

I also only select a number of accounts that won’t offset the follower-following ratio too severely. Once the selected accounts are followed automatically, I go through them again as part of my other client work to ensure only the best were followed.

Each account that follows back receives a personal direct message. I would never in my wildest dreams use the automated messaging system.

Automation gone wrong

I spend a great portion of my day irritably sifting through the heaps of web garbage sent out by automated messaging systems for those content gems worth sharing. I wonder, what on Earth do companies get out of messaging systems? The typical automated tweet I see either comes from a well-endowed young woman who is pouting at the camera, an animation, or the default Twitter egg. In each case, they have an obscure Twitter handle that is usually followed by some randomized numbers. The Tweet is usually a mix between upper and lowercase letters and often refers to an article or post that isn’t there. When you go to their profile pages for more information, they’re usually following a large number of people, have very few followers and have sent out lots of Tweets that are either consistent with the first one I came across, or empty of content entirely.

Social media is about striking a balance

As Danny Brown bluntly puts it, “social media is just another toolset, or platform, or information base, or whatever tag you want to give it, to help you manage your needs better, whether they be personally or professionally. It works for people the way they need it to work, not how someone else uses it.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I would go a step further and say automation software is the same. Automation software is neither good nor bad. It’s just a tool intended to help you further your goals, whatever they may be. For me, social media is inherently social, so I use automation software to do those not-so-social tasks so that I have more time to engage with others and add value to my communities.

Mitch Joel argues that it is disingenuous to recommend content automatically to connections without taking the time to consider if it would add real value to the people he is connected with, adding that gaining credible connections and trust online is something brands struggle with.

I also agree with Mitch’s position. Automating messages is messy and discredits businesses tremendously. There’s nothing that grinds my gears more in social media than an automated direct message from a company telling me to follow its Facebook page as well. And automatically sharing content is dangerous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the title and introduction to an article thinking it would be great for a client to share and then dismissed it entirely because it mentioned a competitor or its product further to the bottom.

As I do the heavy lifting for my clients, social media automation does the heavy lifting for me. In neither case is the integrity of the content or community jeopardized.

What’s your position? Thumbs up to social media automation or thumbs down? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo: Experiential marketing


  • Aaron Eden

    August 30, 2011 7:12 am

    Alexandra, I love your idea on ‘striking a balance..’ as I think it is much more crucial these days, than ever. I used to suffer social media fatigue a year before plenty of folks are writing about it. It’s just a nightmare keeping my social networking accounts updated on a daily basis that I created my fix, not really to set and forget posts – but to help me save precious time everyday, which I can even use in engaging with my peers online, for real. Whatever happened to conversation these days? Isn’t that the sole reason why we’re online? In my case, I’d go for 80/20 rule: as in 80% conversation and 20% automation. Your insights here make a whole lot of sense..

  • Alexandra Reid

    August 30, 2011 9:06 am

    Aaron, thanks for commenting. I’m happy to hear you were able to strike a balance. It can get overwhelming, especially with all the platforms and engagement options available today, from Answers to Discussions to Tweets to status updates. You’re right that we must find the time to contribute to quality discussions, as that is the reason why we’re on social media in the first place. I’d say follow the 80/20 rule myself.

    I clicked on your link to find out what you do and saw that you are an entrepreneur, with lots of experience behind your belt, currently exploring the field of automation software. Seems your innovative mind found a solution that fit your needs perfectly. Are you a subscriber to this blog? While I mainly write on social media, my colleagues write extensively about the startup entrepreneur space. You should find their content interesting and helpful, too.

    Kind regards,

  • Gem Webb

    October 27, 2011 3:23 pm

    I really enjoyed your article Alexandra. I work in the Ontario Tourism sector as a Content Developer. This has me managing currently 1 main and 5 developing twitter accounts. I have finally gotten back to the stage of entering the conversation and experiencing the benefits from this for our target markets. It’s actually become very fun for me on my personal @gemwebb account. The networking has huge benefits every day. Kinda like potential energy Spring we saw back in Science class. I now do a pre-load quarterly for seasonaly crafted tweets driving to internal Things to Do pages on my main websites, then I add Holiday based tweets which you can count on a response. Then throughout the day I “PEEK” in on Hootsuite and respond. It really doesn’t take that much time and I can continue on my photo, video and copy creation. Starting to seem like a “Social Media Workout plan”. You can quote me on that. -giggle-

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