February 6, 2015 Kevin Erb

Automatic for the people

Work with social media long enough – or, not that long at all, actually – and odds are you’ll see ads or promos for sites and services that make it easier to manage your many different profiles and pages. If, like many, you have several pages and profiles to manage, either for yourself or on behalf of other brands, there are many potential benefits to utilizing one of these services. They can enable you to centralize your content management and distribution, for example, making it easier to not only share one piece of content via Facebook, Twitter and your blog, but also track audience engagement and interaction.

robotA feature many of these tools offer is one that, while it may seem at first glance to make the life of a social media manager infinitely easier, can become a serious double-edged sword. And even the biggest brands in the world aren’t immune from the damage it can cause.

That feature is automation. More specifically, many of these management tools enable you to schedule your social media posts ahead of time – hours, days, weeks, months in advance. There’s great convenience with a feature like this, to be sure. But there’s great danger, as well – if you’re not around when a post is published, for example, and it elicits feedback or questions (or worse) from your audience, what message does that send?

Beyond that, there are many who feel that automating social content publishing goes against the spirit (and strategy) of utilizing social as a tool to begin with. The whole idea of a brand using social, after all, is to be present and engaged with its audience. To many, automation takes away that connection – and defeats the purpose of social as part of your marketing strategy.

Coca-Cola learned firsthand the perils of automation this week, through an equally automated but slightly different social media execution. The massive marketer used its ad in Super Bowl 49 to start a Twitter campaign around the hashtag #MakeItHappy, whereby it asked users to share “sad” text followed by the hashtag. A little automated Twitter bot that Coke had cooked up would then take the text and turn it into happy ASCII art in Twitter. All well and good, and certainly in line with Coke’s brand identity of creating “happiness,” right?

For a little while, yes. And then it all went wrong. It didn’t take long, of course, for some Twitter users to realize the opportunity the automated process – i.e., a distinct lack of human filters – presented. Most notably, the online site Gawker took to tweeting excerpts of “Mein Kampf” followed by the hash tag, which inevitably put Coke in the position of tweeting portions of the infamous book. By the time they found out, the prank had spread to virtually all corners of the Internet. Coke quickly shut the bot down, but it was too late. The damage had been done.

The moral? As always, user-generated content is great in theory, but much more challenging in reality – as is automating any portion of your social media experience. Like all things, automation is okay in moderation. Used to excess – as in building an entire Super Bowl campaign around it – is just asking for trouble.

Sure, the manual part of managing social media as a marketing tool is a big part of what makes it challenging. But it’s also what makes it so effective and valuable.