Robot & Frank (2012) - Digital Marketing

In digital marketing and social media, the key is being yourself – a nice, thoughtful human.

I bought a couch the other day. The total came to £500-plus, which included all the delivery and the muscle power of two people to get the thing through the door without additionally needing a plasterer. It was going to be a couple of days until the couch was delivered – plenty of time to get the old one out and dust down.

To my astonishment this was also just enough time for the furniture company to send me an email suggesting I buy a £500 couch – the same couch. Now, £500 is a fairly sizable slice of my wallet; I certainly wasn’t going to spend that again on the same sofa in a hurry. Needless to say, my opinion of the company took a dive. I’ve also started to feel an irrational sense of resentment against the inanimate object that now serves my living room.

The same thing happened with my trainers. I’d found a flashy pair and to my delight they were half-price. They looked good and they were such a great deal I thought ‘what the hell, I’ll have two pairs’, and picked another colour. Before the things even shipped from the despatch office I’d received emails asking if I wanted more pairs of the same shoes, at full price. I could have opened a subsidiary shoe shop stocking only one type of trainer had I followed the seller’s ‘intelligent’ purchasing suggestions.

It’s rather incredible to think that in the age of information-led display advertising, targeted email marketing, and the use of social media to project the human side of an otherwise faceless company, that some still use obviously automated responses.

Such are the downfalls of good companies using digital marketing badly. Harassing the user with information they don’t need, in an age where they can reasonably expect to receive only material relevant to them, can be the undoing of some hard-earned trust.

Bad digital marketing practices

Or how to lose subscribers and really, really annoy people…

Humans, not automators

‘Thanks for following me! Here’s what I’m selling!’

The worst thing any online business can do is try to automate being human. The auto-reply on Twitter, for example, is a no-no, or simply being too salesy in any of your communications.

Unsolicited and unsegmented email marketing

As in the situations above, just because you have a million people on your email subscriber list, doesn’t mean you have to email all them. Failing to segment your email lists by purchase or persona categories will result in unsubscribers.


The heart of fair maiden was never won by 10,000 Facebook messages. Nobody likes being bombarded with the same message – especially from a salesman. If your subscriber doesn’t respond to your first message then by all means send a follow-up reminder, but never more than two. If you fill up a Twitter feed with the same message, you’ll only encourage the recipient to unsubscribe from your digital marketing channels.


“SEX!!! No, not really, but now that I have your attention listen to this…”

Headline writing is an art that is more important in email marketing and social media than ever these days. However, creating controversy to drive clicks will turn off your subscribers. Ill-thought cursory questions on social media can also fall in this category.

No reply

Worse than asking a cursory question is not replying when someone actually humours you answers it. Companies frequently forget that social media is about engagement – having and maintaining a conversation, listening and participating. Even when handling negative comments on social media, the best practice is to engage by publicly asking to resolve the situation via private message.

Faking cool

Speak like a local, i.e. in the context of the conversation and the audience. There’s little more cringeworthy on social media than a company trying to be cool if you’re not a youth-orientated brand. Even then, perhaps limit the amount of times you say #YOLO or you may find that life you only live once cut a lot shorter.

In digital marketing, social media behaviour and etiquette, there’s a fine line between appearing like a free-thinking human and an automated company robot. Great content marketing is about building trust and projecting a personable voice and tone. You can’t fake that kind of engagement.