It has been talked about time and time again – the world of marketing has changed fundamentally in recent years. It is safe to say that if a marketer from the pre-internet era took a time machine to the present, he or she would have no idea what marketers are doing. Apart from not knowing what a computer is or how it is used, social media and digital marketing in general would be totally foreign to them.

Even the most “modern” marketer often struggles to keep up with the blistering pace of change in our field. New platforms, software, channels, and tactics are popping up everyday; it can be a huge challenge to fully embrace them and figure out the best way they can be leveraged for marketing purposes.

As human beings, we automate processes everyday. Our own nervous system – e.g., the Autonomic Nervous System, completely automates our breathing, heartbeat, and other functions of our bodies. You could say that automation is in our DNA.

“Automation” tends to have a negative connotation in the marketing world – there is a fear that too much automation will make our jobs obsolete, or turn marketing into a soulless job where everything is done by machines. In the extreme form, people worry about automation eventually creating machines that are too smart, can think on their own, and will take over the world (à la Terminator).

Flickr @dalsy

No, Skynet isn’t coming to get you with its automated marketing software. Tools like Marketo provide valuable features that marketers absolutely need. The tasks that programs like Marketo offer are literally impossible for a marketing team to do on its own – there isn’t enough time in the day! The truth is, we need these marketing automation tools; without them we would have an extremely difficult time ensuring that the right marketing content reaches the right people at the right time.

But what about social media?

Given the name “SOCIAL media,” one might think that automation is incongruous. However, this is not entirely the case. Automation doesn’t necessarily mean that you carry out a “set it and forget strategy” – at least not for all aspects of social media. In reality, there are aspects of social media that have to be automated, or else you will not be able to apply the necessary resources to be sufficiently active in all your social communities.

It’s important to understand that social media marketing should not be completely automated. Social media has become the great equalizer, a platform where people from all over the world can communicate with each other in a way that has never been possible before. That kind of person-to-person communication, and the emotional aspects of it, can never be automated. And, even if it was possible to automate it, I would never do it.

So what does social media automation really mean? I am glad you asked.

It is not about putting out computer generated posts that have no relevance, nor is it about setting automatic responses based on certain keywords – these practices can often seem spammy.

And, in fact, they are.

Social media automation is about the ability to identify content that is relevant to your community and schedule it out in advance. It is about taking limited resources and maximizing the effectiveness of their efforts. Most of all, it is about establishing yourself and your company as a valuable source of information and a purveyor of engaging conversation on your social channels.

Why You Should Automate

Some companies have a marketing team of 20 people, while some (like us) have a marketing team of two. For the latter, it is crucial that each person on the team apply his or her limited resources in the most efficient way possible. Often times, failing to do so can lead to poor performance in certain areas of your marketing mix. For this reason, automation plays an incredibly important part in many marketing teams’ strategy – including ours.

Automating marketing tasks will increase the effectiveness of your marketing activities exponentially; it will allow you to identify the best kind of content and distribute it to the right place and the right people. Automation will give you the extra horsepower you need to really catapult your company’s marketing to the next level.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and other platforms are all important channels for marketers to leverage. However, logging in to each one, writing posts (numerous times a day), checking messages, engaging in conversations, and measuring results can be tedious and time consuming. Automation allows you to forgo the minutia involved in social media marketing, allowing you to focus on what really matters.

What Should be Automated

Please remember that not all aspects of social media management should be automated – in fact, most should not. However, the tasks that should be automated are highly important, and by automating them you are significantly increasing the potential success of your social activities.

Scheduling Posts

Go big or go home. This is an important mantra for the modern digital marketer when it comes to social media. Having a large social presence takes time, resources, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Many companies make the mistake of not putting enough effort into social – tweeting once a day, posting to Facebook every few days, and LinkedIn a few times a week. In all honestly, you might as well not be on social media at all, given that this strategy is a waste of time.

In our experience, a company should publish at least 10 tweets and 1-2 Facebook Company Page updates per day. Additionally, employees in the company need to be highly active in LinkedIn Groups – not just one Group, but as many as possible. Publishing social posts on a large-scale, especially across various platforms and different times, can be difficult to nearly impossible. That is why automating these activities with the help of third party platforms is a necessity.

Platforms like Oktopost let you create a slew of social posts in advance, save them, and then schedule them out over a long period of time. This can be done for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and LinkedIn Discussion Groups.

Curating Content

The strategy of content curation establishes you and your social channels as a source of valuable information, which will keep prospects coming back. Additionally, it helps you develop thought leadership, and encourages readers to associate your shared content with your company. The most significant benefit of thought leadership is that when it comes time to make a buying decision, your target buyers will immediately think of your company as the best choice.

This practice can be extremely time consuming. Scouring the web manually, finding content, going back into your social channels, and copying and pasting the link can take up valuable time and resources. Automating the content curation process should be done in a way that doesn’t detract from the authenticity of your shares. That is to say, setting up an automatic posting of everything that comes through an RSS feed is not an effective content curation strategy.

Having a third party platform that helps bring valuable content – which has been chosen based on how effective it will be in bringing clicks and conversions, as well as having the ability to easily share this content and schedule it out in advance, is a priceless resource.

Automating content curation should be done in a way where content is manually chosen and then sent to a queue to be published during scheduled time range – this can be done by reviewing to a list of suggested content at the beginning of your workday and simply choosing said content and adding it to your queue. When doing this, make sure to not just use the title of the article you are sharing as the social content within your post. Instead, add your own unique message to it and enrich the content consumption experience.

What Should NOT be Automated

Engagement

Social media is supposed to be…. well, social! Therefore, it is important that real engagement take place on your social channels. Various platforms, no matter how technologically advanced their algorithms are, will never be able to mimic the genuine conversations that two humans can have. When such conversations are automated, it’s extremely easy for the other party to realize they are not speaking with another human being, but rather a computer.

Social Selling

Social selling refers to leveraging platforms such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn to forge connections with and gain insight on qualified prospects, while increasing brand awareness at large. Social selling enables companies to discover relevant sales opportunities, observe and understand prospects’ needs from up close, and promote brand reputation by distributing valuable and helpful content.

As with engagement, social selling should be social. If a prospect receives a message in their inbox that is clearly automated, the likelihood that they will respond positively is very low. There is no way to send an automated message like this without seeming spammy; therefore, all social selling should be done manually.

Outreach

Whether it is a result of social listening, keeping up to date with relevant writers, or identifying thought leaders, outreach is an excellent way to increase awareness. However, journalists in particular are sensitive to these types of emails. Even if the email is manually written, but done so in an impersonal way, you are not likely to get any sort of response. Even more so, setting automated responses and outreach programs will bear you no fruit. In fact, it will have the opposite effect – your outreach targets will see you as a spammer.

Creating Posts

What we now call “traditional marketing” consists of print advertising, branded magazines, catalogs, and direct selling. The modern-day marketer has adopted a completely digital strategy that deviates from these methods and focuses almost exclusively on digital content.

The “new” marketing content consists of eBooks, white papers, blog posts, and webinars – and the Internet is considered the primary conduit for its distribution. Moreover, the social age has turned social media into a strategic channel for content distribution.

Following this logic, social message creation also entails the same steps as traditional content creation. Namely, when creating the content for your social posts, you must follow the same rules as creating other types of content. Just as you wouldn’t automate the creation of content for a blog post, automating the creation of content for social posts will significantly detract from its effectiveness.

Marketing automation is an integral part of any part of modern marketing mix for any industry. Since there is so many tasks required of marketers these days, automation tools must be used in order to fully maximize all marketing channels. Given the risks of automation being perceived as spam, it’s important to only automate certain aspects of your marketing strategy. Sometimes, a human touch is still required.