How to Score True Social Media Automation #SEMrushchat with Craig Campbell

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How to Score True Social Media Automation #SEMrushchat with Craig Campbell

Becky Shindell
How to Score True Social Media Automation #SEMrushchat with Craig Campbell

Automation is becoming central to all channels of digital marketing, speeding up processes, adding capabilities, integrating different systems, and syncing campaigns. Social media is no different. In fact, scheduling posts with relevant content for better engagement is one of the core objectives of pretty much every social automation tool. SEMrush also has a lot of super-useful posting and tracking tools in our Social Media Toolkit.

A lot of people argue that automation takes the “social” out of social media and defeats the whole purpose of human engagement. In last Wednesday’s edition of #SEMrushchat we brought on board Craig Campbell, an SEO and digital marketing veteran who has been watching the industry for 16 years, to discuss the pros and cons of social media automation, how it affects your engagement, and the factors on which to base your automation decisions. Here is what Craig and our other chat participants had to say:

Q1. In your opinion, is it possible to really score true social media automation? Why or why not?

Craig firmly believes that you can never fully automate social media. Engagement is one of the most critical components of the social mix, and it is something no one can really mechanize. However, you can certainly set up automation for routine tasks such as following and unfollowing, which will free up time for more interaction with your audience.

Many #SEMrushchatters echoed that sentiment. Automation is fine when it comes to DMs, scheduling, follow up responses, finding and evaluating users with similar interests, identifying bots, and so on, but human interaction seems impersonal and beyond the reach of automation at the moment. Therefore, businesses should be ever-prepared to respond to events and queries in real-time.

Some experienced marketers believe it is entirely possible to automate most social campaigns (marketing automation is nothing new), although you still need to keep your eyes and ears open for unpredictable stuff. You need to design your own interaction model, and content producers have demonstrated this very well. You could also plan your campaigns well in advance with automation, albeit with genuine messaging; this frees up more time for you to interact with your audience.

Others believe social media automation is a double-edged sword. There is a truckload of tools and apps that execute and manage repetitive tasks for you –  like SEMrush’s Social Media Poster lets you fill it and forget it (your timeline, silly!). Eliminating humans from the equation could sound the death knell for your social strategy. Dean Brady even wondered aloud how a bot would handle #SEMrushchat!

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Q2. How do you automate your social media marketing, without having to sacrifice being engaged in conversations with your audience?

No one likes to talk to robots. Craig uses chatbots to break the ice and then takes over the conversation himself. And he plans to do that until the bots get smart enough to carry out a full conversation themselves.

Part of the answer is to do both – free up your time with automation and use that time to engage more with your audience. Automate the broadcasts, not the interactions. Use tools to leverage best practices, but you need to manually stay on top of customer service queries and follow-ups, interpret interactions and react to them.

Some relatively advanced stuff that you can automate is identifying the best times your audience is active, creating conversation points, and then continuing the discussion later by following up with them. You can also reach and track audiences you otherwise couldn't with automated ads and content releases. Make sure your audience knows you are tracking these conversations, though, or else you risk creeping them out!

Our regulars chimed in with insights on how they automate their social tasks. Express Writers use Meet Edgar to schedule promotional content but balance it out by joining Twitter chats. CallRail - @CallRail uses SproutSocial for analytics and post planning. Thomas Zickell - @ThomasZickell is of the opinion that it doesn’t hurt to post all your content on social media and uses CoSchedule to get his content out there. Marccx Media - @marccxmedia also automates social sharing of their content bi-weekly.

It is essential to add that personal touch and handle all conversational replies and interactions yourself. People like to be fully involved in their conversations – online or offline – to catch all the thoughts behind the dialog.

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Q3. What are some benefits to automating your social media? What are the downfalls?

If you get your automation and manual mix right, there are no real pitfalls, and you can very well build your audience on social media. Beware – too much automation will leave you looking daft!

The benefits of social media automation include a steady stream of content for your followers to consume, while you are not really in front of them, or not even online. You will also improve your response times and save a huge amount of time and money this way. Mainly, you get all the grunt work off your desk and focus on manual relationship building.

You can’t just schedule and walk away from managing your social pages, or you will lose the personal touch with your audience and look like a robot. Your posts will quickly deteriorate into spam, your responses will come across as cold and fake, and you risk losing a big chunk of your followers. Fix this by adding fresh content manually.

You should use automation to set up mundane tasks that can be followed with simple instructions; this could include consistent communication and support in addition to social media management. Machine learning will help you connect with your audience better. Other unique benefits are brand consistency, unified tracking, and data portability.

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Q4. With the rise in social media bots and automation, do you think social media managers should be worried about their jobs? Why or why not?

Craig doesn’t see any clear and present danger to social media managers’ jobs. After all, someone has to operate the tools and approve budgets! However, social media teams will definitely get leaner as automation becomes more common.

At the moment, it is indeed hard to foresee robots replacing humans at what they exhibit best – humanity! Bots are still a long way off from being able to talk like real people. The “human element” is critical for real conversation.

Social media management is a job that requires an experienced, multi-faceted personality to perform. Therefore, while the bot threat isn’t imminent, social media managers shouldn’t just sit there twiddling their thumbs. They will have to reinvent themselves as well as their roles. They should accept and adapt quickly to changes in technology.

In any job, the practitioner becomes more skilled over time, as the nature of the work changes. In this, the changing profile of a social media manager follows a similar trajectory to that of an SEO specialist. Mark Traphagen wrote a great post on Marketing Land about the lessons social media managers can learn from SEO and evolve before their roles become irrelevant.

Ultimately, there will be extremities at either end of the robot-human spectrum. Bots following a script could be hacked and rendered ridiculous, like Microsoft’s Taye. Or, maybe the bots just want us to think that we are smarter than them. For now.

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Q5. In your opinion, how much social media automation is too much?

This question begs an “it depends” answer. One rule of thumb is to aim to engage manually and automate pretty much everything else. At the same time, keep in mind the automation limits that social platforms have in place; that is key to maintaining a natural and realistic presence.

The cardinal rule of stopping automation is when it is obvious that it is too much. If your audience can tell that your posts are automated, you have already crossed the line. Some accounts rely so much on automation that the real human behind the brand eventually gets sidelined. If you are flooding their timelines, you need to go into reverse gear immediately. People can smell fake posts from miles away, and once you lose credibility and trust, it is very difficult to regain it.

It is very difficult to quantify the “right” amount of automation when it comes to social media. Too much of it dilutes your brand’s social value by diluting the quality of your interactions. So, it is best to stop at scheduling posts and take the manual route for all direct engagement. You can then look for feedback on brand sentiment from the trends of responses you are getting.

A couple of tweeps also recounted their experiences with brands that overdid automation over email as well as social media. Unfortunately, eager newbies who follow “influencers” in the hope of learning something new run into the same old recycled posts on a baby-feeding schedule.

Empathy is a very human quality and difficult to reproduce. The human touch is priceless; this is why it is so crucial for brands not to sound like a robot; it absorbs your whole brand personality.

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Q6. What are your favorite tools for automating your social media process?

Of course, a discussion on social media tools has to begin with our very own Social Media Tracker that helps you develop a winning social strategy, track results, and build amazing reports.

Here is Craig’s list (pun intended) of favorites:

  • Contentcal for scheduling posts

  • Linkedhelper for LinkedIn automation

  • Jarvee for automating other social accounts

  • Fuelgram for Instagram (other than automation)

  • Circleboom for Twitter (other than automation)

Hootsuite was the clear leader among tools that other users preferred.

The depth of experience of #SEMrushchatters was in full display here as they rattled off an endless list of social media posting, scheduling, and monitoring tools:

And if all that is not enough, a recommended post on Jeffbullas.com outlining the best social media automation tools at the moment.

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That was another whirlwind of a #SEMrushchat. We managed to get in six questions this time, and the number of tools we heard of was absolutely mind-numbing. We are still listening in the comments for your take on social media automation, how you feel about it, what tools, if any, do you use to automate your posts, how you track the results, etc. It is never too late to join the #SEMrushchat party!

And if you are game for another live session on Twitter, we would love to see you next Wednesday on #SEMrushchat, where we’ll be talking about "Smarter Content Through Data That Engages" with the amazing, Grant Simmons!.

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Becky Shindell is the Communications Manager at SEMrush and host of the weekly #SEMrushchat. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. You can find Becky at many of the US Digital Marketing Conferences, feel free to say hi!
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White Rabbit
Social automation is great for evergreen content and you always need an element of real human interaction throughout.
Carl Walker
I'm about to tackle a new client's social media campaign, so it's refreshing to read about what other's are feeling about automation.
I'll admit, I've turned to Hootsuite or Buffer for scheduling tweets, but found they are having troubles with Facebook lately, especially with privacy changes.

How does SEMRush handle Facebook posts now that they're cracking down on external publishers?
Becky Shindell
Carl Walker
Hey Carl! Thanks so much for checking out the post :) We post/schedule our FB posts right from Facebook and we've been focusing a lot more on videos, Facebook Lives, and sponsored posts in order to try and keep the engagement. What have you been doing?
Carl Walker
Becky Shindell
Thanks for the insight!
So far, I've been concentrating on Twitter, with personal replies, and LinkedIn. I spent time connecting with leading positions of businesses I wish to target. After achieving 200 connections in that industry, I found I was being connected to, instead of requesting. At this point I started reaching out with personal connections and messages.
It's time consuming, but the personal touch is really seeing improvements over blanket templates.
Becky Shindell
Carl Walker
That's awesome! I think I misunderstood your question :) But, at SEMrush we completely agree that the human side is key to engagement and keeping relationships. It's really important to keep the social aspect in social!
Simon  Cox
Excellent session yet again! My one big takeaway was to go and reintroduce myself to IfThisThenThat - not looked at it for a couple of years and I used to use it quite a lot to automate things. Some other great advice mixed in the summary as well.
Becky Shindell
Simon Cox
Thanks so much, Simon!! It's always amazing having you on the chat with us :)
Simon  Cox
Becky Shindell
'Amazing' might be over-egging the cake a little but thank you for the sentiment Becky! I always enjoy the banter and the fantastic responses from everyone - so much great sharing from so many people with a vast array of experience! It gets a bit frantic at times trying to keep up as well as contributing and answering tweets but well worth the time and effort! :)