Technology

Don't Hand Your Social Feeds Over to Robots

By / Aug 27, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

New to the social media horizon are apps that automatically schedule and find content—slicing, dicing, and throwing it out at just the right time. Sure, the robot might sound like a good idea, but …

Set it and forget it.

It’s a simple sentiment with universal appeal, the one theoretical button press that could make everything easier.

And if you’re trying to cook a leg of lamb or some baby back ribs, that sort of system may just work for you. TV pitchman Ron Popeil (a man whose products I’ve put on my wedding registry, because I loooove rotisseries*) has made a good career out of pitching this sort of mentality—the idea that something should be so easy to use that you only have to check in on it when it’s ready.

But do you really want your social media presence to be defined in such a limited way?

That was the thought I had last week when I stumbled across a new social media management app called Beatrix. This app promises to do “everything a social media intern does,” a statement that assumes that social media is best handled by interns and not people with deeper knowledge of an organization. It calls itself an “Advanced Social Media Virtual Assistant,” which is a really nice way of saying “automated bot.”

If you’d like to see Beatrix in action, she’s dishing out some tweets over here on topics as diverse as dental floss, shower racks, and Microsoft.

The thing about social media management is that, like anything else, voice matters. And handing over your content to a bot puts you in danger of losing your voice.

I’m sure in a future upgrade she’ll even make Starbucks runs. Because that’s what interns supposedly do, right?

I kid, I kid. But before we hand off our social media to the robots, let’s talk this over for a second.

But Wait—There’s More!

The thing about social media management is that, like anything else, voice matters. And handing over your content to a bot puts you in danger of losing your voice.

That’s not to say the value proposition of automation isn’t compelling. Finding content that’s relevant and relatable takes a lot of time. Tools exist to make it easier to surface this content, but when it comes down to it, the human filter is still better. I could write a book about the approach I take in searching for content each morning, which is something of a mix of old-school Google searches and new-school tools like Prismatic.

And there’s definitely room for automating parts of your approach. There are companies that make this simpler—for a price. Some of the better-known ones include HootSuite, Sprout Social, IFTTT and (my personal favorite) Buffer. There are even some that offer end-to-end content management, like SocialFlow and HubSpot, which offer ways to expand reach for smaller organizations. And even premium services like Percolate and Kapost go a long way toward making sure no social platform is going dry.

But the best social media managers (who aren’t interns) will tell you that automation is a tool—not the entire kit.

Order Now

Social media, like big data, certainly has been a bit overhyped. And I’ll be the first to admit it. But the potential here—for live coverage, for brand presence, for finding new ways to help members, for customer service, and for keeping donors interested in your organization—is the reason why we’re talking about it so stupidly much.

The problem comes down to resources. And those resources have a price tag. The low price tag of something like Beatrix ($29 per month) might look attractive to a small association that already has a lot of things on its plate. But it becomes a stopgap solution for what should be something much more robust and better thought out.

Cheaping out on your social media presence is simply a bad move. If you’re looking too closely at that price tag on what you’re buying without thinking so much about the human element, it becomes a race to the bottom.

Instead of just posting brand-specific messages, get the people that represent your organization to post content on social. Integrate it into your day—you may be busy, but a burden lifted in pieces by many, complete with a thought-out strategy, is better all around. Your organization’s face is all over your events—extend that to social media as well.

When it comes to engagement, you wouldn’t want your members or your audience to “set it and forget it” in person. Why should you do that on social media?

If your approach is “no money down,” it’s going to show.

* This statement is not true and added for comedic effect.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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