So why do I advise clients to mostly avoid it? Because the advice isn't meant to frighten them away from automation. It's to make them keep thinking so their automation doesn't turn into absenteeism.
How social absenteeism made social automation a dirty word.
Social absenteeism can be defined by all signs Danny Brown listed it in his article about automation. He included bots that burp out content followers, communication shifts from conversation to broadcast, and a constant number crunching addiction that appeals to less social savvy companies.
In all three cases, it isn't automation as much as it's absenteeism, with all of it disrupting the value of social media. But let's be clear here. It doesn't disrupt it entirely. Social still drives more than 30 percent of web traffic, with Facebook dominating the top platforms, while search continues to slump.
Those numbers provide a proof of sorts. Search used to be the go-to answer for everything, even finding love as illustrated by this classic commercial about an American finding love in Paris.
While this spot is fun and clever, it doesn't always hold true anymore. Nowadays, people want to be told what to find as often or even more than they want to find something. In essences, we've seen a social shift that makes search the go-to when you know what to ask and social the go-to if you don't.
The point was punctuated in a modernized version of Parisan Love. It features a man who is stuck someplace for a few days. Rather than sulk, he asks his social network friends what he should do. They offer up suggestions and he loads clips of his daily adventures drawn from their ideas. It's a clever commercial, proving that even accidental vacations are more fun with input from friends.
The spot represents the best of social media: interaction, engagement, inspiration, reciprocation, and reward. Social absenteeism, on the other hand, would have produced something else entirely because absent automation has no context for circumstance. It doesn't know where you are, what you need, or what you are doing. It's scripted regularity that points to the same products or people or places.
Unchecked, you can easily consider it a cousin to black hat SEO and email spam in that the objective of the communication isn't designed to help anyone except the broadcaster. It's their method of getting clicks, capturing followers, maintaining a presence, and executing content formulas. What's in it for the customer or consumer? Not too much. It favors a marketing agenda over customer experience.
Absenteeism doesn't require automations. Humans can be boring too.
There is a sandwich brand that asks its followers what sandwich they like (or some such variation of the question) every day. No matter what anyone says, the brand affirms they made the right choice. It's monotonous. Most people only follow the account for coupons. The rest they put up with to get them.
Most people would be surprised to find that the account is managed by a human, given that there is nothing human about the communication. It's shallow and empty, celebrating the brand not the fans.
It's not all that different from sending out blind pitches to journalists or sending out a discount on jeans just after the customer bought five pairs. Both examples are empty actions, contrary to some of the suggestions offered up by Brown. Content testing to improve communication, scheduling tests, action tracking, list culls and dead account purges are all smart automation tactics because they are all designed to enhance the customer experience and not detract from it. The difference is in the intent.
It isn't even confined to social media. Automation runs the risk of becoming absenteeism across all communication disciplines with content formulas, empty actions, and unjustifiable frequency. And in a world where the communication has become part of the product, for better or worse, you can't really afford to cheapen it by thinking the solution to every problem is an apple just because you sell them.