Oops! Why You Shouldn’t Automate Your Social Media

Social media marketing sure is powerful – so powerful, in fact, that sometimes we have the temptation to cut corners and put a program on autopilot.

“We’ll just schedule a few tweets,” we say to ourselves. Or, “We’ll just create a string of Facebook posts and schedule them in advance.” No big deal, right? We’re movin’ and shakin’, getting the word out, and saving ourselves a lot of time in the process.

Or so we think.

Truth be told, automating your social media can quickly turn from being a convenient tactic to a really, really bad idea. Scheduling tweets and posts may seem harmless – after all, if it wasn’t a good idea, they wouldn’t let us do it, right? – but it can quickly turn sour, leaving your brand open to a negative backlash. We’ll take the time to explore why automating your social media marketing is a bad idea – starting with one organization that learned their lesson the hard way.

A Public Backlash With Just One, Teeny-Tiny Tweet

We all remember the horror of the Aurora, Colorado shooting over two summers ago. It was a national tragedy, and the nation fell into a somber mood after news broke.  Everyone felt the gravity of the situation…except for one organization, the National Rifle Association.  Only nine hours after news of the shooting broke, this tweet appeared on the NRA’s Twitter feed:

Oops! Why You Shouldn’t Automate Your Social Media

Sure, it seemed all innocent – there’s nothing really controversial about the tweet itself, per se. But as anyone with a pulse can understand, the tweet clashed horribly with the unspeakable violence that had just occurred – and the NRA was left looking cold-hearted, insensitive, and woefully out of touch.

Naturally, while some blamed the NRA for an intentional slight, it became apparent that the NRA had merely scheduled the tweet in advance in what turned out to be an incredibly unfortunate turn of events for the national brand.

The backlash was immense. The NRA was already under fire for the shooting; it was now under fire for its gross negligence in ensuring that its branded communications were appropriate to the occasion.

The culprit? Automated social media.

The Takeaway: When you automate your accounts, who knows what can happen. The world moves quickly, and sometimes, tragic events can leave you in a lurch – and leave your brand vulnerable to the wildfire of negativity the NRA received after the tweet was public. The NRA probably now checks each tweet before it goes out – all because of one wayward tweet two years ago.

Why, Thank You For Your Kind Support!

Automated social media doesn’t just get you in trouble after a tragedy; it also gets you in trouble with people who have taken the time to give you a piece of their mind.
American Airlines found this out the hard way. Last February, it was made known that the airline would respond, automatically, to just about any tweet – even tweets calling the airline very nasty names:

Oops! Why You Shouldn’t Automate Your Social Media

As soon as the news broke, AA was flooded with tweets, most of them naturally vulgar and critical of the airline. It took the social media team behind the account a while to figure it out, and when they did, they tried to backtrack and provide non-automated responses.

Of course, AA got off easy compared to Progressive. A comedian called out Progressive for allegedly defending his sister’s killer in court. His sister died in an auto accident, and Progressive – according to him – helped the defendant’s legal team during the trial.

His barbs at Progressive launched a firestorm of criticism. Progressive, in its infinite wisdom, decided to automate a pithy response to every single comment – effectively ignoring the criticism in a ham-handed attempt to defuse the situation.

Oops! Why You Shouldn’t Automate Your Social Media

The backlash was immense. Progressive was pilloried in the media and online as being incredibly insensitive, not just to the comedian but also to the thousands of people who voiced their frustrations online. It has been over a year, and the company’s reputation online has not yet recovered.

The Takeaway: Responses to people online – especially through social media – should always be genuine. Automating responses to whoever comments, especially in such an insensitive way, is a recipe for complete and utter disaster.

The Main Reason to Avoid Automation

Of course, those horror stories should scare any company away from automation. But there is a bigger reason why you shouldn’t automate your social media marketing – it’s not social.

Automating your social media isn’t a genuine way to foster engagement and conversations. It’s basically broadcasting, and that’s a very inefficient and ineffective way to use social media. Instead, you should be looking to inspire conversation, engage your followers, and build relationships – and you can’t do that with your finger on the big, red, shiny “Automate” button.
Think twice before you schedule that tweet, friends. Reconsider before scheduling that post, amigos. Learn from the past – and make sure your social media is authentically you.


2 thoughts on “Oops! Why You Shouldn’t Automate Your Social Media”

  1. I have been debating the use of Hootsuite recently and I think you just convinced me to throw out the idea except to schedule posts that link to my own blog. I can’t really do them manually when I’m at work. 🙂

    1. Amy, we think Hootsuite is great for scheduling and interacting in one centralized place. It just shouldn’t be used entirely, and shouldn’t be replaced with engagement. Thanks for your comment!

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