Is the Automation of Social Media Inevitable?

Is the Automation of Social Media Inevitable?

September 06, 2012 by Pam Kostka

Originally considered marketing’s domain, social media is becoming an important customer engagement channel across all functions including sales and support.  Already struggling under the volume of social media conversations, this functional expansion of social media presents an even bigger challenge.

Most companies today deploy technologies to listen and monitor consumer sentiment through social media, but they lack the ability to respond in a quick, accurate, and personalized way.  In addition, social media is under pressure to deliver ROI and in order for businesses to continue to expand investments in social media, they have to justify the costs.

Meanwhile, the demands of the consumer continues to grow.  Accordingly to a recent Oracle survey:

  • 16 percent of Facebook users and 30 percent of Twitter users expect a response in less than 30 minutes.
  • 43 percent said that a direct response to their questions is most important at a social media site, but 31 percent expect direct access to a customer service representative (CSR).

With only 5 percent of today’s inquiries being answered at all, much less than within 30 minutes or via direct access to a CSR, the reality is that there is a huge divide between what consumers want, and what businesses are currently delivering.

Recognizing the need to address social media questions and complaints seriously; and actually managing the sheer volume of communication streaming through Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are quite different.  Providing a personal, engaging response to a customer’s needs, while minimizing the intensive, manual effort inherent in social media are seemingly two conflicting goals.  According to MarketTools, nearly one quarter of existing businesses offer customer support via Facebook, but most are still working toward an effective strategy to answer customers quickly and use feedback to improve business processes.

So the million dollar social media question becomes:  How does a company deflect costs and save time, yet provide a personalized, automated channel that engages customers and resolves their issues.

According to Altimeter analyst Jeremiah Owyang, the answer will be the automation of social.  In a recent post, Jeremiah highlights four types of social media automation technologies:

  1. Content Publishing on Timer: At a basic level, we already see dozens of social media management system providers like Hootsuite, Expion, Awareness, Argyle, Shoutlet enable brands to publish content on timer, many of these providers will climb into the following use cases.
  2. Social Content Optimization: Now, we’re seeing a few companies emerge that can optimize content by starting with analysis of content and developing intelligence, vendors such as SocialFlow, CrowdBooster, Prosodic, and Adobe Social that match what’s being said and time content to publish at the right time to the right people.
  3. Proactive Response:  Soon, we’ll see vendors that will apply technology from Virtual Agent Software, like VirtuOz, who tell me they’ll launch automated tools beyond chat agents, and now deploy in Facebook and Twitter streams to support brand interactions.
  4. Human-like Relationships:  While on the distant horizon, artificial intelligence agents will simulate human behavior and be a guiding agent, conversationalist, and act like a real world concierge, host, and for some, even a friend. Assume Wolfram Alpha, IBM, and others working on AI will seek to pioneer this front.

While the automation of social is still an emerging market, a few early adopters are doing the “unthinkable.”  Certainly a controversial violation of the very essence of the social network, for businesses, the automation of social is an attractive alternative to hiring an army of contractors to answer tweets and Facebook posts. Throwing human-capital at the problem is both cost prohibitive and simply won’t scale.  On the flip side, we expect many consumers to be up in arms at the prospect of the automation of social, but aren’t they the one’s driving the demand for a faster, personal, yet always on world?

Realistically, the likelihood that hundreds or thousands of people have the same question is pretty high, right?  Then why not let automation provide a faster answer (in seconds or minutes) so that when a more difficult inquiry comes along, the consumer can get the focused, human attention necessary. Seems like a win-win for both the consumer and businesses. But before your company jumps on the social media automation bandwagon, one big caveat:  you have to do the automation right, not just for the cost savings, but also for the customer experience.  Done wrong, automation can do more harm than good as was the case with Progressive in which an automated tweet sparked a social media crisis.

The bottom line is that businesses are for profit, and they will always look for ways to meet their business objectives, while cutting costs. So if automation is the answer, then businesses will do it, but they will have to balance their operational goals with those of the customer or risk losing current and future revenue.

Only time will tell whether or not automation will become an integral part of the social media fabric.  Is the automation of social inevitable? Take a minute to tell us what you think!

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