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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Brandwatch—the global social media monitoring firm—has just published a comprehensive study that delves deeper into the current state of Twitter

by Ulara Nakagawa

Brandwatch Twitter Report 2012

Brandwatch—the global social media monitoring firm—has just published a comprehensive study that delves deeper into the current state of Twitter.

The report details how 258 of the world’s leading brands are using Twitter in 2012, from the type of activity they are undertaking to the particular tool they are using for publication.

What does it reveal?

  • HootSuite is soaring high in the Twitterverse. After Twitter’s own interface, HootSuite is the most popular tool for businesses managing their social media. The study reveals that while many brands are leaving platforms like TweetDeck and CoTweet, HootSuite has emerged as the leading social media management tool. In fact, according to this study, HootSuite has grown 53% in usership over the past year alone. (TweetDeck is -42%, CoTweet -60%)                                                                              Brandwatch 2012 Report on Twitter - Graph
  • If your business isn’t on Twitter, it should be. Of the 258 businesses surveyed, only 9% DON’T use Twitter. And that number is progressively shrinking. Even for executives who were initially non-believers, social media has become serious business. More than 80 percent of executives now believe their brands can get more sales and bigger market share by using social media, according to a 2012 report from the Economist Intelligence Unit.
  • Twitter lets companies take customer service to a whole new level. 75% of companies use their Twitter accounts both to broadcast and to engage with their audiences. And more and more businesses are using multiple Twitter accounts to interact with their followers. Take Britain’s National Rail, for example, which now has a whopping 27 Twitter accounts. The reason: Companies are realizing the advantages of using unique channels to engage different demographics.

Listen more effectively, and learn to respond to your customers so your brand isn’t lost in the noise of the social web. Read this Info Sheet for tips on how.

  • More isn’t necessarily better? Brand accounts are tweeting notably less frequently than they did in 2011. In 2011, half of the 258 monitored brands tweeted fewer than 19 times per week. In 2012, half tweeted fewer than 7 times a week. Rather than inundating followers with dozens of daily tweets, companies are sending out fewer, more fine-tuned messages to specific demographics.  In other words, applying Twitter is increasingly a science, involving precision analytics and targeting.

What can we learn from these findings?

To maintain a successful brand presence, you should definitely be on Twitter. Engage with your audience using multiple accounts targeted at distinct demographics, instead of using a shotgun approach and blasting everyone with the same content.  And take advantage of analytics to decide who to tweet, when to tweet and what content resonates with your followers.

Most importantly, if you haven’t tried HootSuite yet, it might be time to do so. The data speaks for itself. With one tool, you can manage all your social accounts from one dashboard, schedule Tweets and updates in advance, get instant analytical feedback and more.

Twitter Launches Brand Pages, Forrester’s First Take

Twitter Launches Brand Pages: What it Means for You

Posted by Melissa Parrish on December 9, 2011

Yesterday, Twitter announced the launch of its highly-anticipated brand pages.  The move is being lauded as the next logical step for the social network in attempting to bring its offerings in line with competitive services for companies– like the already-launched Google+ brand pages and the perennial favorite Facebook pages.  But how exactly will the changes help brands or change the way they interact?

First, the the pages offer marketers more branding opportunities.  A large banner on the top of the page will let you show off your logo or other creative without worry that it’ll get lost behind the Twitter stream like your custom background images may on your current pages.

Second, you’ll be able to make a tweet sticky, but pinning it to the top of your stream– with media like photos or videos– for as long as you choose.

These features sound– and are– good news to marketers who’ve wanted better tools to create a destination for their audiences on Twitter.  But remember, the majority of interaction with your followers on Twitter happens in the stream, not on your brand page.  So while these new tools will let you position your Twitter presence better to capture new followers, you still have to have a clear strategy for engaging your followers once you’ve got them…

Which brings me to the change that I think will make the biggest difference to marketers– and it’s not on the brand pages themselves.  The brand pages were launched as part of a general redesign, which includes a feature they’re calling “Discover”.   Think of it as a more robust– and smarter– version of clicking on a hashtag.   Twitter describes it like this, “When you use Discover, you’ll see results reflecting your interests—based on your current location, what you follow and what’s happening in the world. As you use Twitter more, Discover gets even better at serving up more content just for you.”

The content a user explores in Discover will include images and video in-line, creating an experience that almost looks more like Tumblr than the Twitter you’re used to.  All of this means that while the design of your brand pages will be more compelling, the content you create is where you can really have an impact.  If you’re looking to take the fullest advantage of this Twitter redesign, you should be thinking about how you can make your content as compelling and relevant as possible to your audience.

Shocking advice?  Certainly not.  It’s the same principle that successful Twitter marketers have been following for years. (More on that, and other Twitter principles, in an upcoming report.)  But now you can expect that your most creative elements will be seen in the stream– and your most relevant content will be Discovered by more users.  So the biggest change isn’t what you’re doing on Twitter, but rather how seriously you take your Twitter content strategy.

So what do you think, marketers?  Are you excited about the changes?