Embrace Your Inner Robot: Social Marketing Automation Done Right @ #SESNY

Welcome back to AIMCLEAR‘s coverage of #SESNY 2012! “Automate Social Media.” To some community managers, that’s the same as saying, “Kill Puppy Dogs” or “French Kiss a Circuit Board.” Uh, something like that, anyway. Point is – social media is typically regarded as the more humanistic side, the engaging side, the ushy-mushy side of an industry that’s otherwise all about selling. Social media means smiley faces and tweeting with friendly friends and sharing twitpics of pussy cats and daffodils– it’s about real people connecting with real people. So why the heck are you trying to bring in robots to automate the process and steal our jobs?!…is some community managers’ question…

The fact is, social marketing automation isn’t the bubonic plague and it isn’t a job stealer. It’s the deep community manager’s ally, and it’s essential (or in the very least, quite useful) for companies eager to dip its hands in social media but conscious about the ultimate ROI. Social marketing automation doesn’t mean putting a robot at the desk and turning operations over to him her it 24/7. That is social marketing suicide. But there are a ton of tools out there that automate, ergo help streamline, some of the more tedious, repetitive tasks community managers face, such as scheduling tweets and Facebook posts. That doesn’t sound to scary, does it?

(And yes, there are bots that brave/foolish marketers can create to aid them on their social marketing mission as well. That’s a horse of a different color, but it’s still a horse, after all.)

The afternoon of Day 2 at #SESNY brought together an esteemed panel of gentlemen wearing various shades of white-ish grey-ish hats, ready to share their social marketing automation best practice… along with some edgy tactics not for the faint of heart. Moderator Laura Roth, Conference Program & Training Manager, SES Conference & Expo, hosted speakers Jonathan Allen, Director, Search Engine Watch, Michael Gray, Owner, Atlas Web Service, and Paul Madden, Owner, Automica Limited for this titillating session. Read on for the takeaways.

Michael Gray (Graywolf) was up first. “Social media gurus are like hippies,” he began. When they think of social media, they’re of the mindset that “it’s all about the conversation, maaaaaaaan.” Michael says that’s B.S.

So… what’s social media really about?

  1. Customer service: answering questions, solving problems for current/potential customers
  2. Demonstrate expertise: post articles, info, tips, links from you & others, that show you are an expert in your field. Post content that teach people, are interactive, thought provoking, interesting, or in some way noteworthy.
  3. Content marketing: use social media as a channel to push viral, link worthy or shareable content.
  4. Reward followers: with sales promotions special offers or other things that are of value to the consumer.
  5. No one really wants to be your friend: 40% want to receive discounts, 36% want a freebie (via eMarketer).

How Much of a Bot Can You Be?

  • Manage the expectations properly. If people start following you expecting you to post directly and they find out your’e a bot, they will be disappointed. If people start following you expecting you to be a bot and you’re human, they will be equally disappointed.
  • Think about how much human interaction you can and want to give.
  • Leverage useful automation tools that aid you (the human!) in your social media duties. Tools that schedule tweets, etc.

So You Want to Start a Bot
Michael had some tips and words of advise for marketers interested in creating a bot…

  • Getting past the first 2k followers is the big hurdle – that’s when an account is most vulnerable.
  • New accounts need to be very careful when using automated tools. Don’t mess around or you risk getting your IP banned!
  • Never increase/decrease more than 10% of your followers per day.
  • Wanna go legit? Use PPC, FB ads, contests, incentives, gift cards to grow your following naturally.
  • Avoid automated direct messages. Automated direct messages are disgusting.
  • Add value as a bot – people follow bots because they get value from direct access to info they want

Signal to Noise Ratio
Michael pointed out that with bots and on Twitter in general, there is a very high Signal to Noise ratio. His tips are to:

  • Determine how many times you want to tweet on an average day
  • Find a balance between too much and too little
  • Don’t only be self-serving– push out other people’s links and content, too! (sharing is caring…besides, it’s refreshing)
  • Stay on topic – bots have a lot less editorial freedom

Automate & Schedule!

  • Use RSS feeds to set up a body of interesting links – this is the content you will pull form
  • Schedule these links throughout the day/week/month
  • Leverage conventions like Photo of the Day! or other series… you can schedule these in advance
  • Retweet your archives or best posts… heck, why not?

“In my personal opinion, Google and Bing are both using social signals to determine the quality of your site.”

The more content pointing back to your site floating around in cyberspace, the cooler it may appear to search engines.

WARNING WARNING: Danger Tactics Ahead

How to Create Fake Profiles

  • Get a series of pictures (10-20) from real people– go on Craigslist, Dailybooth, or a similar site, and pay someone / some people $10-25 to snap some ambiguous photos of themselves for you to use as avatars. (Photos of real people work so much better than cartoon avatars.)
  • Set up fake profiles on multiple services and interlink them – Foursquare, Facebook, etc.
  • Give your fake people reasonable but forgettable profile info.
  • Set up a data sheet, give them mainstream likes & dislikes (loves Glee, doesn’t like horror movies, etc.)
  • Come up with 30-50 nonsense filler tweets (“Going to dinner!” “Going to the movies!” “In a bitch fight with Sally!”)

Tips to Grow Your New Account

  • Tweet links to NON SELF SERVE stuff
  • RT most self serving links of power users in your vertical
  • Help solve people’s problems
  • Engage w/ users, esp people who @ mention you
  • Don’t be a robot – tweet the occasional boring off the cuff slice of life information

Tips to Make Your Bot Look Real

  • Follow people who autofollow to seed your account
  • Keep account followers low (<5k)
  • Check in on 4sq, update on FB
  • Have fake personalities go out and be photographed with each other… (okay, that one seems a little weird)
  • Don’t post a lot of links, don’t post only self interested links
  • All in all, make your fake profiles awesome 🙂

Closing words from Michael: “Be politically incorrect, be awesome, be authentic!”

Jonathan Allen was up next to talk about how to automate social media processes but remain human. Here are some of the top takeaways from his preso:

Social media is inherently social, but the net has transformed audiences from passive consumers to active participants in the distribution of information.

  • The bad news is ultimately you can’t automate social media without breaking the social media code of conduct. Automation is antithetical to what social media is really about. There is no silver bullet. But… social media is too time consuming with few obvious benefits.
  • The good news is there are a series of techniques to help you develop automatic responses that will reduce the time spent on social media and increase your productivity. You don’t have to be deceptive – if you must automate, be upfront about it – users will understand. Some routines can be genuinely useful and productive.

Too Many Networks!
There are so many social networks out there now, which is great! But it can become a problem when you post the same message across 7 different networks– it makes for a tedious experience to your users. But generating a unique message to every network is a timesink. You can’t possible listen to everything. Jonathan recommended “picking out your conversations” and moving forward from there– differentiating messages with little touches.

Time-Saving Tips:

  • Create social habits that fit into your day
  • Automate as much as you can so you can run social media counts from your phone (save searches, hashtags, etc.)
  • Contributing to the conversations – reply to inbound communication as fast as possible, use feeds to create alert channels for your users, promote users who share content with opinion

Cross Promote Appropriately!

  • Leverage tools such as IFTT (If This, Then That), Buffer, Selective Tweets, Echo, Janrain, Twitterfeed to automate cross-promotion in various social channels.

Get Down ‘N Dirty with Analytics

  • Use analytics to better understand social visits
  • Add custom segments to display changes in course month on month

Jonathan turned the mic over to Paul Madden who rounded out the sessions.

Why Automate?
The ROI on social media can sometimes be challenging without the same ability to measure success we have in other marketing disciplines. Social media success is about the number of opportunities to engage. That means having more opportunity to put the message in front of more people. But increasing the volume of account posts means more people, more employees you have to hire to get it done. Employees cost money. So what’s the solution?

You have to find a way to achieve the same thing cheaper, faster, and easier.

Enter stage right: Automation.

Options For Creating Volume:

  • Create production line of content suitable to audience
  • Use tools to help keep the flow of information posting
  • Look for opportunity sot grow our reach
  • If all else fails – we go dark and spumy.

Tools to Use

  • Socialoomph: Creates reservoirs of updates, set them to drop into your accounts every min / hour / day. Have it email you when they run out, have people refill them. $35 / month
  • Tweetadder: Loads of tools to help automate following. Follow people based on KWs and combo of KWs, location, followers of other people, and lists. If they don’t follow back, let unfollow them. Potentially allows you to post by “web” in lieu of “app”. Need to run on Windows machine 24×7. Paul recommends getting a VPS where they allow RDP. Accuwebhosting.com $15/month is a fine RDP Windows host.
  • SocialEnhancer: Currently in beta. Export via CSX, XML, etc. auto reply based on KW, great way to view who’s talking about you in thread form.
  • Make your own custom app: Not as hard as you think. Post a job on oDesk, $100, if you want it a bit more advanced expect to pay about $200, even still more advanced, around $750.

The Psychology of Social Media
How is automation received? What’s the tolerance for automation? Some is hard, some is easy. Facebook is hard – it’s not so easy to to friend people with a fake account because most people don’t befriend folks they don’t know. Google+? Paul asked, “What’s the point?” Twitter is the best bang for your buck, according to Paul.

Frequency Tips for Volume of Tweets

  • No more than 2-3 updates per day on Facebook
  • Twitter – 12-20 updates / day is totally legit

Now… time to get spammy…

WARNING: Creating fake accounts can be illegal in some justrinitctions, going it wrongly could be fraud. automate the accounts of real people if you don’t want to get caught.

Being Influential Without the Work

  • Create as many account or pages as you can that talk to a niche part of your audience.
  • Segment different things for different audiences.
  • Create an automated stream of updates for those accounts.
  • Forge agreements or friendships with people who are active in the niche, share stuff.

Making Better Army of Bots
What would a person look like?

  • He / she’d have a background, bio, avatar, followers, followees, etc.
  • He / she’d tweet about day to day stuff, tweet often, interact with others
  • Indicate the use of other social accounts

Overall Tip: Don’t stand out from the crowd.

Fake Account Creation
Paul noted someone on oDesk can do this for for you at the average price of $50 / 100 accounts. Don’t use real names. Use fake names, nicknames, like “katsterr” or “MarcoP”. NEVER use numbers. Steve23983 looks fake from the get-go.

Paul’s team builds two types of accounts:

  • Type A: The Realistic account, stand up to all scrutiny – influencing and broadcast.
  • Type B: Volume accounts that pass a clank – drip feeding msgs, SEO and volume.

Create a social media stylesheet that features your fake accounts’ name, handle, username, PW – picture, interests, hobbies, etc. Like Michael, Paul recommended clear, consistent avatars – not cartoons.

Signals of Trust – Making your Account More Believable

  • Add #in and #fb in automated tweets – this gives the idea looks like linekdin and FB account
  • Add fake 4sq checkins to your automated tweets…
  • Checkin at a place where soon influential is mayor and use this as a way to befriend them
  • Process – create A and B accounts, make them look real, add base followers, add tweets (generic and passive hooks)
  • Add tweets to good content
  • Make friends, broadcast your messages, ask friends to RT or post for you

Final Words of Advice from Paul:

  • This is social media – don’t do anything antisocial
  • All engagement must be human to human
  • Create low cost infrastructure of updates that never stop flowing
  • Spend time developing relationships
  • Remember – people are nice – they do what you ask them to do

And there you have it! Social automation doesn’t have to be the big black cloud that hangs over community management. It can be your true friend, if you leverage it properly. Big thanks to the panelists for sharing tip-top tactics on this somewhat sensitive subject. Stick around AIMCLEAR blog for more coverage live from #SESNY 2012!

photo credit: AndyWilson

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