Can you automate social media?

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One of the most common questions I received over the last few days from CEOs and executives was, “Can you automate social media?” The question was asked not out of laziness, but out of trying to be as efficient as possible or being very resource-constrained. The answer is yes and no.

Yes, you can automate social media to an extent. I recently said that automation is one of the keys to success, and the way you tell what can be automated is anything that can be defined as a repeatable process with a predictable outcome. Some things in social media absolutely can be automated. You can automate posting certain static updates; tools like Buffer and Argyle Social do this very well. You can automate the collection and processing of data. Tools like Google Docs and Radian6 do this very well.

The answer is also no in the sense that there are parts of social media that you can’t automate because they fail the rule test of a repeatable process with a predictable outcome. When you sign into Facebook to see what your friends are up to, you’re doing a repeatable process but the outcome is highly unpredictable. Imagine how tasteless it would be to automate an update to every friend saying “Good morning! It’s a great day!” and then going in to read their news feeds and hearing about how someone’s cat died. It wouldn’t be a great day, certainly.

Responding to a prospect’s inquiry about doing business with you? That fails both tests – prospective customer lead generation is highly unpredictable (therefore not a repeatable process) and what they want of you certainly is not a predictable outcome. People want to do business with you for a wild variety of reasons.

The way I explained it to the folks who asked is like living in a house. You can absolutely automate the production of the house and automate a decent number of the tasks within, but you still have to provide the human presence that makes it a home. Someone still has to make decisions about what to cook for dinner, someone still has to read the kids a bedtime story, someone still has to fix that suddenly leaky faucet at 3 AM, someone has to walk the dog or weed the garden or mow the lawn.

Apply the rule test of repeatable process and predictable outcome to all of your social media activities and set the bar high. You’ll find out very quickly what can be automated and what cannot be.

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