Why I stopped social media automation in favor of real networking

Why I stopped social media automation in favor of real networking

For a few years I put all my personal social media channels on autopilot. That helped them grow, especially my Twitter account. But as a result I was no longer using most of my social media channels at all. A few days ago I finally pulled the plug and took the wheel again. Here’s why.

How I came to using social media automation tools

Back in late 2014—or was it early 2015?—when I took care of my then employer’s social media channels, growth was one of the goals I pursued. This made sense at that time because those social media accounts had a quite limited reach. But to utilize them as part of a B2B inbound marketing strategy, a fair amount of social media using members of our target group had to know these channels and subscribe to them.

I managed to grow my then employer’s accounts on the relevant social media platforms by posting quite a lot of relevant content on a regular basis—among other tactics. I can’t remember all the numbers, but it worked. The Twitter account for example grew from around 500 followers to over 20,000 real and relevant followers over the course of two years.

With a growing audience and a growing set of evergreen content—public blog articles as well as form-gated white papers and webinar recordings—it made sense to use our social media channels to promote this evergreen content on a regular basis. There were always new people who were interested in those pieces of content. Doing this manually wouldn’t have been efficient. That’s why I used SocialOomph to set up recurring queues of postings (including several variations of the same posting, so that it didn’t look robotic).

Social media automation itself is not bad

In contrast to what this article’s headline might imply, automation tools for social media can be used very beneficial without being spammy or looking bogus. Let me tell you how I used the above mentioned tool SocialOomph to make my social media marketing activities more efficient.

By setting up several queues with different schedules and different topics (e. g. links to our own evergreen blog articles, weekly changing links to other people’s topic-relevant articles, promotion of our own events and lead generation content, etc.) for the same social media accounts, I was able to post a lot of content on a regular basis. However, using a social media automation tool allowed me to maintain a well-balanced editorial-promotional ratio and make everything look natural. Every now and then we added visual postings reporting on conferences, media-mentions or our daily work.

So it was a good and useful mixture for our followers and fans. And it was time-efficient for me. This is important if you are responsible for a company’s online marketing activities and therefore taking care of the social media channels is just one of many tasks.

But I took social media automation too far

Because it worked well for the company’s social media accounts, I had the idea to use something similar for my own accounts, too. This seemed to be the perfect solution because I had not much time for social media activities, but wanted to be present on all of the major social networks. That’s why I took the idea of automation even further and put everything on autopilot.

This was my setup: Using IFTTT I fed two or three dozen RSS feeds of well-known blogs—most of which I actually read if I found the time—into my Buffer account and turned the scheduling knob up to eleven: If I remember correctly I had three or four postings per day on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ as well as 16 (sometimes even up to a whopping 24) Tweets per day. All of these posts were set up to meet optimal publishing times for various time zones around the globe. My social media bots were pretty much posting all around the clock on my behalf.

At the end of the day it didn’t do much for me

Putting my personal social media channels on autopilot worked in terms of reach, especially on Twitter. The Tweet impressions skyrocketed—at least for my standards. But overall the complete automation of all my social media channels made me lazy. Finally I didn’t touch most of my channels at all. I almost forgot them. Facebook was pretty much the only social media platform I actually used for more than two years.

Worst of all: It didn’t do much for me. Since I was not responsive and had no own blog to promote at that time, I “used” my social media reach only to promote other people’s content. So there were neither positive networking effects for me—since I was not personally involved—nor did I benefit from the reach with regard to traffic for any kind of own content.

Some negative effects were noticeable. People I knew personally did no longer follow me on Twitter or read my LinkedIn postings because my posting frequency was much too high and it felt a bit like spam for them. I also realized that it is not a good idea to share—or have some software do it on your behalf—content you haven’t at least skimmed through. It doesn’t look good if people call you on something you shared via your social media channels—and you have absolutely no idea what was going on there for the last days or weeks. This actually happened to me, even a few times.

Starting over, focusing on quality instead of quantity

A few days ago I finally pulled the plug and stopped all automated publishing activities on my personal social media channels. I still use a tool to schedule my social media postings. After I used Buffer for years, I switched to Post Planner. I think I’m going to publish a separate article with additional insights and some experiences. But Post Planner is only a little helper. I limited the number of postings per day to a reasonable amount. And each posting published via Post Planner is a posting I personally created. So there is no content-wise automation involved, just a bit of scheduling.

If you see a social media channel with my name and image on the profile page, you can now be sure again that it’s actually me who is posting, reading and reacting.

Just as in the early days of Twitter and Facebook—when we called it “web 2.0”—I want to focus on quality and real networking again. I’m interested in building real connections with real people, using social media as one way to connect. Perhaps I’ll even start ing out to one interesting person per day, as Molly Beck describes in her book “Reach Out”. Of course I will continue to use my social media reach to promote my own content. But that’s a side effect and not my main focus.

What I’ve learned

Basically I’ve learned three things:

  1. Social media automation works and can be a good thing if it’s used in a reasonable way.

  2. Social media automation tools are great helpers to run social media accounts for a brand or a company.

  3. There is a big difference between corporate social media channels and personal social media accounts. As an example: It is perfectly fine for a globally operating company to tweet 16 or more times per day, all around the clock. But the same thing might look unnatural or even spammy for a real person’s Twitter account. While people know that a company’s or brand’s social media presence is typically run by a team, they still assume that a person’s account is run by this person—unless it’s a famous VIP. And a person has only a limited time for social media activities, has to sleep and typically reacts on social interactions like comments, queries, etc. That’s why applying the same tactics which work for corporate social media channels to personal social media accounts, may not always be the best idea.

And while social media automation itself can make sense if you manage a company’s or brand’s social media accounts, don’t be fooled into making the same mistakes I described above. Because some of my learnings apply to corporate social media accounts, too. I recommend reading Tyler Abbott’s article “7 Signs It’s Time to Reevaluate Your Social Media Strategy”.

What are your experiences with scheduling tools for social media or social media automation tools like SocialOomph, MeetEdgar, Hiplay, SocialJukebox, Post Planner or Tailwind? Do you use such a tool? And if yes, how do you integrate it into your social media strategy?