23 Jul 2015

Talk Like a Human! 3 Tips for Personalizing Social Media Automation

posted in Traffic

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Like me, I’m sure you’ve had experiences where you’ve called a customer service line to complain about a product or service only to become trapped in a labyrinthine maze of fully-automated responses and options, with nary a human in sight.

At times like these, I generally devolve into a frustrated mess as I scream into the phone, “I want to talk to a f------ human!” (And every once in a while it actually works.)

woman sneering while on phone

Ahh ... The “trapped in automated hell” sneer. I know it well. Source

Most of the time, even after venting (at a robot!), I am left with the feeling that this company intentionally made my life worse by making it impossible to get adequate customer service because that customer service was automated.

Automated customer service lines are but one example of something called marketing automation. Marketing automation is software designed to help automate mundane tasks like sending email or posting on social media or those dreaded customer service lines.

Small businesses are attracted to automation because they are often so short on time or cash that automating stuff like their email or social media profiles instead of managing them personally is too convenient to pass up. A recent survey showed that 98% of SMB are clamoring for more automation software options for their business.

Automation may make running a business easier, but it’s often done at the expense of customers, who get sacrificed on the altar of efficiency.

And no marketing platform is as sensitive to these automation failures as social media.

Because social media is all about actual people connecting in real time to other actual people, the pitfalls of automating your social media are greater — a potential minefield of company embarrassments and PR disasters.

Some thought leaders have even surmised that social media cannot be successfully automated because automation goes against the very essence of how social media functions, or what makes it valuable to us. 

So SMBs are left with a quandary: How can they take advantage of marketing automation without sacrificing consumer satisfaction in the process?

If you’re interested in effectively automating your social media profiles, we’ve come up with three do’s and don’ts of social media automation. To effectively automate your social media management, consider the following:

  • Don’t rely on prefabricated posts if you can help it.

  • Don’t leave your responses on autopilot — they need human oversight.

  • Do stay customer-centric, not business-centric.


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1. Don’t rely on prefabricated posts.

On social media, it can be tempting to rely on tools that generate content rather than craft good content ourselves. Too many marketers and people in business fall into the trap of posting impersonal, robotic content they clearly did not write.

Tools like Buffer and Klout, which have their uses, offer pregenerated posts that provide little by way of personalization.

For example, Buffer offers certain users suggested tweets and posts. One could use them exclusively and never craft a single piece of unique content if they wanted.


example of Buffer suggested content

Apparently, the rules of plagiarism do not apply on social media.

One would think that individuals using these suggested tweets would personalize them in some way rather than using them as is.

But when I searched for the third tweet down from the top (“What Seed Financing Is For”), this is what I discovered:


lazy Twitter users using automated content

Just a sample of the hundreds of people who didn’t bother to personalize borrowed content.

You know what else you can see about these tweets besides their lack of originality? Zero engagement. There are no favorites. No retweets. No responses. Why?

The people above put no effort into their content, and the results were that none of their followers put the effort into responding to that content.

Because with content, what you put into it is generally what you get in terms of audience response. That means if you want an engaged response with your content, you do actually have to put some work or thought into it beforehand.

In the end, using generated tweets defeats your purpose — because trying to actively engage other people on auto-pilot is an oxymoron. You can't outsource authenticity or engagement.

On a personal note, I use — and love — Buffer as a tool to automate scheduling. I never use their suggested posts. If I’m gonna spend my time doing something the old-fashioned way on social media, it’s going to be spent on crafting quality content instead of relying on Buffer’s automated tweets.

And Buffer itself seems to know their automated posts are ineffective — they’re not currently offering them to new users — and they are in the process of phasing them out for longtime users, too.

In a note about the upcoming change, Buffer states that they are axing suggested content because “[they] weren’t able to provide unique enough content for our wonderfully diverse customers”:


ICYMI, this is totally business speak for “our posts were robotic and impersonal and they didn’t get much engagement for users.”

The bottom line is: automated posts stink. Even Buffer thinks so.

Especially since there are other strategies for speeding up content creation that don’t involve borrowing that content from someone else.

If you’re short on time when it comes to social media, you can always use tools like post templates to speed up the creation process.

Kevan Lee at Buffer has a great post on crafting social media updates, and Derek Halpern at Social Triggers has a great piece on catchy Twitter headline formulas.

2. Don’t leave your responses on autopilot — they need human oversight.

Companies use auto-replies, or prefabricated responses, in all sorts of ways. If someone mentions their name on Twitter or sends a direct message to their account, for example, that may trigger an automated response. Companies also use them in promotional campaigns designed to boost engagement with their brand.

The problem with auto-replies is that people don’t pay as close attention to what is being posted as they should. Auto-replies are usually posted without oversight or approval. After all, why reply to every complaint on Twitter when a robot can do it for you?


Fallon having make-up done by robots

“I’ll just sit here while all the robots work their magic.” Source

While convenient, it explains why companies often lack a human touch in their replies to things like customer complaints on social media.

Without oversight, companies don’t always notice when auto-replies have failed. And that is when the PR disasters start.

Case in point: a few years ago, Progressive Insurance was in the news for an auto-reply customer service fiasco. The brother of a Progressive customer who died in a car accident wrote a post about how awful Progressive was when trying to settle his sister’s insurance claims. The post went viral almost overnight, and countless people lashed out by sending angry tweets aimed at Progressive.

Progressive’s response to the criticism?  Identical auto-replies that contained an impersonal, unfeeling message to everyone that complained:


Progressive as soulless robot

“We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations.” Ouch. Source

The fact that a company already in hot water for the uncaring treatment of a customer sent tone deaf auto-replies to critics was not lost on many people (including Wil Wheaton).

The lesson from this? When you automate your social media accounts, make sure that you don’t also automate the humanity right out of them. You need to monitor everything that is posted on your social media accounts — even your auto-responses.

Just because something is automated does not mean that you can ignore it. Kevan Lee over at Buffer has a great analogy for this: “Social media is not a rotisserie oven. Please don’t set it and forget it.”

After all, it may not always seem like it, but we sometimes forget that we are people marketing products made by people to other people. And one thing that people do is talk and act like people — or they should anyway — especially on social media.

So if you can swing it, have a live human responding to all your complaints the way a live human would.

And if you still want to automate, consider auto-responses that contain variation or that sound like an actual person wrote them. Like automated responses in e-mail, auto-responses on social media can have their place — but they’re never a substitute for situations where a human touch is needed.

You might also consider automating some responses to complaints, but not others. For example, you might automate responses to routine, minor problems, but have a live human responding to serious or unusual problems, or to customers that are clearly upset. Just make sure that you use language that makes you sound like a human.


3. Do stay customer-centric, not business-centric.

One of the problems with things like auto-replies or automated phone systems is not just that they are impersonal or irritating, but that they are there to make the company’s life easier — not ours.

In fact, auto-replies make your life harder. They make it harder to get a problem solved. They make it harder to have a sense that the company you buy from actually values you and your business.  

When companies use automation in this way, they’re applying a “me-first” kind of marketing.

This me-centered approach manifests in not just how social is done, but also in what businesses’ content looks like. Me-focused, promotional content designed only to impress followers or make a sale is seemingly everywhere.  

Take automated direct messages on Twitter, for example. Nearly every automated direct message I’ve received on Twitter is distinctly promotional and spammy. Here’s just a few:


Twitter DM spam examples


I don’t know any of the people above, and they don’t know anything about me or my pain points, but I received these automated messages designed to make me interested in them and their products or services anyway. Whether I care about what they are offering — or if I even want an offer at all — is less important to them than having a new opportunity to promote themselves. It’s annoying.

In fact, when I follow someone on Twitter to signal that I am interested in having genuine interaction with them, and they send me a spammy DM in response, I feel sort of betrayed.



This is how I feel when I follow someone on Twitter, and they reply with a DM of spam. Source

Of course, it’s not just that automated direct messages are annoying, but that they are an ineffective sales tactic on social media. Because they send the same message to everyone, it has to be general enough to appeal to everyone.

But I’m not everyone. I’m a distinct human being with distinct interests and personality traits. Because they did not tailor their message to me as a unique person, their messages and sales pitches fall flat. Automated direct messages have a 0% conversion rate, at least where I’m concerned.

So, if you are tempted to send out stuff like automated identical sales pitches to all your friends or followers because it makes your life easier, think again. People hate them, and they’re ineffective.

If you want to send promotional messages on social media, don’t automate them. Tailor each one to the person you are writing to as much as you can. Your message should always be structured with your customer in mind — with what they need, interest, or value.

And always keep in mind that “company first, customer second” is a bad business model to adopt, no matter your business.



If you want to automate your social media accounts, you need to think “engaged management,” and not set-it-and-forget-it. If you want social media management that is run efficiently without losing your grasp on what it means to be social, keep in mind these three do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t rely on prefabricated posts if you can help it.

  • Don’t leave your responses on autopilot — they need human oversight.

  • Do stay customer-centric, not business-centric.

Have any other tips for keeping the human touch in your social media automation that you want to share? Sent me a tweet at @HRodabaugh.



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