What’s Good (and Bad) About Marketing Automation

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Missed our post on best practices for social media automation yesterday? Catch up here.

Much has been discussed on the topic of marketing automation, with conflicting conclusions on its capabilities as an effective and reliable tool for successful lead management.

In a best case scenario, automation equips companies with the tools and tactics to tailor useful and highly personalized content to buyers in the marketplace, thereby converting prospects to customers and nurturing already established relationships. When done correctly, the potential for new revenue generation and an outstanding return on investment is significant.

In recent years, the emergence of the informed, self-educated buyer has led to monumental changes in the way consumer patterns are tracked and purchase decisions are manipulated. Shoppers now have an arsenal of resources at their disposal to guide and empower them as they search online to discover content and products, digest reviews and tap into social referrals and networks–as a result, they are well-equipped to take the helm in all aspects of the buying process.

For companies hoping to reclaim some control in this cycle, marketing automation presents a worthy opportunity by providing detailed insight into a prospective buyer’s digital body language via tracked measures of engagement, such as email clicks, website visits and content downloads. The provision of these indications into a prospect’s readiness to buy allows for the delivery of timely and pertinent marketing messages that accelerates decision-making processes.

The influence of social media in this realm is particularly noteworthy, owing to buyers’ abilities to use these platforms to understand their options and refine their preferences. As described in a recent Forbes article, ‘How Social Media Can Elevate Your Marketing Automation’, because marketing automation aims to nurture leads until the point that they are deemed sales-ready, social media can play a key role in allowing companies to slowly build relationships of trust and authority, while ensuring brand recognition and relevance and availing customers of company offerings. Using this approach, companies are able to publish marketing and sales material on popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to promote consumer engagement and to open the channels of communication. Consequently, social media marketing automation has seen wide adoptability in a variety of business settings due to the relative ease with which triggered messages to help lead progress along the sales funnel can be implemented.

The Good

Through much of the discussion surrounding social media automation, marketing experts have reached a consensus on a number of benefits afforded by this solution— including, but not limited to the following:

Lead Generation and Management

Statistics show that companies automating lead management see a 10+ percent revenue increase within 6 to 9 months. Furthermore, 44 percent of companies using automation in their marketing strategies see a return on investment within 6 months— 75 percent within 12 months. Because consumers often use social media to assist them in determining the legitimacy and reputation of a business during the purchasing process, social media marketing automation presents an efficient and scalable approach to lead generating and nurturing activities. Furthermore, a well-executed social media marketing automation strategy affords businesses numerous opportunities to attain an expansive reach on new consumers and to enhance customer retention efforts.

Time-Saving Rewards

Chief among known advantages of automating social media activities, are the time-saving aspects of the process. Social automation can aid companies in sharing their most popular content more often, facilitate the ability to crowdsource content and reduce the devotion of precious manpower to these tasks, therefore allowing marketing teams to focus on other pressing matters. With the ability to seemingly control time, social media posts can be scheduled for around-the-clock dissemination, which ensures that a company maintains a consistent online presence. Using the appropriate tool, and with a cautious approach, companies can post well into the future— up to days, weeks, and months away.

Scalability

Along with investments in time, added benefits of auto-scheduling social media posts include, increased online traffic, the ability to target multiple time zones and the opportunity to build social media marketing intelligence by determining what garners the most interest among an audience. The potential for marketing intelligence is further bolstered with the capacity of automation to link social posts to marketing promotions; this provides companies with a comprehensive view of how prospects are interacting with posts and the number of leads being generated as a result of their social media campaigns. By tracking interactions with social media content, companies can ultimately guide prospects as they progress through the conversion funnel. Additionally, the cross-platform exposure that automation guarantees is further indication of its advantages; such repeated exposure increases brand familiarity— a key measure of social media success. Overall, effective social media automation has great implications in organizing and strengthening a company’s online marketing strategy, while supporting the flexibility to meet marketing demands.

The Bad

However; despite noted advantages, experts agree that automation in social media marketing is impacted by several notable limitations:

Poor Timing

Arguably representing the greatest challenge, is timing, which can be characterized as both a gift and a curse. As mentioned above, prescheduled delivery of posts can alleviate operational burdens and yield measurable results even in the absence of available resources; however, caution and deliberation is warranted when using this approach. Many companies have learned first-hand that ill-timed social interactions can have often embarrassing and sometimes disastrous outcomes. Whether incorporating trending “hashtags” deemed inappropriate at certain periods in time, as seen with baked goods manufacturer Entenmann’s use of the “not guilty” hashtag during the controversial Casey Anthony verdict and online clothier Celeb Boutique’s use of the “Aurora” hashtag during the Aurora, Colorado shootings, or promoting products during times of tragedy or unrest, as demonstrated by the culinary website, Epicurious during the Boston Marathon bombings, it is evident that careful consideration of timing when using social media automation is key.

Ineffective and Inappropriate Messages

Similarly, the appropriateness or relevance of the message that is automated is of importance and often goes hand in hand with timing. It is worthy to remember that at its core, social media is a human experience and that not everything that can be automated, should be automated. In following, automating specific types of messages can prove ineffective, particularly those tailored to customer feedback and experiences, as seen in the case of US Airways, whose response to a disgruntled customer highlights this issue.

Too Much Automation

A complete reliance on automation in social media marketing is a catalyst for failure and this tactic should only be used to enhance and not replace genuine social media interaction. After all, it is well-established that two-way communication is the cornerstone of good social media marketing and a significant portion of social media marketing requires a human presence to consider target audience, or to assess the situation. Impersonal and generic automated interactions can have grave consequences for companies who fail to apply caution when dealing with sensitive issues. Take the example of auto insurance company Progressive, who indiscriminately sent out the same, emotionless response to angry critics of their handling of a case involving the death of an individual. In response, Progressive lost thousands of its customers and saw a sharp plunge in its YouGov Brand Index, which measures consumer brand perception.

The take-home message here is that social media is a conversation requiring the efforts of two involved parties. By finding the correct balance between timing, appropriateness and tailored engagement, inadvertent pitfalls in automation can be avoided.

Over to you: have you experimented with marketing automation? How was your experience? Let us know in comments below or on Twitter.

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