By Alex Avendano
In Social Media, is “Automation” a Dirty Word?
In a word, no.
For decades, businesses have worked to uncover new ways of communicating with and data mining their customers, and the social media revolution has presented a significant opportunity like never before.
While collection of information is key, the sheer volume can be crippling. Without the right automation procedures in place to support a social media (or broader marketing) team, effective engagement can be very difficult.
Customer relationship management (CRM) is nothing new, but social CRM is an evolving practice that involves capturing and analyzing customer data generated in the social graph, and then delivering that data to sales, marketing, production, and other areas of the business to improve bottom line results.
Social CRM involves taking a highly integrated approach to your digital marketing efforts to deliver real-time data and relevant feedback across the organization.
Automating part of the process isn’t for everyone, but don’t be so quick to rule it out. A recent study from the 2011 holiday season found that 90% of customer service demands generated in the social graph could be handled through automation while 10% required human interaction and response.
Five Keys to successful social engagement automation:
- Do be straight forward and honest about automated responses. When you issue an automated response, identify it as such and give the user a way to escalate it to a live human.
- Focus on automating non-verbal actions (retweet, follow, like, etc.).
- If automating verbal responses, focus on using automation to cure FAQ and other similar issues. For example, if you have a service outage, you could create an automated response to any user that specifically asks about the outage (again with a way to escalate to a customer service representative).
- Don’t use automation as a substitute for customer service.
- Don’t hide behind automation and try to over automate; your users will react negatively.
Technology is Paramount
At the heart of your toolset for social engagement automation is CRM or a good content management system (CMS). Either way, the goal is to identify your users and create a “unified profile.” The Unified Profile represents the collection of information from social sources, your sellers, your website, and other sources that combine to provide a full view of your consumer.
All things considered, social engagement automation is rarely possible (or well executed) using only one tool. The best social engagement automation takes advantage of connected systems to have a full picture of the customer profile and fine-tune messages and actions based on that user’s profile. Additionally, automation is a learned process and doesn’t happen overnight.
Mechanisms should be in place to enable the system to absorb user opt-out, learn what messages are relevant to particular users, and know when to alert live humans that real interaction is needed.
As social media continues to expand and fragment, tools that help you identify and aggregate useful and relevant consumer data will become more and more important.
The topics discussed herein are just the tip of the iceberg, and implementing a robust social CRM and social engagement automation system is complex. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and a successful social CRM system will require trial and error, attention to business requirements, training and willingness to break down department silos.
At the end of the day, businesses need to engage their customers where they are, and right now, that place is social media.
Alex Avendano is director of strategy at Arke, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that bridges the gap between marketing and technology. Founded in 2005, Arke provides business services to more than 100 companies across the U.S. You can reach Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 “Conversocial Update Prioritizes Facebook Wall Posts.” http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-conversocia-2012-01
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