Google Dreams of a Bot That Will
Take Over Your Brand’s Twitter.
Should You Let It?

In his new book, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,” Gary Vaynerchuk equates social media marketing with boxing. Everyone wants to land a big right hook heard ’round the world, but that only works if you’ve set yourself up with a series of strategic (and content-rich) jabs.

Of course, all that jabbing tires marketers out, and that’s what’s driven the rise of social marketing automation. Tools like HootSuite, Buffer and Nimble let you schedule your jabs, and now, Google wants to build a bot that the search giant says will do all your jabbing for you. Google’s new patent describes a bot that can replicate a person or brand’s voice, posting updates and replies on social media for them.

This may sound like a dystopian nightmare or a marketer’s dream world, depending on who you ask. But it brings up a lot of big questions about what the role of automation should be in the brand publishing age.

There’s no doubt that marketing automation tools can go a long way towards keeping marketers jabs on schedule, freeing them up to work on that big right hook. But it doesn’t come without risks. Automation risks turning brands into a behind-the-cycle, lifeless broadcasters, and removes them from what Meridian apps CMO Jeff Hardison calls the ultimate, idealistic approach to marketing: high-touch.

In sectors like retail, e-commerce, hospitality and consumer technology, a high-touch approach to social media can serve as an essential ingredient in the brand’s overall communications plan. AT&T has built a lot of good will thanks to its customer service on Twitter.

In his book, Vaynerchuk talks about how his original YouTube tasting series for WineLibrary.com worked because it was natively crafted to the platform and constantly incorporated user feedback and interaction. Vaynerchuk is a big believer in the power of one-on-one communication. The WineLibrary Twitter has an extremely high ratio of “at replies” to broadcast tweets. This is what Vaynerchuk calls “scaling one-to-one.”

When you compare Vaynerchuk’s warm and friendly approach to the dry thought leadership-driven approach of some business-to-business IT companies, it’s pretty stark. Many of the big boys’ feeds are rich with links to brand-produced content, but there’s almost zero customer interaction, seemingly by design. Vaynerchuk might say that they’re forgetting that they’re allowed to jab with both hands.

Should marketers automate social media activity just because they can? “Marketing automation was designed to reduce overall headcount in the sales and marketing department, but that doesn’t mean it translates well into social media marketing automation,” says Kent Lewis, founder and president of Anvil Media. “The two are different beasts, although they can play well together.”

Planning in itself isn’t the problem, in Lewis’ mind. Rather, it’s planning well. “Just because you are planning out conversations in advance, doesn’t meant they can’t be heart felt, humorous or profound,” he says.

Lewis believes the future of marketing automation will rely on making it an inherently human process, and that means adapting the way you would in a real-life conversation. “This may mean not over-building conversations at the start,” he says, “and taking more of an adaptive, real-time approach to better meet the needs of prospects.”

They key? Lewis suggests hiring a good writer or team of writers to create content that is timely, relevant, unique and approachable.

The underlying message is clear—put the tools of automation in the hands of highly skilled writers, editors and customer care professionals to help them tell better stories and engage with more people. But don’t confuse the tools with the work that needs to be done. And follow some classic sci-fi advice: Don’t hire a machine to do a human job.

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