On a Friday Morning in July of 2012, the NRA (National Rifle Association) tweeted, “Good Morning Shooters, Happy Friday.” What would’ve been an appropriate tweet on most days wasn’t on this morning. Because at midnight the previous evening a shooter had opened fire in a theater in Aurora Colorado. The tweet was later taken down. So was it scheduled? Probably. Was it meant to be offensive? Absolutely not. Did it affect the brand adversely? It didn’t help. Unchecked social media automation and scheduling can hurt your brand.

Social Media Automation is Up in the Air

American Air used automation to reply to any tweet that mentioned them with, “Thanks for your support.” I’m confident the automation seemed nothing more than a time-saving tool. However, the auto reply responded to insults, complaints, and name calling with, “Thanks for your support.”

Unchecked social media automation and scheduling can lead to social media disaster.

What’s the Difference Between Social Media Automation and Scheduling?

With automation human involvement is limited. For example, IFTTT (If This Then That) creates a social media recipe that automatically follows your instructions. For example, IFTTT can be set to tweet your Facebook updates. In another example, Tweepi will identify, connect, and interact with twitter followers. The human involved forms the recipe and sets parameters, but the application takes over.

In scheduling the person maintains control of searches whether it’s to find followers, vet content to share, or respond to inquiries and mentions. As has been proven time after time unmonitored scheduling can lead to problems.

The Pros

The most obvious pro for automation is time savings. A task that might take a human several hours to complete takes seconds with automation. With automation it’s possible to search a wider database than any one human working alone.

Scheduling allows people to vet any and all content. For example, there was a social media paper that often shared our blog content. If an automated response had been set to retweet those mentions, I wouldn’t have known a porn site had hijacked the paper.

The Cons

The biggest con for automation is the lack of control, which may lead to sharing of inappropriate content.

For scheduling, the downside is the time it takes to find and vet content as well as the limited reach of human controlled search.

Caution Handle with Care

Whether social media is being scheduled or automated, there are precautions to follow that help a social media marketing campaign avoid shooting itself in the foot.

Oversee it don’t turn it over – Had American Air monitored their tweets they would never have responded to insults as they did. Whether social media is automated or scheduled humans need to follow it.

Test and audit – Don’t set up an automation recipe and leave it to a life of its own. Track it, analyze it, and tweak it. Set up an A/B test scheduling. Determine the best time to post your new blog on Facebook. Learn when you should tweet to reach a specific time zone and demographic.

Know what’s going on – Not only with your social media but in the world. If the NRA had been aware of the scheduled tweet with what was going on in Colorado, I’m certain they wouldn’t have tweeted the ill-fated message.

Don’t stop listening – Scheduling or automation shouldn’t mean abandonment. Put the social in social media by responding to likes, shares, mentions, and retweets. Putting the Social in Social Media

And one more thing – Please don’t automate private messages. This may not be scientific, but I haven’t met one person who looks upon automated private messages favorably.

Should you Automate, Schedule, or Both?

Should you automate or schedule? Depending on the size of your social media market efforts probably some of both, but the key is to manage it. Automation or scheduling left on its own without monitoring is a formula for a social media nightmare. What automation do you use? What social media do you schedule?

Are you interested in reading more about social media marketing? Try this, Ten Terrible Pieces of Social Media Advice