Note: This is a guest post from Kayleigh Alexandra of MicroStartups
Ever since the social media boom, trying to make it as a high-level content marketer with nothing but manual effort on your side has been a futile endeavor. The demand is too high, the pace is too quick, the formats are too varied, and the channels are too many. You might as well be trying to compete at Whac-A-Mole with a toothpick.
Naturally, every content marketer with some degree of sense turns to automation, a tactic that has grown swiftly alongside online business as a whole. By identifying elements of your content production and distribution process that can be handled through software processes, you can save a huge amount of time that’s better spent on complex tasks.
However, automation isn’t a catch-all on/off process that you can just enable and forget about. It’s something that requires smart planning, careful implementation, and a lot of manual work along the way — both to prepare it and to maintain it once it’s up and running.
There’s a lot that can go wrong along the way, reducing the effect of the automation or even causing damage. If you want to add automation to your content strategy, you need to know the pitfalls so you can avoid them. Here are 7 common automation fails you need to guard against:
Coming across as robotic
Rolling out content in batches demands the use of shortcuts: reusing content where possible, reworking specific elements, and using dynamic personalization tags (more on that later). When too much of a piece of content stems from this assembly process, it leads to the copy coming across as extremely robotic. This isn’t necessarily disastrous, but it’s far from ideal — it’s generally preferable for a business to come across as personable.
Never forget that automation has an amplifying effect more than anything else, so look at your content right now. Is it impressive, or fairly dull? If it’s dull, then do something to address that before you start automating, because massively scaling up the distribution of mediocre content is a huge waste of time and effort.
Getting personalization wrong
Using automation to fill in the blanks in templates is great for speeding up promotional efforts when content marketing. Using someone’s first name presents a touch of humanity (albeit an artificial one), or at least it can when it’s done well. When you get it wrong, it can be extremely embarrassing: imagine sending out a batch of emails, each one starting with “Hello Firstname!”.
When you get personalization wrong, it not only makes you look foolish, but it also highlights the artificiality of all your efforts at personalization. Sure, people know that they’re not being sent manually-typed individual emails, but they like to suspend disbelief somewhat. When such an obvious mistake is made, that suspension is shattered.
Building on outdated systems
Automation can be cobbled together using makeshift integrations with unsophisticated systems, but it adds time and effort to the entire process, and can easily leave basic issues that frustrate you in perpetuity. The more advanced your foundational systems are (those being things like your website CMS and your content creation tools), the more easily you’ll be able to automate.
Imagine a business running on an unusual customized CMS that hasn’t been updated for a year. If it tries to start automating content distribution, it might not work properly, and even if it does, it won’t use a procedure that can easily be maintained in the future. Done correctly, the process of mapping out automation sequences should set you up for years of use.
Overlooking useful platforms
Particularly using tools like Zapier, it’s fairly easy to link different platforms together, so there’s no good reason not to consider any and every channel available to you. Don’t make the common mistake of assuming that it’s best to focus on just one platform: if you can automate the templated version of a post to be reformatted and distributed on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and other such platforms, then why not do it? As long as you don’t go overboard with the frequency, it should be useful.
You should also be open-minded when selecting and using platforms to create and distribute content. For instance, there’s little reason not to experiment with handy plugins. When you’re writing blog content, how are you assembling it? Are you using proofreading plugins to smooth things along, free SEO plugins like Yoast to help win you search rankings, and email suites to seamlessly update your newsletter subscribers? You certainly should be.
Furthermore, are you aware that many coaches offer consultancy packages through landing pages and build traffic to them through automated PPC? It isn’t hard to do: you only need some resources to offer, then you can set it up through Shopify with the free Kit mobile assistant, and just let it gather interest for you. The point is that these options are rife online, and offer great ROI. If you’re going to automate, use it wherever effective.
Distributing far too rapidly
The more posts and emails you send, the more attention you get, so surely you want to send as much as you possibly can, right? Well, no, because it can quickly become counter-productive. Imagine getting one marketing email from a company each week — the offers are cherry-picked and useful, and you get some value from browsing them. Now imagine getting two each day. Many of the offers are repeated, and you quickly tire of seeing that brand name appear.
The fact that cheap automation makes it a financial non-issue to achieve blanket coverage doesn’t suddenly make that approach any better. You should automate your content marketing tastefully, ensuring that you add value with everything you market and leave enough space between attempts that people can actually start to miss what you have to say.
Messing up the parameters
What’s the difference between sending one version of a link to each intended recipient and sending several versions of a link to a broad range of recipients, intended or otherwise? Very often, the answer is a simple mistake made while setting up the parameters for automation. Should a company set things up and start them running without testing them properly first, it might end up ruining its image. Test your audience targeting before scaling up.
Trying to automate everything
As I alluded to earlier, automation isn’t suitable for every type of task — at least, not for the full A-to-Z process. Take something core to content marketing like copywriting, for instance: maybe one day NLP technology will be good enough to compose entire articles that pass muster, but it’s unlikely to happen in the near future. For now, proofreading and SEO is about the limit.
The main problem, though, is when companies try to automate things that can, but shouldn’t, be automated — such as these social media examples. In such cases, automation can easily lead to major quality issues, plus there’s the organizational difficulty of figuring out all the automation pathing. In the end, some things are best done manually.