Brands Start Automating Social Media Responses On Facebook And Twitter

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Editor’s note: Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) is an industry analyst with the Altimeter Group.

Bots in Facebook? Robots in Twitter? Pinterest Run by HAL 9000? It’s all very possible.

That’s right, surprisingly. in the next phase of the social web, brands are applying analysis and digital intelligence to better reach us. Here’s how it’s gonna go down…

Companies are struggling to keep up with social media conversations, the growth in this channel has exploded, and will soon automate their responses, for better or for worse. Expect industries that have intense customer support woes like airlines like United Airlines and telecommunications like Comcast to be overwhelmed with angry customers spilling to social media sites to complain and demand fixes, and consumer companies like Coke, Pepsi, hospitality like Hyatt and Retailers like Best Buy to want to reach out and entice potential customers.

What does social media automation look like? First of all, recognize it’s a subset of Social Performance Software, which takes cues from existing optimized channels in text based chat bots you see on websites, automated IVR systems (ya know the automated phone systems you call for 1800 numbers) and optimization software we see in digital advertising targeting.

What? Bots in social media blasphemy you say?  Before we light the torches and take to the pitchforks, we already know that reports suggest that 40% of social networking accounts are spam, (much from bots) so automatic technology in social isn’t anything new –it just hasn’t been formally introduced as a valid channel for corporations to use.

There are at least four types of Social Media Performance examples which we can expect, among them include:

  1. Content Publishing on Timer: At a basic level, we already see dozens of social media management system providers like Hootsuite, Expion, Awareness, Argyle, Shoutlet enable brands to publish content on timer, many of these providers will climb into the following use cases.
  2. Social Content Optimization: Now, we’re seeing a few companies emerge that can optimize content by starting with analysis of content and developing intelligence, vendors such as SocialFlow, CrowdBooster, Prosodic, and Adobe Social that match what’s being said and time content to publish at the right time to the right people.
  3. Proactive Response:  Soon, we’ll see vendors that will apply technology from Virtual Agent Software, like VirtuOz, who tell me they’ll launch automated tools beyond chat agents, and now deploy in Facebook and Twitter streams to support brand interactions.
  4. Human-like Relationships:  While on the distant horizon, artificial intelligence agents will simulate human behavior and be a guiding agent, conversationalist, and act like a real world concierge, host, and for some, even a friend. Assume Wolfram Alpha, IBM, and others working on AI will seek to pioneer this front.

The upsides are obvious: Brands must be able to scale and those that are experiencing an increase in customers using social channels don’t want to leave customer behind.  Success will be measured in speed, response rate, increased customer support, and reduce costs.  Lastly, the intelligence and analytics that will be provided will give new insights to not only respond, but predict what customers want.

The downsides can be brand damaging.  In social channels, real world people will want to talk to real world people, and may detest that once human channels are now being automated.  Yet, despite this, I can imagine the same uproar happened with telephone operators were replaced with automated IVR systems, and when ATMs were introduced at banks in lieu of bank tellers.

Conclusion:  This space is nascent, but growing.  While the technologies are still emerging, expect to see optimization emerge in social and be refined as a science lead marketing and support channel beyond laborious human brute force.   Many corporations will take advantage of these technologies for low level tasks (immediate response, guidance) and the most advanced will deploy these tools to engage, interact, and build deeper relationships with their customers.

Disclosure:  Adobe, Expion, IBM, and SocialFlow are all Altimeter Group clients

[Image credit: Franz Steiner.]