How social media automation helped increase my online engagement, e-commerce sales…and almost ruined a few friendships.
A few weeks ago I was watching a clip on YouTube called ‘Humans Need Not Apply” about how automation, artificial intelligence and robots have quickly replaced humans in multiple industries. Since the introduction of mass production, ‘mechanical muscles’ have made human physical labor less in demand. More recently, new developments in technology and artificial intelligence are making human brain labor less in demand. These new mechanical minds seem to be able to do everything that humans can…but are they REALLY smarter than a human?
I studied information technology at Devry University in 2001 and my first corporate job out of college was with a Nationwide Insurance subsidiary called Insurance Intermediaries, Inc. (III). In my first (and last) corporate role as Marketing Manager for III, marketing had not yet been heavily disrupted by technology. I used a fax blast service to send marketing messages to hundreds of insurance agents each week because even a large company like Nationwide Insurance did not have a system in place to send mass email communications. It was then that I realized there was a huge opportunity to leverage technology for marketing.
Since then I have watched and been involved in the ongoing development and growth of online and digital marketing.
I am amazed at how technology has changed the marketing industry and made it much easier for companies to acquire, engage with, and manage relationships with customers.
When I started Flat Out of Heels in 2011 e-commerce was not a part of my business model, however after studying the rapid rise of online sales I decided to launch a website. The higher margins and lower customer acquisition costs made the most sense for a new consumer brand. In the beginning I leveraged my 5,000 Facebook friends to drive traffic to FlatOutofHeels.com and acquire our first customers. Once I exhausted my warm market I had to find a way to attract new customers online. I spent the next few years hiring (and wasting money on) several marketing, public relations and social media agencies promising to help increase my online engagement and website traffic. The contracts ranged from $1,200 — $5,000 per month and all they did was deplete my budget and never truly added to the bottom line. It was a very frustrating period for me as CEO. I had to decrease my burn rate, find a way to automate the tasks these agencies were handling, and ultimately increase revenue.
I was elated in 2014 when an influx of marketing and customer relationship management apps and platforms hit the market. I spent a year studying growth hacking and learning the best way to acquire customers for least amount of money. I was able to cut my expenses from $5,000 a month spent on agencies, to $500 a month in SAS subscriptions that fully automated our social engagement, online advertising campaigns, email marketing, re-targeting, and affiliate program management.
I was so excited to have a team of bots working around the clock to drive traffic and convert sales. I no longer needed another human brain, I set up the bots twice a month and was able to grow our revenue over 300% in 2015 by utilizing these tools.
One of my favorite tools is called Likestagram, I programmed this bot to ‘like’ pictures on Instagram based on hashtags. This makes perfect sense because it allows me to target people on social media that are posting about topics related to my industry and I can connect with them by liking their pictures. They see ‘me’ (FlatOutofHeels) like their picture, they click on the page, they follow, they engage, and several purchase. It was a great strategy…until the bot started offending people.
A few months ago I got a text at 3 a.m. from a friend calling me a ‘savage’…apparently my bot was having a field day liking porn in the middle of the night.
A few days later another friend texted me about my social media behavior…the bot apparently loves photos of women in thongs…and everyone thought that it was me liking these pictures.
A part of my strategy is to engage hashtags used by like-minded brands in order to attract the attention of their customers. A friend of mine has a company that sells hair extensions and she has several hundred thousand female followers on Instagram. Naturally I thought programming her hashtag into my bot would be a good idea to allow me to support her and engage with her customers. I was confused when I received a text from my friend asking me if I had a problem with her. She then sent me several screenshots of ‘me’ liking posts that were speaking negatively about her company. A disgruntled customer created a complaint page against her company and posted several negative messages on Instagram. The Likestagram bot, not knowing that the posts were created in malice, liked every single one of them. She was upset by it, I felt terrible. I had to explain to her that I use bots and I went in and blocked the page. If she did not bring that to my attention there may have been permanent damage done to our relationship.
These experiences taught me a few valuables lesson about using automation and bots:
- People take ‘likes’ and follows on social media VERY seriously
- Technology is effective but has no filter or ‘common sense’
- The bot does not know when NOT to like a photo, since it automatically searches the hashtags
These days I try to monitor the behavior of my bots more closely but people often use hashtags that are in no way related to the photo, that is when human intelligence, discretion and judgement are needed. I don’t know how many people saw ‘me’ liking porn, pictures of women in thongs, and other inappropriate posts. I don’t know how many people I offended with my ‘likes’ but I do know sales have increased…and at the end of the day that was the intention. I guess I just have to live with the fact that many people out there may think I am a savage.
Pictured above: My favorite childhood wrestler, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage