Social Media Bots: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Bots are everywhere – on Facebook, Twitter and even Google.

And though generally the term “bot” has a bad connotation. Not all bots are created equal.

Sure, there are bot armies designed to hack your Wi-Fi router or skew public opinion by sharing the same controversial article or video, but there are also bots made for good. Ones that can help with your marketing, increase your customer engagement and even help boost your profits when you’re tight on time or money.

How can you spot the difference? And how can you leverage the good ones to improve your business? Let’s dive in.

Types of Bots

On social media, there are generally two kinds of bots: those designed to disseminate content or promote a cause and those designed as a sort of stand-in for a real, live customer service representative or marketing professional.

In many cases, the latter is called a “chatbot.”

Facebook Messenger, for example, uses chatbots as of a couple years ago. The bot basically functions as a personal assistant for when a page’s account administrator isn’t available, filling in when a customer contacts them, asks a question or wants to book an appointment. Google has a similar bot for business page managers, and many web developers are adding them to corporate sites as well.

Bots can also be used to comment on, interact with and share content on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even Reddit. And while these can certainly be used for good (more on that later), many of them aren’t. Some are used to change political opinion, promote a product or drum up views and clicks for cash.

Often, these bad bots are well-disguised and hard to recognized. You might be following some of them right now and not even know it.

Want to learn a little bit more about bots? Check out our recent podcast on the topic.

The Good

There’s a lot of good things to be said about bots. In a world we’re constantly on the go, with our schedules jam-packed and never enough time in the day, bots can help augment our existing customer service and marketing processes.

Chatbots can give customers response times we just can’t manage on our own, and using bots to interact with other users on Twitter can help raise awareness for your cause and bring more potential leads to the door. If you’re short-staffed, tight on time or just low on resources or budget, bots can also be a big boon to productivity.

In some cases, bots can also just be plain entertaining. (Remember SmarterChild on AIM, anyone?)

The Bad

The biggest downside to using a bot is that it’s impersonal. It doesn’t allow you to get to know your customers (something vital to your marketing success), and it doesn’t do anything to further your brand voice or persona.

It’s also not likely to 100-percent deliver what a customer is looking for. Because they use canned responses and automated actions, bots can’t personalize the experience for a user – and that can often leave them frustrated, upset or even angry.

Another thing to take into consideration is a bot’s permanency – particularly when used on Twitter. Google now indexes every individual Tweet, so whatever your Twitter bot is saying and sharing, that’s on the internet for good now. Do you really believe in their coding that much?

The Ugly

There’s most certainly an ugly side to the bot world, and news reports that bots may have swayed the most recent U.S. election are only the tip of the iceberg. Bots have power, and when they’re built for some unsavory purpose and used in volume, they can perpetuate real change in the internet age.

More than likely, though, you’re not here to learn about building a bad bot army, so from a business perspective, here’s the ugly truth about bots: they can ruin your reputation. And no matter what industry you’re in or what products you sell, your reputation is your lifeline.

Bots can make you look spammy, unprofessional and just plain careless, and in the event they share content that doesn’t support your values as a company, they can have a permanent, lasting impact on the public perception of your brand. Is that really something you’re willing to risk?

To Use Bots or Not to Use Bots?

Like any automation tool, bots can be a powerful way to improve your efficiency and augment your existing processes, but that’s only if they’re designed, created and implemented properly and professionally.

Are you considering using bots for your outreach or marketing efforts? Talk to Tobe first. We’ll help you hammer out a bot strategy that won’t hurt you in the long run.

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