Things You Should Never Automate

Automation through technology is a beautiful thing from an efficiency and productivity standpoint.  I’m a fan of automating low-level and/or repetitive tasks to free up time for cerebral and creative work.  Unfortunately, there are also many things people choose to automate that can actually do more harm than good.

Here are several cases where you should avoid automation:

Auto-responses to DMs in any social platform
Nothing irks me more than when I choose to follow someone on Twitter and I get an auto-DM thanking me for following them.  It is especially bothersome because Twitter DMs from the people I chose to follow have an incredibly high signal to noise ratio – I don’t think I receive any DM spam from the 800 or so people I’m following (pretty amazing actually).  I immediately un-follow people who auto-ping me after I follow them and you should too – it shows a complete lack of respect for users as many of us have tied Twitter to our mobile devices.  DM’s were designed to be personal communications to the person receiving them, treat them as such.

Blind/automated digging or sharing of content
A reason certain people are extremely trusted or seen as high degrees of signal is due to the fact they share content with care and purpose.  You simply can’t automate this, and it ruins your ability to build social capital and a strong digital reputation.  Besides, automating sharing can’t approach the quality of doing this selectively and personally.  Having an eye for strong content is a talent in and of itself and is actually what makes many social media power users special.  Also if you’re caught doing this on sites like Digg, they’ll outright ban you.

Auto-responses from customer service
If you’re in a consumer-facing business and actively pushing marketing/PR efforts on the web, yet at the same time pushing automatic and/or canned responses to consumers from your customer service department, you’re potentially fighting yourself.  As Steve Rubel has noted on more than one occasion, customer service is the new PR.  Direct, personal and quality human responses that leave consumers buzzing is a huge PR tactic in itself not just to hedge negativity, but also to build positive relationships.  Be a special company that deeply respects every customer enough to take the time to interact with them personally.

Content creation
Some people use tools to automatically scrape content to build resource lists, but the only way to build truly useful lists or any type of content that is compelling enough to be shared and linked to is to create it manually with thought behind it.  Don’t ever be sold on tools that automatically generate or scrape content, there is no machine that replaces what a smart writer can do.

AdWords optimization
As someone with several years experience working in AdWords I manually work on my campaigns.  I’ve played around with Google’s campaign optimizer before – and while it can prove somewhat useful under certain circumstances, you really have to vest time in AdWords manually if you want to get results from their system.  I get what they’re trying to do with the campaign optimizer, but the system is one which begs to be tweaked manually by someone who has been watching the data carefully and understands all aspects of what is happening with thought behind the decisions.

White papers/resources for clients
It may be tempting to template general insights for clients if you are in the marketing industry, but there is much greater value in spending the time to provide industry-specific, researched reports tailored to each client.  Take the time to create specific consulting, and you’ll prove yourself that much more of an asset than merely providing generic material.  Done properly, these types of documents/consulting demonstrate you truly understand the business a client is in.

Relationship building
Simply put, you can’t and never will be able to automate this.  It’s the antithesis of what a relationship is.  Every relationship is unique, and for it to be valuable it must be forged and nurtured in that manner.  If you try to automate any parts of this, you’re missing the point entirely.


If you’re in the web industry in any sense, trying to automate things where others work carefully to provide unique, tailored results positions you as the colder, less human option.  The web actually enables you to be warmer and more personalized, and there is much to gain by embracing that philosophy.  I’m not saying to not use automation where it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint, but be weary of removing the human element from your communications, strategies or content.  Automation is best used in a fusion with personalized insight from a savvy individual or organization.

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