One of the more common ways these advances are now being applied is through automation – using computer systems that can simulate human actions, saving you time and often taking into account more factors than you’d be able to process manually.
While automation has its benefits, there are also inherent risks. Leaving business processes in the hands of machines is only effective if you don’t have to monitor their actions, and that can mean things are done on behalf of your business without your direct input.
So what are the best – and worst – ways of using automation?
Here are three common examples.
1. Online ads
One of the most common forms of digital automation is through online ad buying. Also referred to as ‘programmatic’, automated ad platforms enable you to select a target audience, set an ad budget, then let the system decide where to best place your ads to achieve optimal response.
The main benefit of this process is that you can save time – the digital ad networks on Google and Facebook, for example, are extremely advanced, and they’ve been ‘trained’ based on user behaviours, which often makes their ad targeting better than you’d likely be able to achieve on your own.
While it does take some control out of your hands to let the system decide where to show your ads, and who to show them to, you’re always in control of your budget, which generally makes it a fairly safe bet. You can always narrow down your audience and select or exclude certain websites or processes, but it’s worth experimenting with automated ad buying and seeing what results you get.
2. Social media automation
Another means of using automation is within social media marketing. In social, you can automate almost everything – from auto-following to sending automated welcome messages to audience members through to sending out relevant content on your behalf.
While social media automation does save you time, it comes with a higher level of risk.
For one, people are generally on social media to be ‘social’, to connect with real people. Automating your posts or responses can often be a turn off, as it’s usually very clear that such updates are not coming from a real person.
In addition, auto-following people – which many people do in order to boost their audience by getting users to ‘follow back’ – can skew your data and make it harder to use your social profiles effectively.
For example, there are definitely a lot of people who will ‘follow back’ as a means of building their own audience, but those people are also not likely to be actually interested in your products or services. So now, when you go to your audience insights, you’re getting a heap of data on your audience that’s incorrect, because the audience you’ve built is not actually made up of people who’ve followed your business for the right reasons.
This is a growing area – it’s not a major concern yet, but more and more businesses are looking at utilising bots to automate customer service and streamline responses, most commonly through messaging apps like Facebook Messenger.
The main benefit with bots is they’re immediate – if someone sends a message to a bot, it responds straight away.
Bots can also save you labour time – a pizza store, for example, could use a bot system through which you could send through your order, pay for it online, and have it delivered to your exact specifications without ever speaking to a real person. Most retail outlets can provide similar, and with bots becoming more advanced, the business case for them is growing.
Bots have actually proven extremely popular in China, where hundreds of millions people use messaging services for everything from doing their banking to ordering their groceries.
Bot systems are still evolving, but this is the next level of automation – and they could provide significant benefits for businesses of all sizes and types.