Presenting Cision's 2019 State of the Media Report Read More

10 Ways to Successfully Use Email & Social Autoresponders

Autoresponders. For many communication and marketing professionals, this word causes a visceral reaction. Autoresponders are often viewed as inauthentic, lazy or disingenuous.

But here’s the catch: if implemented appropriately, email and social autoresponders can be an economical, effective means to scale your outreach.

Differing from an email subscription or a social media post, autoresponders are automated messages that are triggered by a specific subscriber or follower action. What I want to do in this piece is to take a look at 10 ways that you can effectively use autoresponders in your work.

What I want you to do in this piece is to table your misgivings about autoresponders and to consider the possibility that automating a portion of your email and social media could make you a more effective communicator or marketer.

1. Make your autoresponses appropriate to the conversation

Communication professionals understand that conversation is largely transactional. You share something with a person, and they share something back. Trust develops, and conversation may progress to become more personal. But if there is a transactional imbalance anywhere in the process, this can cause a permanent, irreparable harm to your relationship.

Maybe the first rule of autoresponder use is to consider, “Why did this person follow you/subscribe in the first place?” THIS tends to be the transgression that leads us to feel such acrimony towards autoresponders.

If a person subscribes to an email list for a discount on a product or service and gets bombarded by emails intent to upsell them on their purchase, this creates a potential communication rift. The customer probably expects more discounts.

Or if you reciprocally follow someone on Twitter and you immediately get an autoresponse DM explaining all of the ways that they can help you do X, you can create a rift without having ANY meaningful conversation.

Tip one: Plan autoresponses that are congruent with your connection.

2. Edit your autoresponses thoughtfully


You may have heard of a “Turing test,” a test created to filter out bots from humans (CAPTCHAs are an example of these). It’s too bad that there isn’t a test to filter out robotic writing from writing that draws us in.

Another frequent critique of autoresponses is that they are inappropriately impersonal or personal. This is why you need to thoughtfully edit your responses.

If you are doing a “drip campaign,” for example, the writing should be accessible and sufficiently interesting that the recipient welcomes the next email or social message. Otherwise, the recipient might prematurely stop the drip with an unsubscribe or an email filter. Use email campaign features that allow you to address an email recipient by their first name and segmentation data to make autoresponses more relevant.

Tip two: edit your autoresponses as thoroughly as you would an important piece of content (or more). Use segmentation data where appropriate.

3. Leverage “triggers”

In his latest book, Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith describes how our reaction to environmental and psychological triggers dictates how we are perceived and how successfully we are.

One the analogies that Goldsmith uses is the manager/worker cycle. In the morning we are effective managers: we plan our day and have a bird’s eye view of our schedule and what we intend to do. As our day progresses, we become workers: we execute the plan (sometimes not so well) and we react to different things that happen throughout the day.

An example of leveraging triggers for autoresponse then would be to send a planning message in the morning when it is most resonant or an impulse buy message later in the day.

The concept of triggers as Goldsmith presents them is a way for people to maintain self-awareness and perform appropriate actions, perpetuating success and happiness. Understanding these triggers can help you to contribute to the success and happiness of the people you communicate with. A list of Goldsmith’s “belief triggers” can be found here.

Tip three: be deliberate to schedule autoresponse messages when they are most appropriate for your audience to receive them.

Find out how to keep your audience engaged with a podcast! Check out our “Podcasting Best Practices” tip sheet!

4. Mind your frequency

“There are so many cool things they could send me that I would love (outlined below). But they don’t, they just send ads.” – Devesh Khanal describing a specific brand’s drip campaign

If you’re using autoresponders for a drip campaign (a series of messages triggered by a subscription or a purchase), the question becomes how frequently to send messages in an autoresponse sequence. The answer is that it depends.

On the one hand, if your autoresponse is welcomed by the recipient you have an opportunity to exceed the effective frequency necessary to impact perception, sales or conversions.

On the other hand, you have an opportunity to irreparably harm the recipient’s relationship to your business. So, what should you do? Follow the data.

Businesses need to test your messages and frequency before implementing a full-scale drip campaign. More on A/B testing in a moment, but when the stakes are as high as “love” versus “loathe,” you need to make sure that your messaging helps and doesn’t hurt you.

Tip four: test your drip campaigns thoroughly before implementation, paying close attention to open rate and unsubscribe rate.

5. Length

How long should your autoresponse message be? In a word: short.

Typically I don’t like to make blanket assertions about anything, but in this case there is a lot of research that shows that brevity is the key to digital messaging. For example, if there were a heat map showing readers of this article, here’s as far as most people would read:

  1. Heading
  2. Subheadings
  3. Beginning paragraph
  4. (to various points in between)
  5. The end

By being brief with your autoresponse messages, you can increase the likelihood that your message will be received by the recipient. And a bonus is that you show respect for the person’s time, particularly if it’s evident that your message is an autoresponse.

Tip five: Be as brief as possible with your autoresponses.

6. Avoid Twitter DMs

If you’ve ever received a note from a Nigerian prince offering to send you money if you send him your bank account number, you may wonder why the scammers that send you that email don’t discernibly change their unbelievable story to make it more realistic.

The answer is that they are qualifying “marks.” You have to have a certain ignorance of the scam to go through with it, so by keeping the story wrote and unbelievable, only the most gullible people apply. So what does this have to do with Twitter?

On Twitter more than any other social network, DM (direct message) autoresponse is abused to the point of absurdity. I like to reciprocally follow bunches of people at a time and for every 100 that I follow I can expect 10 to 20 percent of them to send me an “introductory” DM.

What this means for businesses is that DM audiences are going to be cynical, and the fact that you’re sending a DM autoresponse may compromise your credibility. You might as well be a Nigerian prince.

Tip six: don’t use autoresponders on Twitter DMs.

7. A/B Test


One of the most effective ways to mitigate risk in marketing and PR messaging is to A/B test, and this is especially true of autoresponders. People react more favorably to different phrasing, length, frequency, subject lines, timing – a whole host of variables.

You have email and social subscribers that you can test these messages on quite easily to find the optimal circumstances to send your autoresponder messages.

A quick synopsis about what A/B testing is:

  • Compare only two messages (A and B)
  • Change only one variable
  • Keep everything else the same
  • Send to two similar populations
  • Measure the most effective of the two options
  • Start again with the optimized content.

In science and statistics, an A/B test is the unattainable ideal of research: scientists try their hardest to isolate single variables within similar populations to determine cause and effect. You have the capability to do this (more or less) anytime you want. You should want to A/B test as much of your content as possible, including (of course) autoresponders.

Tip seven: Use A/B testing to optimize the different aspects of your autoresponder campaigns.

8. Leverage touchpoints


Let’s talk practical aspects of autoresponders. Specifically when are businesses using them?

Marketing Sherpa did a study of when businesses use autoresponders and here are the results:


This (of course) isn’t representative of every business, but it gives you a sense of where businesses are implementing autoresponders.

By and large they are implemented at customer touchpoints. Subscribe to an email list, you get a message. Purchase something online, you get a message. Fail to purchase something online, get a discount (more on this in a second).

Tip eight: when you start planning when to use autoresponders, consider all of your customer touchpoints.

9. Pay special attention to shopping cart abandonment


One special touchpoint that warrants further discussion is shopping cart abandonment. This is a situation where a customer adds an item to their shopping cart and then leaves the site.

Even though shopping cart abandonment doesn’t rank high on the Marketing Sherpa survey, the reason it is so valuable to send an autoresponse for abandoned shopping carts is that there is clear buyer intention.

One study suggests that responding within a 60-minute window could recover as high as 5 percent of abandoned purchases. Many retailers implement drip campaigns where discounts are offered at certain time intervals in order to complete the sale.

Of course this is something that not all businesses will find applicable, but for those that do, autoresponses to abandoned shopping carts are a way to create tangible results.

Tip nine: if you’re selling things online, you may be able to recover 5 percent of your abandoned shopping cart sales with an autoresponder.

10. Leverage autoreponders for higher productivity

Autoresponders can also be used to make you more effective at your work. Many studies have shown that people who check their email less frequently (most people check their email 10-15 times per day) get more accomplished.

Many productivity experts recommend checking email two to three times per day, and author Tim Ferris suggests that you can manage your email with autoresponders.

Ferris uses autoresponders to notify the sender when he’ll next check his email and offers a preferred means of communication (in his case, by phone). Here’s his example:

Hi All,

Due to other commitments, I’m checking email no more than once a week, often less. If it’s truly urgent (cannot wait a week), please call my cell. If you don’t have it, thank you for waiting until I can get back to the inbox.

All the best to you and yours,


Of course, not a lot of people can check their email once per week (as Ferris suggests). Still, autoresponders are an effective tool to communicate time frame expectations for email follow-up, as out-of-office messages effectively demonstrate.

Tip ten: Improve your workflow by implementing autoresponders to communicate email response expectations.


Autoresponders receive a bum rap. When people critique them, they are actually critiquing how haphazardly some autoresponders are implemented.

Marketing and communication automation requires complex planning, and hopefully there are some aspects of this post that demonstrated that thoughtful implementation of autoresponders is helpful to scale your efforts. But it isn’t easy, as articulated by this quote:

“All in all, I don’t think robots and greater automation can bring about a utopian world as I imagined it would as a kid 50 years ago.” – Stanley Druckenmiller


About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

Recent Posts

Cision Blogs

  • Communications Best Practices

    Get the latest updates on PR, communications and marketing best practices.

  • Cision Product News

    Keep up with everything Cision. Check here for the most current product news.

  • Executive Insights

    Thought leadership and communications strategy for the C-suite written by the C-suite.

  • Media Blog

    A blog for and about the media featuring trends, tips, tools, media moves and more.