Social Media Automation – Help or Hazard?

Should you automate your social media?

Nothing polarises social media “gurus” more than the topic of automation. On the one hand there are the purists who believe automation is the root of all evil – all posts should be done by a real person in real time. On the other there are the marketers who reckon you can never have too much of a good thing and that automating allows you to post widely and frequently.

What’s a small business owner to do?

Firstly, you should feel comfortable with your own choice. Don’t let someone else’s opinion persuade you to do something you dislike – or stop doing something which works for you and your business.

I’d love to be a purist, but the practicalities of running a small business means that there are times when I use tools to help me manage my social media.

I do, however, make a distinction between scheduling social media posts and automating them.

Scheduling social media

Scheduling allows you to set up your planned updates so that they post across different platforms at the best times of the day. It also helps you avoid the feast and famine syndrome where you post 5 things in 10 minutes and then nothing for the rest of the day.

Automating social media

This is where social media posts happen either at a certain time or when a particular action occurs.

For example, direct messages to new Twitter followers, posting your tweets on Facebook and vice versa, re-tweeting old blog posts

Use scheduling to manage your time

Scheduling has two big advantages. One, it helps you manage your time by letting you do the bulk of your social media in one block. Two, you can arrange your posts for the best results – sending them at the times your customers are online and spreading them out to maximise reach.

Tools like Hootsuite are great for scheduling – you can set up a week’s (or month’s) worth of planned tweets and posts at once. Then you just need to go online for 10 minutes or so a day to reply to questions and join conversations.

Schedule your planned updates, e.g. blog articles, promoting an upcoming event, series of tips & advice, to go out at various times and change the description according to what works best for each network.

However, you can’t simply “set and forget”. You must get involved in conversations and interact with people – it is social media after all.

Scheduling does have its downside. Particularly on Twitter, where lots of people go to comment on events in real time. Your tweets about your latest wedding will stand out like a sore thumb if everyone else is talking about a terrorist attack. Be prepared to delete your scheduled posts if something major happens.

And beware of repeating the same thing over and over again – it’s fine to tweet your latest blog post 3-4 times over 48 hours but don’t send it on the hour, every hour for a week!

Use automation with caution

While scheduling has more advantages than disadvantages, automation should come with a serious health warning.

Get it wrong and it can make you look very stupid (or more likely, simply dull and unprofessional).

For starters there are those automated direct messages to new followers. I get a LOT of these, almost invariably asking me to Like their Facebook page. I find them impersonal, irritating and pointless – I don’t think I’ve ever liked a Facebook page as a result. If I’m in a really bad mood I might just decide to unfollow…….

Then there’s linking Facebook and Twitter so that all your tweets post on Facebook and vice versa. You usually end up with Facebook posts that are too short (reducing your post engagement and your page reach) and tweets which are truncated or meaningless (guaranteed to lose you followers).

And while those “retweet old blog posts” plugins sound good in theory, only use one if you can control which posts are retweeted. It’s not going to do your reputation as a wedding planner much good if you are tweeting about “10 top Trends for 2012” today!

Before you start automating, have a long hard think about what will actually happen and do check your timeline regularly for any side effects you may not have anticipated.

Be authentic

When deciding your approach to social media, the most important thing is to be authentic and true to yourself.

Take advice from others by all means, but also think about what you want from social media.

If you dislike it when others do something, don’t do it yourself. But don’t be put off from using tools just because certain people disagree.