Should You Automate Your Social Media Efforts?

Automation is one of the most hotly contested topics in social media. Bring it up online and you’re sure to find yourself amidst a passionate debate.

In fact, that happened yesterday when I shared an article on Twitter about a Chrome extension that allows you to schedule updates on Google Plus. I thought that was pretty nifty.

But, some people will tell you that all forms of scheduling and automation for social media is wrong. That it removes the “social” aspect of the platform. Or, that it turns you into a robot.

I disagree.

Scheduling or automating social media is not inherently wrong. It can help you be more efficient on social networks, which is especially important for small businesses short on time.

For instance, I do all of my reading either early in the morning or late at night. Instead of sending updates all at once at those odd hours, I use tools like Buffer, Timely and Hootsuite to schedule updates at optimal times throughout the day.

That works well for me.

But, the problem is that it’s so easy (and common) for businesses to screw this up. If you’re not careful, automation and scheduling can be a disaster.

Automation isn’t the only thing to ruin engagement

Let me be clear. There are plenty of businesses that have set their social profiles on complete autopilot, and as a result, lack responsiveness and engagement.

But, there are also businesses that fail in the engagement department even WITHOUT scheduling or automation.

If your business never takes the time to respond to questions or invite a dialogue — whether you use automation or not — your company may not be suited for social media. After all, the point is to engage with your customers, prospects and peers. But all too often, company culture gets in the way of that.

Automating Done Right

Whether you decide to schedule posts on social networks or use tools to automatically follow people on Twitter, there are some things you should keep in mind to approach automation the right way:

  • Pay attention to timing. If you do schedule your posts, keep it during hours when someone is able to respond. Even if you’re not on social channels all day long, it helps to be available should something arise that needs your attention.
  • Continue to engage. A “set-it-and-forget-it” solution becomes little more than an RSS feed. If you’re going to schedule or automate updates, make sue you still take the time to engage with your audience. After all, if you never respond or talk to people on the social web, why would someone tune in?
  • Don’t oversell. Whether you’re scheduling updates or automating tweets, make sure you’re not just sharing your own content. No one likes non-stop promotion.
  • Watch out for spam. If you decide to use a tool to auto follow people on Twitter, be mindful that you may end up following a bunch of bots and unsavory characters. Before you go this route, think about which is more important — your time or who you choose to follow.
  • Be picky. Tools like Triberr and Twitterfeed allow you to automatically share posts from designated blogs. Even if there are sites you share regularly, chances are you won’t always agree with everything they write. That’s something to keep in mind before you go down this path.

The Bottom Line

Not all scheduling and automation is bad. There are definitely some practical applications for many of these tools if used properly.

The bottom line is that you need to look at your social media strategy and determine the approach that’s right for YOUR business, not someone else’s.

It’s Your Turn

I’d love to know what you think. Let’s create a healthy discussion about the pros and cons of using scheduling or automation for social media.

Do you automate or schedule any of your social media activities? Why or why not? Do you think this approach helps or hurts a business?

Image credit: randychiu

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Laura Click

Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

15 replies on “Should You Automate Your Social Media Efforts?”

Great post, Laura! I think you’ve made a good argument for when scheduling can be a helpful tool for someone short on time, and I completely agree with the points about how other issues (lack of responsiveness and engagement) can be much worse. I learned a lot about how lame some “social media” people are at being social when I spent an afternoon replying to a few hundred people who shared a post I wrote and saw too many Twitter accounts that looked like RSS feeds and had zero interaction.

That all being said… here’s my counter argument and the reason I stopped automating:

It’s just too risky.

An analogy I thought of last night: Scheduling your social media messages is like driving your car using your knees. Most of us have done it, and some people can do it really well, but it’s clearly not for everyone. Further, I feel it shouldn’t be the norm. When a semi pulls in front of you, you’re going to want both hands on that wheel.

Too dramatic, you say? Maybe not… let’s say you work for years building a loyal following who hangs on your every tweet… and then some global event takes place. It might be a celebrity passing away, a terrorist attack, or some other incident that grabs the emotions of the masses…

And then there’s your automated tweet about some random blog post…

Ouch.

Again, your point above about timing is key. Many people who schedule are on top of it and can turn off their scheduling tools immediately in situations like this. But what if they can’t react fast enough?

Shortcuts are nice, but I love to use social media to build relationships which usually take a lot of good old-fashioned time.

Hey Luke,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate hearing your perspective on this. What makes you so awesome is that you’ve tried it and decided it wasn’t for you. I completely endorse that.

What I don’t like is when people say that something is altogether bad without taking the time to test, try or understand how it might be useful for some people or in some situations.

You’re right – there can definitely be downsides to any kind of automation. But, I think for a lot of businesses, it’s an incredibly useful way to maximize their time on social media. For instance, I schedule tweets of articles I read. Doing that, frees me up to spend more time engaging when I’m actually on social channels and build those relationships you’re talking about. 🙂

Timing is definitely critical. That’s why I don’t schedule posts when I’m on vacation or unable to respond. And yes, it’s important to be mindful of what’s going on in the world around you. I think, most times, people should have the ability to react quickly enough to turn things off. But, there is always that risk that you won’t be.

The bottom line is this –
 A set-it-and-forget-it solution will never work with social media. But, if there are ways to improve how you use social media or make you more efficient, I say go for it!
 

Thanks again for your comments, Luke!

Laura

I continually see people that make tons of mistakes in their scheduled tweets. Like come to our event that’s tomorrow (when it’s next week) or listen to this free teleseminar (when it was last week.) Or they mean to schedule it at 2 pm when they are in the office and actually schedule it at 2 am. Or they just simply never respond to things they scheduled.
 

Another- one of my clients has one of those Tweet Old Post plugins. Except it posts the blog post title and not the link. It did it for months before I got
 agitated
 enough to call her out on it. Her response- Oh I never saw it because I haven’t been on Twitter in months. AND she never fixed it. It tweets at least 5 times a day.I see your point and I think you argued it well. You pay attention and always respond. But it allows the lazy to be lazier when they aren’t as
 conscientious
 as you are.I know I only post one time a day or less to my Facebook fan page. I may post a dozen times to my personal page but I think it’s too much on the fan page. I keep an Evernote page of articles that I wanted to post to my fan page or Google + at a different time.
 

Yikes! You’re right, that’s bad, Erica. I don’t think this makes the tools themselves inherently bad, it just means people haven’t thought through how to use them the right way. I liked you’re comment about how it can make lazy folks even lazier….very true.

And wow – someone who hasn’t been on Twitter in months??? Definitely not a good approach.

I agree that Tweet Old Post can be tricky. I use it and it’s been a great way for me to breathe new life into my archived content. The trick is to weed out time sensitive posts so they’re never in the queue, but sadly, it sounds like some never do that.

Thanks for sharing these stories, Erica! It’s definitely proof that people can be careless with automation.

Laur

You know.. just read that the Boston Globe along w/ many media outlet have done away w/ using ‘tomorrow’ or ‘yesterday’ for that reason: it’s not always accurate. It’s better to write “Friday” and be more specific. Oh and I hate when I see plugins like TOP left on auto-pilot, esp. for an inactive account/blog.

Great post and great comments.
 Personally I don’t feel comfortable relying on the automation for all of the reasons mentioned by Luke below.
 I never do it on my personal account and rarely do it on our business accounts.
 The few times I do it, I only schedule it a few hours out and make sure I’m available for quick replies.
 I think the biggest risk is that your followers will one day realize that the post was scheduled and that you are not really there for a quick discussion at the
 virtual
 water cooler.
 On the other side I would like to think the
 people
 I follow are also there and ready to discuss whatever topic was just thrown into the mix.
 
 
 

Thanks for sharing your experience, Billy. You make a good point – scheduling when you’re available to respond is always a smart move.

However, just to play devil’s advocate, why would it be bad for your followers to know that an update was scheduled? How is that different from posting something in realtime, but someone responds after you’ve already jumped offline? Do you think less of the person or company if they respond an hour or two later?

I’d love to know more about your thoughts on why someone might not like knowing an update was scheduled. Thanks for taking part in this great discussion!

Laura

Big difference in my opinion between scheduling and automation. Wanna say Neal Schaffer once blogged it, that you can automate a process but not engagement. So first off, we have to decide what we define as engagement. I do reply and respond – but am practical; I ain’t Jack Bauer and can’t always do so in real time.
 

I tend to cluster my reading but don’t want flood streams w/ content so I schedule and stagger it via TweetDeck and Buffer. But I can’t automate my reading, or what I’d say about a particular share; it’s why I passed on Triberr or any other automated blind tweeting. I may ‘trust’ that someone will consistently have something worth reading, but not that 1) I’d always agree w/ it and 2) I’d always want to share it.
 

Right now, my only automation is Tweet Old Post, staggered to about twice a week. I am looking at the various IFTTT
 recipes but haven’t used any yet; I don’t ‘automatically’ do much – don’t always follow back, don’t always read every post, etc. – so there’s little I can autopilot. Maybe it makes me a crazy purist, but that’s how I roll. And FWIW, I’m very mixed on the news that Google+ can now be ‘scheduled’ – I know I will use it selectively, but fear a lot more noise now, a lot more cross-posting and unengaged automated sharing; we’ll see.

You’re right, Davina. I think scheduling and automation are different. In fact, that was almost the point of this post, but I decided to take it a different direction since many tend to lump them together.

I think automation is often when you “set-it-and-forget-it” such as Twitterfeed or Tweet Old Post. I think scheduling has a lot more of a hands-on feel since you’re still customizing each message.
 

I’m on Triberr, but I don’t use the auto tweet feature. I read everything before I tweet. That’s how I roll too. 😉

I haven’t tried IFTT yet either. I need to look into that.

Thanks for weighing in! I appreciate you stopping by!

Laura

Hi Laura,
 I think the advice you give under the Automating Done Right section in great advice and I agree with it.
 However, I think it can be a slippery slope if it is done too much.
 As to your question about followers knowing:
 Maybe it is a slight
 psychological or
 subconscious feeling that you are a little less connected to a human.
 When I see Laura tweet something as I’m looking at my timeline – there’s that brief moment of thought that she is online right now and ready to converse – and now I’m excited since I’m a fan.
 If I start to think everything is scheduled then I lose that little bit of magic. The more human social media can be the better.
 As far as thinking less of people: I try to never do that 🙂
 
 

That’s interesting, Billy. I appreciate you letting me know how you feel about it. I wonder if others feel this way too. I also think that many folks don’t know how to tell if something is scheduled or not, but I could be wrong about that.

Thanks for taking the time to share your insight. I really appreciate hearing an alternate view!

Laura

This is actually probably the only good post I’ve seen on this topic. I think it’s fine to schedule articles as long as you’re still present to respond and still posting real time content and replies as well. I do not think it is ever okay to auto-follow or auto-dm, tho. Way too obvious and impersonal.

Wow – thank you, Sherrie! I appreciate the kind words.

It sounds like you and I are on the same page. Much like you, I don’t auto-follow or auto DM. While I don’t think there’s much use for auto DMs, I can see how really large accounts may benefit from Auto following. It just depends on the needs of the person or business.

Thanks for taking the time to weigh in!
 

Laura

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