The complete guide to social media marketing automation

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None of us has time to focus on social media marketing. There aren’t enough hours in the day to tweet or share updates on Facebook. Not when there are bills to pay and clients to serve.

But you’ve got to keep yourself active because you’ll still want to benefit from that essential content and conversation, where you can build relationships and attract new business. So how can you keep making the most of social media marketing without interrupting your workflow?

Automation is the secret. Not automation that makes it evident that you’re automating everything, which can sometimes seem worse than not saying anything at all.

No. The kind of smart automation that makes it look like you’re naturally updating your social media channels, when in fact you’re elsewhere, attending a client meeting, and not even looking at your smartphone.

The following helpful tips will show you how to automate your social media marketing without giving the game away, so you can save time and get on with being creative.

1. An initial warning about automation

You’re a smart cookie. You’ll know that social media marketing can’t be entirely automated. It just doesn’t work that way. You can’t engage with people if you’re not actively checking your social accounts and, instead, are leaving it all up to the robots. Humans want to chat with humans, after all.

So when reading through the following tips, remember that this guide is about understanding what you can automate to free up more time and where you’ll need to step in and supplement that automation.

Bottom line, we’re teaching you how to automate so you’ll use your time wisely, allowing you to only focus on what’s necessary with your social media marketing.

2. Consider your audience first and foremost

There’s no point in developing a social media automation strategy if you don’t review what you’re doing online and whether you’re reaching the right audience. You don’t want to be wasting your time, using the wrong channels, do you?

It might be that you’ve never even considered your audience – hey, running a business requires a lot of hard work and energy, so don’t beat yourself up if you’ve not yet had chance to address this important aspect of your marketing.

So, before anything else – consider your audience. Where are they active? Which social media platforms do they like to use? Identify where you need to be active and go from there. This is strategic work, so consider taking a social media course before you start, like this one from London College of Communication, so that you can approach this systematically.

3: Choose your automation weapons wisely

Next up, you’ll have to figure out which tools you’ll use to help with your automation strategy. There are plenty of solutions out there. It’s just finding the right ones for your own business. From our personal experience, having tried lots of different options over the years, our current setup is as follows (and we can highly recommend it):

Buffer
Buffer is a beautiful app for desktop and mobile that lets you connect Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn and then create queues of content that get sent at the times and days of your choosing.

There’s even a super powerful Buffer browser extension so that you can share and queue content directly from other websites. This also has a particularly helpful function where you can click on any image within a web page and Buffer will include that in the update you wish to share or schedule.

SproutSocial
Similar to Buffer, we recommend SproutSocial for all the things that Buffer doesn’t yet provide, like the ability to track conversations, follow and respond to people, and pretty much have everything all in one place. Available for both desktop and mobile.

Much like Buffer, SproutSocial allows you to connect Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, and schedule updates by choosing your times or you can make use of its ViralPost feature, where it will post optimally based on analytics. Just add your content to the schedule, and everything will automatically get published.

There’s also a SproutSocial browser extension where you can schedule content that you discover while browsing the web. And we particularly love the ‘Feeds’ aspect of the software, as it allows you to connect your Feedly account and find great content to share what’s relevant to your audience.

IFTTT
A superb automation tool, IFTTT stands for If This, Then That and allows you to create recipes that connect apps, sparking some action. For example, you can hook your blog’s RSS feed up to your Twitter account, so that every time you post something new – IFTTT is alerted and automatically shares to Twitter.

There are hundreds of ready-to-use recipes to choose from, and you can create and share your own. We recommend IFTTT’s collection of 40 recipes to streamline your social media to get started.

IFTTT.com

IFTTT.com

Bitly
Bitly isn’t just a helpful URL shortening service, it gives you complete ownership of all your links, allowing you to capture data and track the effectiveness of your tweets and updates.

Even better, it also stops people from knowing where you’re automating your social media activity because you don’t want people to see ‘Buffer’ or ‘IFTTT’ in your updates. That would be giving the game away.

So once you’ve got all your social media automation tools up and running, make sure you hook them up to your Bitly account. Buffer, SproutSocial and IFTTT will all allow you to use Bitly instead of their URL shortening offerings.

4. Know what you can and can’t automate

You’ll need to get to grips with what you can and can’t automate. You shouldn’t automate any real conversation, such as customer interactions or complaints. These will need your special care and attention, so you’re able to craft the right kind of response.

You also shouldn’t automate ‘following’ or ‘liking’ because you’ll want to ensure you’re engaging with the right type of people and brands. And you certainly don’t want to appear ‘spammy’ as you’ll irritate people.

Anything that makes it look as though you’re automating things will only backfire. You want to show the real person behind your social profiles if you're going to be a success online.

What you can automate is your own content. Content is critical to your strategy because there’s no point in being on social media if you haven’t got anything meaningful to share. Yes, you can engage with others in conversation, but the whole point of being socially active is that you draw people to your website and brand.

And what’s great about most content is that it can be automated – i.e. updates from your blog or other social channels – and curated content from elsewhere, things that your audience might find useful.

5. Choosing what content to share and automating it

Now that you understand the importance of content, you’ll need to know how you can automate it, freeing up your time to concentrate on other things.

But before we go into detail about different types of content, you should always consider TA McCann’s 5-3-2 rule of social sharing. This recommends that for every ten updates you post, five should be content from others, three should be content from you, relevant to your audience and not sales-led, and two should be personal and non-work related that humanise your business.

TA McCann’s 5-3-2 rule of social sharing

TA McCann’s 5-3-2 rule of social sharing

Now we’ll consider the type of content that you can automate, as follows:

Your RSS feed
If you’ve got a blog, then you’ll want to automate any new posts directly to your social media channels. You have to tackle the issue of what these automated updates will look like when they automatically appear on each of your platforms. IFTTT has loads of recipes to help you design your updates.

If you’re struggling for ideas on what to blog about, then Creative Boom’s article on things to blog about when you run out of ideas should help, and then read our tips on how to write the perfect blog post for extra measure.

Finding great content to share
They say you should share more content from others than you share about yourself, which is why content curation should be an essential part of your social media marketing strategy. What’s excellent about curation is that you can automate it.

Set up a Feedly account to follow lots of different blogs and online magazines relevant to your industry and audience. Hook this up to SproutSocial and Buffer and start quickly adding great content to your queues.

Feedly

Feedly

If you’ve not even got time to find and schedule curated content, then IFTTT has some recipes that allow you to share content from your favourite feeds automatically. Just find the RSS URL and create a recipe. Check out these options from IFTTT.

Or you could consider setting up ‘news alerts’ via Google to stay on top of things and find regular stuff to share. Even better, check out IFTTT’s recipes for following the news and you should never run out of ideas.

Your timely updates
Everyone loves an inspiring quote, retweet or a little personal update – all of which are non-urgent and can be pushed out on social media at any time. Another great option to automate.

Retweets, in particular, are a great way to build relationships with potential clients online. Just follow their accounts via SproutSocial’s ‘Twitter Feeds’ and share anything interesting they tweet by adding to your schedule.

If you want to create your inspiring picture quotes, then check out Buffer’s new Pablo app where you can design engaging images for your social media posts in under 30 seconds!

Your activity on other social media
To further automate your social media activity, you might want to consider hooking up your different accounts to one another. For example, if you’re quite a visual business, such as a graphic design studio, then you’ll naturally have an Instagram account. Every time you add a new image, you might want to tweet it automatically. This is where automation becomes very helpful. Check out IFTTT’s 16 recipes for photo enthusiasts.

6. Know the best times to post

So you’ve sorted what you’re going to automate and how you’re going to share it, now it’s time to consider when exactly you’ll be sharing posts and updates.

SproutSocial and Buffer both have helpful ‘optimisation’ tools where they’ll suggest optimum sharing times based on your social media data. But sometimes, it’s better to create your schedules because no one will understand your audience better than you.

You’ll need to know what time zones the majority of your audience is located in. And you’ll want to identify when you’re getting the most engagement from the posts you share.

For a little extra help, why not use something like Tweroid, an online tool that shows you the best time to tweet. Or FollowerWonk, a fantastic Twitter analytics tool that lets you dig deeper into your data and optimise when you share updates.

If you need a little extra advice on optimising your tweets, then you should learn from the following statistics*:

  • Twitter engagement for brands is 17% higher on weekends (Dan Zarrella)
  • Users are 181% more likely to be on Twitter during their commute (Dan Zarrella)
  • Retweets are highest around 5 pm (Kissmetrics)
  • The best time to maximise your click-through rate from Twitter is 1-3pm (Raka).

*Stats from Social Media Examiner

7. Share updates throughout the day to stay visible

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or Google+ – make sure you schedule updates to post throughout the day automatically. That’s because your followers and fans will be based in different time zones, and they’ll also access their social media accounts at different times.

Keep your scheduled content regularly updated on Buffer and SproutSocial, so you have a steady stream of exciting updates to share.

Not sure how often to post? It depends on which social media platform. According to Guy Kawasaki, in his book entitled The Art of Social Media, he recommends the following:

  • Facebook: 1-2 posts per day
  • Google+: 3-4 posts per day
  • LinkedIn: 1 post per day
  • Pinterest: 4 pins per day
  • Twitter: 8-12 tweets per day.

8. Keep track of real-time conversations

Now that you’ve pretty much automated everything you can automate, you’ll need to create a system that allows you to stay in touch with real-time conversation.

Track what people are saying via SproutSocial’s Discovery ‘Smart Search’ tool where you can find conversations to join and people to engage with by searching for keywords related to your business or industry. Or consider using something like Mention, where you can monitor in real-time and make sure you’re not missing anything published on the web and social networks.

You should also consider switching on notifications, so you’re aware of anything that happens to your social media accounts. For example, Twitter allows you to be notified via email if anyone tweets you, mentions you, favourites and retweets your updates or sends you a direct message.

Twitter email notifications

Twitter email notifications

One final tip is to set aside some time each day to address your social media accounts and respond to anything that requires your attention. If you’re out and about, SproutSocial has a helpful ‘Tasks’ feature where you can assign tweets and updates to yourself to tackle when you’re back in the office.

9. Keep an eye on the analytics and adjust accordingly

When using services like Buffer and SproutSocial, don’t forget to take full advantage of their in-built ‘analytics’. Because you’ll want to see what is and isn’t working, in terms of the content, you’re sharing, and the times you’re sharing it.

Buffer, for example, provides fantastic insights into the things you tweet or update on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. With Twitter, it will show you how many times your post got retweeted, how many people favourited it, how many times you were mentioned, and how many clicks that post resulted in. You’ll instantly be able to understand what content your audience especially loves so that you can share more of that in future.

With SproutSocial’s Reports feature, you can look at your ‘Sent Messages’ to track the effectiveness of your tweets and Facebook posts. This will help you to see what is and isn’t working.

SproutSocial's Sent Messages analytics tool

SproutSocial's Sent Messages analytics tool

10. Automate your marketing processes

Ok, so you’ve got your content sorted. And you’re effectively tracking conversations. But what about your overall social media marketing processes? By this, we mean any new leads or customer service issues that might arise on social media that you’ll want to address when you’ve got time.

IFTTT has 38 recipes for the Small Business Owner which might help to automate things. There are plenty more options that help you stay on top of what’s happening across all your social platforms.

SproutSocial – our old favourite – has a built-in HelpDesk feature that allows you to turn messages into Support Tickets and easily capture your customers’ queries with just one click. You can create, track and manage support issues to resolution without leaving your dashboard. You decide if a tweet is a general task, a sales lead or a support issue, and then assign to yourself or team members to resolve.

SproutSocial's HelpDesk tool

SproutSocial's HelpDesk tool

And again, as mentioned before, you should switch on all your alerts, so you’re emailed directly from Twitter or Facebook when anyone mentions you or messages you.

A final word

With all of the above in mind, here are a few things to consider so you don’t make any mistakes with your social media automation:

  • Don’t schedule content too far in advance: You’ll want to stay ‘current’ and content can become outdated or overshared very quickly. In which case, set aside a little time every two or three days to add more updates to your schedules.

  • Get the content right for each platform: It goes without saying, each social media platform is different and requires slightly different styles. Ensure you’re adding updates that adhere to each one.

  • Don’t fire out the same updates across all social networks: You’ll look robotic and give the game away to your automation. For instance, send out a different update on Twitter to the one you fire out via Facebook.

  • Stay focused and current: Make sure you follow what’s happening in the news and your industry at all times. You not only want to stay in touch, but you’ll also want your audience to know that you’re keeping abreast of current events. It will give you solid credibility.

  • Be flexible and prepared to change: Social media is changing all the time. As are the tools that help you automate it. Keep on top of what’s happening, so you’re able to add yourself to any new social channels or switch to any better automation services that come onto the market.

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