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Tips and tools for social media automation

At first glance, automating social media is in stark contrast to what social media should be. After all, it's about people, their connections with one another and the interpersonal exchange. At second glance, there are definitely steps that you don't have to do personally. Sometimes an automatic can even do better. It is important to distinguish when you are in demand as a human and what you can confidently leave to the machine. In this article Jan Tißler presents his own findings and considerations for discussion and lists helpful tools and services.

Why automate at all?

Before we think about what we can leave machines to do, let's take a look at the social media ideal. This ultimately refers to the now classic saying "Markets are conversations", which you can read in the Cluetrain Manifesto:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter, ... and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.

In practical terms, this means: Companies, organizations and brands can interact with their target group, their customers and their fans on the social web. This exchange also takes place without them. If you become active yourself, you can help shape it and maybe even learn something from it in the end.

Companies can use social media to find out what motivates their customers. You can find out what their external perception looks like. You may even be able to develop new products and offers directly in dialogue. You can provide support. You can show your human side. And these are just a few of the points. If you instead see social media as just another marketing channel that you "play on" in a slightly different way, from my personal point of view you forgive a lot of potential.

But even if you, as the person responsible in a company, have internalized this, that is still not enough. You also have to adapt your messages to your target group, the respective channel and platform and, last but not least, the situation in which the targeted people find themselves. This applies to both addressing and implementation.

And of course you don't just send, you also receive. Conversations: you react to posts and comments, thank you for recommendations and you help when your help is needed.

So much for the ideal.

In reality, however, it is often the case that there are far too few resources, but you still want to - or have to - be present on the social web. And then the question arises: How do I organize my social media activities so efficiently that I get the most out of my personal and time options?

And here, among other things, automation comes into play. Of course, there are other tips to be more efficient. For example, you shouldn't want to be present everywhere, but rather choose your channels and platforms very specifically. I have already discussed this in my article on content strategy, for example. And you can often achieve more with fewer posts. But all of that is a subject for another time.

For this time, let's look at what automation can do, when it helps, and when it harms.

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Automate what and what not?

From a technical point of view, there is hardly a point that cannot be automated in some way. Where is the border here? Let's take a look at a few key points:

Find content

A social media channel should ideally not only focus on its own products and offers. Rather, this is where the topic comes up Content curation to carry. That means: You will find useful, helpful content that is worth reading elsewhere and recommend it to others. The high school of curating is not only to share third-party content, but also to sort, classify and comment on it thematically.

Many tools want to help you with this. Either by creating a more comfortable environment for it. Then you still have to find the content yourself. Or by trying to automatically suggest interesting articles, which in my experience doesn't work particularly well. This is due to the fact that they are often not made for the German-speaking market. In addition, it doesn't help your account if you post things that are of general interest. Rather, it should be about things that are specifically of interest to your target audience.

It therefore seems more sensible to search for content on suitable keywords yourself. This, in turn, is included in some monitoring tools or you can use a tool such as Google Alerts.

We will certainly come back to the topic of content curation in a separate article.

Automation potential: low

Publish and schedule posts

Most will be present on more than one platform, and not all offer the ability to schedule posts in advance. This is where tools like buffers (see below) come into play. You can use them to plan your content from a central point. That makes work a lot easier. Ultimately, we are dealing with a semi-automation: You are still planning the posts manually. But the tool takes care of the publication at the right time. Very helpful.

There are four sub-items here that you can automate even more if the worst comes to the worst:

  1. New blog posts: You can ensure that every new post on your blog is automatically published on the social web. Advantage: That is better than if no one finds out. Disadvantage: Such automatic posts give away some potential. If your blog posts are important to you (and they should be), then you better take care of this point yourself. Then you can, for example, write your own accompanying text that does not simply repeat the heading.
  2. Post new content multiple times: And if you're about to spread your blog posts and other important things, spread them more than once. Experiment here with different description texts and preview images. You will also reach different people on different days at different times. However, this is less true for Facebook, which does not particularly like the repeated posting of the same link in short time intervals. The range will be limited. In this respect, you need longer intervals here than just a few days. Twitter, on the other hand, has less of a problem with that. You can semi-automate this point: You develop the various posts yourself, the repeated publication is left to an automatic system.
  3. "Evergreen Contents": And in the next step there is content that is still interesting and up-to-date even after weeks and months. You shouldn't be afraid to point them out again here. Of course, as in other areas, the right amount is important. But as long as the content is actually useful, no one will complain about it.
  4. Recurring, timeless rubrics: Perhaps content at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week is part of your social media strategy. Maybe you have a motto of the week every Monday morning. Perhaps you'll post a fun picture every Friday afternoon to kick off the weekend. Perhaps you always refer to your newsletter on Wednesdays. Such posts are ideal for partial automation: you prepare them and schedule them. Once a month you have an appointment in the calendar to prepare the posts for the next four weeks.

Automation potential: high

Social listening

As already mentioned above: You and your products and offers will be talked about even if you are not active on the social web at all. “Social listening” is important for this reason alone: ​​after all, you want to know what is being said about you. In this way, you can also identify problems earlier and react to them.

Searching for mentions in every social network, however, is tedious. Social listening tools will help you and prepare the results for you.

Automation potential: high

interaction

In my opinion, Chris Makara from Bulkly (more on this below) defined it very well in his article: Interpersonal interactions should never be automated.

"But there is definitely one thing you shouldn't automate. And to me, that's interaction. "

As an example, he cites the direct messages that are automatically sent when you follow someone on Twitter. They seem to come from a person, but in reality they come from a bot. You can tell immediately because it is impersonal. In the worst case, the message is also an advertisement for a product. There is no clearer way to show a new follower that you are not really interested in the person. Chris Makara suggests here: If there is an automatic greeting, it should at least start a conversation. For example, it could contain a question or generally ask for feedback.

Another example from him comes from Twitter: automatic replies for new followers. The problem is the same: the user's attention is sought, but at the same time it is not valuable enough to be personally active.

If you fall back on such automatics, you should at least be honest: So don't let the bot pretend it's a human. Be open about the fact that it is an automatic reply. Then again, it can be quite helpful.

The important thing is that you don't leave everything to the machine in the end. As seductive as that may be.

Automation potential: medium

Social analytics

Many social networks already provide you with statistics. For example, you can find the insights on your Facebook page. However, constantly evaluating these numbers manually is tedious and inflexible. Numerous tools help you to keep track of things. But you still have to draw the right conclusions yourself ...

Automation potential: high

Helpful tools presented

I would now like to introduce two particularly helpful tools from my own practice. For me, Buffer and Bulkly are a strong team. But there is more.

Buffer: Always post at the right time

I've been using Buffer for many years. The basic idea: it's a queue for social media posts. To do this, you set up a schedule of when posts should appear in which network. Then all you have to do is feed Buffer with new content and it will take care of the rest itself.

By default, new posts are simply added to the end of the queue. If they are more urgent, they can also be pushed ahead and posted next. And if you want, you can even post it immediately or manually set the time for publication.

So you don't have to go to each social network individually to be able to post something there. And you don't have to be online at all when the posts are published. That makes work a lot easier. At the same time, you have an overview of what you want to post where, what you have already posted and how these postings have arrived.

Buffer can, however, tempt you to publish the same thing in all channels and maybe even with the same text. At UPLOAD, for example, we still do this far too often and are working on improving it. Melanie Tamble explained how to do this better in her article on social media cross-promotion.

Buffer can also be used as a tool for content curation, because you can subscribe to feeds directly in Buffer. It would go too far to explain this in detail. That is certainly a good topic for the future.

With Reply, Buffer now offers another service specifically for social customer service.

More about buffers in this UPLOAD article and here with Torsten Materna.

Bulkly: Recurring content

Bulkly is an offer that I've only recently taken advantage of, but I already really appreciate it. It is the ideal tool for the realization already explained above: It is worthwhile to post good content more than once on the social web because it can be discovered by other people. To reiterate, it's about really good content that fans and followers are happy to have recommended.

This is where Bulkly helps and supplements Buffer with functions that the team there is currently no longer pursuing.

One function: You can create a list of social posts including text, link and photo and then specify how often an element from this list should be sent to Buffer. I use this to point out our articles of interest in the long term. Anyone who follows us on the social web will be familiar with this daily "Highlight from the archive" section. And as I can see from the reactions, these posts are quite popular. We also have such a long list of "evergreen" posts that they take more than three months to repeat. And of course I keep this list current, taking out content and adding new ones.

A second function that I use experimentally: Current content from our RSS feed is also automatically sent to Buffer twice a week with the note "Repost". In this way we ensure that our latest posts are seen by our followers and fans.

By the time I found Bulkly, I had manually scheduled both the highlights and the reposts. For this I had created a Google Spreadsheet with columns for keyword, text, link and the date of the last post on the social web. At first I was careful and rarely posted our own content. Over time, I found that this concern was unfounded. Perhaps this is also due to the fact that we also use our channels to draw attention to current, interesting and readable articles elsewhere. As is so often the case, the mix also matters here.

Like Buffer, Bulkly can tempt users to automate too much. For example, the feed function can also be used to automatically recommend the content of other sites. I've thought about it, because there are sites where we recommend (almost) every contribution - but only almost.

I also openly admit that I am not yet one hundred percent sure that I have already found the ideal size for Bulkly. On the one hand, it relieves me of a lot of work because it automatically posts our “highlights” and our current articles. On the other hand, our profiles can quickly look boring if we don't have the time to recommend other content for a week or two. And since we are only a small team with limited resources, such tasks are left behind.

More tools

From my own experience:

  • There are numerous Alternatives to Buffer. For example, I use SocialPilot in parallel because it also has a Xing integration. HootSuite is a comprehensive tool that is particularly useful for agencies and larger companies. I'm not a fan of HootSuite myself because I find it cluttered, cluttered, and the pricing model is complicated. For small and medium-sized teams, I would always recommend something like Buffer or SocialPilot.
  • With Automation tools like IFTTT and Zapier different services in the network can be linked with each other: If something happens at point A, something is automatically triggered at point B. The possibilities here are enormous and varied. Incidentally, there was already a separate article on such tools. And Zapier also has its own blog post on social media automation.
  • A kind of digital assistant for social media marketing is crowdfire. Before its relaunch, the tool was mainly known to interact with its followers and fans, to find new followers and a lot more. However, social networks such as Instagram are becoming more and more restrictive, because such tools sometimes lead to over-automation. After the relaunch, Crowdfire now wants to help do something on its social accounts every day. In the end, I found it too restrictive and not smart enough either. But it can be useful for one or the other, especially for getting started or as a daily reminder.

But of course there are many more tools and services. Here are some that I haven't tried myself but are recommended elsewhere:

  • Spokal claims to automate social media intelligently. It seems that you create a catalog of content here and then, over time, Spokal learns by itself which of it goes down well with the users. So much for the promise.
  • SocialOomph is a classic among these tools and is similar to Buffer or SocialPilot.
  • Postplanner primarily advertises that it is particularly easy to find interesting content here in order to recommend it to your own fans and followers.However, I suspect that, as so often, this only refers to the English-speaking market.
  • Bundlepost also markets itself primarily as a content curation tool. Here you work with your own feeds.
  • PowerPost emphasizes its "newsroom" and particularly emphasizes content curation and teamwork.
  • Likeable Hub also sees a key argument that it provides topic ideas. Otherwise, it's all about scheduling posts and providing statistics.
  • Revive Old Posts is a WordPress plugin to automatically advertise "evergreen" older content on the social web.
  • Edgar is a service that, similar to Bulkly above, wants to ensure that content is automatically posted again and again.
  • Jarvee is an example of automation software that goes too far from my point of view. It is a Windows application that can act autonomously on numerous platforms. Just take a look at the Facebook functions: They start harmlessly with the preplanned posting of content, but extend to moments when Jarvee automatically finds suitable groups, joins them and also publishes posts there.
  • And then there are all-encompassing platforms that, much like HootSuite, want to be a complete package. Socialbakers is one of them. Sendible sees itself as a social media marketing and management dashboard.

Tools with even more comments are available in English, for example in this article.

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Voices on the topic

In the run-up to the article, I published a brief survey. Two answers from this at this point:

Sebastian Eisenbürger describes his experiences and recommendations as follows:

In order to automate something (successfully), it should have been successfully proven manually beforehand. In my experience this is usually not the case and with automation (of whatever) new processes are brought into the house, which then often do not perform as well (or even annoy) as hoped.

His favorite tools and services are also interesting:

HI - human intelligence. A strongly underestimated tool that should precede all other tools. ;-) For SM automation I used Promorepublic and plugins from WordPress. I often use virtual assistants as “tools” who research suitable posts and groups where I can really help with my tips.

Andrea Zehendner wrote:

I think it's important to first try out different tools and see what suits your workflow best. Although this is a bit more time-consuming at first, it saves time and trouble in the long term.

And their tools and services:

I am currently using Buffer because it gives me the opportunity to distribute interesting content quickly and easily. I can still adapt the post according to the individual platforms. In the tool itself, I like the display as a calendar, which gives me a good overview. And the analysis tool offers me interesting background information.

Conclusion: when automation works well

As already explained at the beginning, we do not live in an ideal world. We always have to compromise. And everyone has to decide for themselves which compromises are still okay and which go a step too far. Our own approach to our social media profiles has changed over the years and that will continue to be the case. So that's just a snapshot.

I also frankly admit that I don't see our own profiles as shining role models. Nor do I claim to have found the philosopher's stone on social media. On the contrary: we quarrel with each other and we know that we want to organize ourselves even better. And that's why I take the liberty of writing this post: Not because I'm the omniscient genius who does everything right. But because I know how hard it is to be active on the social web with limited resources. And because I know we will continue to learn.

When automation works well, it can help you focus on the important things. For example, I always take the time to manually respond to comments, replies, and recommendations. No bot does that. And I see that as the one decisive advantage of automation.

Your feedback is needed!

I am very excited to hear your opinions and how you are handling the matter with you. How does it look in practice, which tools are used and how much time and human resources are actually available.

Anyone who wants to reveal this is cordially invited in the comments.


This article belongs to: UPLOAD Magazin 52

In five articles in this issue, we will show you how you can improve your social media activities all round. It is about internal professionalization, the right social media strategy, three fields of application for monitoring, advice for meaningful guidelines and clever automation.

Jan "jati" Tißler has over 20 years of professional experience as an online journalist and digital publicist. In 2006 he launched the UPLOAD magazine. Since 2015 he has been helping companies to inspire the right customers with content. Together with Falk Hedemann, he offers UPLOAD Publishing services along the entire content marketing process chain. Born in Hamburg, he lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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