Is social media automation a good thing for small business owners? How can small business owners use social media quickly without it? This post covers what you need to know about automating your social media presence. It’s not all bad!
Putting social media on auto-pilot is like sending your customer complaint phone calls to voice mail. Sure, it might help some people who just want to vent or have specific questions answered by your recording, but it’s only going to tick off most people.
Yet, mastering social media takes time, and for a small business run by a handful of people, it can seem impossible to keep up with social media. Few small business owners have time to sit on Twitter all day.
I have good news: automation has a negative connotation, but all of your business practices should be automated sometime. You can’t scale if you do everything by hand. It’s just important to automate the right way. You wouldn’t stick a mannequin behind the counter but you also wouldn’t demand that your cashiers calculate everything by hand. With the proper tools, social media automation can help you run your social media accounts, even if you don’t have the money yet to hire a dedicated social media manager.
Things You Should Never Automate
First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room: the dark side of automation. Social media automation has a negative connotation for a reason — lots of people do it incorrectly. There are certain types of automation you should never do.
- Never create an account and leave it 100% on autopilot. Any platform — Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. — requires your attention at least some of the time. You can’t just set things up and let them handle themselves.
- Never automate customer service. You need to address problems and answer questions via social media if you’re going to have a presence there. Never leave customers to fend for themselves when an issue arises.
- Never automate “from” live events. Bad stuff happens, all the time. If you schedule or otherwise automate tweets to look like you’re at an event, you could end up with mud on your face if things don’t go as planned. Look at this example of a tweet from LiveNation Ontario about a Radiohead concert that was canceled due to a stage collapse tragedy.
Depending on your business, there are other things you should never automate – but those are the big three that go for everyone.
Automation the Right Way
You can, however, automate some parts of the social media process to make things easier for you as a small business owner. The key is to make sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. You shouldn’t automate everything. So, start with a single social network, get the process down pat there, and then branch out to the next network. This is a much more streamlined process than trying to start ten profiles at once. (I recommend starting with either Facebook or Twitter, depending on your industry. Go to the network where your customers are most active.)
Let’s look at a few ways you can automate your account:
- Automate stats tracking.
There’s absolutely no reason to collect and study your data manually. You should track stats, but instead of spending time trying to make heads or tails of Facebook Analytics and other platform-specific reports, go with a single system. Check out this really comprehensive list of social media monitoring tools. Remember, you get what you pay for. I highly recommend opening your wallet and spending a little money on an all-inclusive, detailed monitoring service unless you have the time to analyze free reports.
- Automate your tweets.
Not all of your tweets should be automated, and some may disagree with me on this point, but I believe that it is fine to schedule some of your tweets in advance, as well as automate the tweeting process if you have a company blog.
Twitterfeed is your friend. If you sign up for this service, you can add your blog’s RSS feed and you’ll automatically tweet every new post as it is published. Unless you can think of a reason why you’d not want to tweet your own links, I highly recommend doing this. It just doesn’t make sense to do it manually.
If you are going to schedule tweets, I have two tips for you:
- Don’t schedule too far in advance. You want to keep track of everything you have scheduled so you can cancel the tweets if you want.
- Don’t schedule anything that isn’t 100%. Yes, you can cancel scheduled tweets, but don’t rely on this function. Don’t schedule a tweet that you wouldn’t be okay with going out instantly.
I recommend scheduling tweets simply because you want to spread them out over the course of a day and this isn’t always possible, depending on your business. If you do have a business where you can constantly tweet via your phone or computer in real time, that’s usually the better option.
You can schedule updates for Facebook as well, though keep in mind that Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to determine how many people see your post. (Check out this great article from NMX speaker Rich Brooks about EdgeRank if you’ve never heard of it before.) Be aware that some forms of automation can affect how well your Facebook page performs, so it’s important to do things manually when possible.
- Get notified! (But don’t rely on notifications.)
There are tons of mobile apps that will buzz every time you get a new mention or message or whatnot on your social media profile. If you’re on the go, this will alert you whenever you need to take care of something, rather than having to manually check you accounts several times per day.
You can also set up your preferences to get an email every time there’s an interaction on one of your social media accounts. I know, I know: no one wants more email. However, what you can do is set up a dummy email account just for your social media sites and sync that to your phone. That way, it doesn’t bog down your regular email and you don’t even have to check it (other than perhaps occasionally cleaning it out to free up some space), but your phone will still buzz whenever something needs your attention.
A word of caution however: don’t rely solely on automatic notifications. You should sign into every social media account you’ve create at least once per day (twice or more is recommended) to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
The bottom line? Not all social media automation is bad. You just have to learn to do thing the right way. Make sure to test every technique and be present whenever possible. Automation shouldn’t be the norm; it should simply be a way to add to real life presence via social media.