For time-starved small businesses, automating parts of your social media is an efficient way to save time and be in two places at once. However, it can be all too tempting to go completely overboard and automate everything. Just like everything, you want to automate in moderation.
Here are some helpful dos and don'ts for automating social media so that it works for you and not against you.
DO identify what takes up most of your time and then survey the tools to decide what would be helpful to automate. This will help you save time when setting up your automations and avoid you getting distracted by automations you really don't need.
DON'T get overwhelmed with automation tools. There are dozens to choose from and it's easy to let them all justify themselves to you. We love HootSuite for scheduling social content, IFTTT for syncing work across platforms, and Zapier for more complex workflow automations (particularly to do with subscriber lists and task/project management), and we recommend starting with one based on your most pressing automation needs and growing from there if you need to.
DO understand exactly how each automation works so that you know if it's worth it. Test it out to make sure you like it and it does what you want. If it doesn't work, ditch it and find something else.
DON'T automate posting everything across every channel. Most content should be crafted to suit the platform it's being published on, meaning it probably won't be as effective on another platform. Also, some cross-posting automations don't actually work particularly well. For example, auto-posting an Instagram photo to Twitter looks like this:
...what you actually want a photo on Twitter to look like:
DO consider automating responses to customer enquiries via email and DMs to let them know that you've received their message and will get back to you within a certain time frame (ie. 24 or 48 hours, two business days, etc). This lets your customer know that their message hasn't just fallen into the abyss of the internet, and helps manage expectations for a response. It also keeps you accountable ;)
DON'T set yourself up to automatically repost anything from any account. I've seen this before where brands and people associated with brands will set up an automation to repost every. single. post. a brand or a person makes. There are a few reasons why this isn't great, namely that you don't have control over what that other account posts, so you could end up reposting something you shouldn't or wouldn't have otherwise posted, and also because most automations for this task are clumsily set up and don't properly attribute the content, making your repost look sloppy and obviously automated.
DO regularly review the content you have scheduled to post and amend it based on current events. This is particularly relevant for travel brands, many of whom post content from and about the whole world. If you have scheduled a photo or article about a city and then something bad happens in that city, you're going to need to remember to catch it before it automatically gets posted and makes you look insensitive.
DON'T make it obvious you're automating and don't only post automated things. Everyone knows that brands automate on social media, and everyone is fine with that. What they're not fine with is seeing the automation (with a few exceptions) and seeing a feed that is only filled with automated posts and nothing 'real'. Why? Because it looks laaaaazy. It looks as though you couldn't be bothered to put effort into your social media. And if you can't put effort into it, why should anyone care?
If your Twitter feed is just a stream of links to your Instagram posts, or your blog posts are automatically posted to your Facebook page with no caption or context, people will notice. Automating things like responses to customer service messages (as mentioned above) are reasonable (and almost expected). Same goes for scheduling posts. But if you're going to automate responses, you have to then follow-up with a non-automated, human response. And if you're going to schedule posts, you also have to spend some time responding to reactions the posts elicit.
Remember - at its core, social media is about conversations and connections - it's not about one-sided conversations, shouting out your words and walking away when someone else starts talking, and spewing off robotic-sounding phrases. There's still very much a human element to social media, so be sure that automation doesn't strip that away from what you're doing, and that you're still putting the work in.
DO check for automation updates (also known as: don't just set it and forget it). HootSuite regularly comes out with new features, new IFTTT 'recipes' are constantly being created, and Zapier is always adding new apps for integrations. If the automation function that you want doesn't exist right now, there's a good chance it will exist in the near future. So whether you decide to hold out for its creation or you Frankenstein together a workaround, be sure to check for updates.
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