Automating Your Social Media
Friday, June 11, 2010 at 1:53PM
Julie Senter in Associations, Facebook, LinkedIn, Small Business, Social Media, Twitter, automation, social media

If you’re using social media for your business or association, you’re already aware of the benefits it can bring in terms of responsive customer service, branding and marketing. 

You’re also keenly aware of its massive time-suck potential.

Great opportunity, but at what cost?  Small businesses and associations are rarely able to dedicate staff to social media activities. Automating some activities can offer relief.

Free and low-cost automation services abound on the Web, and most offer excellent opportunities to cut your online time so you can get back to doing what you do best, which I bet isn’t social media.

So when and what should you automate?  Glad you asked.  Overuse of automation is a personal pet peeve. 

Here’s a good rule of thumb:  Automate distribution.  Personalize connections.

Automate Distribution

Your social media strategy likely includes a good amount of content distribution.  Company news. Industry insight.  Event promotions.  All good fodder for your blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

This is also content that is predictable and can be mapped out and scheduled. 

Need a kickstart?  Take out a calendar and write down your company’s major events for the next three months.  This could include member meetings, education seminars and networking events for associations or marketing promotions, industry conferences or sales meetings for businesses.  These are all things you can promote through your social media channels. 

Now, how do you automate this?  As I mentioned before, there are a number of free services that do this for you.  Some of my favorites include Hootsuite, Twitterfeed, Tweetdeck and Ping.fm.  Hootsuite allows you to schedule posts in advance (you can also do this on the fly from its iPhone app) and post to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts at the same time.  No need to visit each channel individually. Twitter feed allows you to automatically share your blog posts through Twitter and Facebook.  You don’t even have to think about it.  Duct Tape Marketing has posted some great automation resources as well.

But here’s a word of caution, and it’s an important one.  While your blog should be automatically distributed through all of your social media channels, it’s the only thing that should be automatically distributed through all channels.

There are several reasons for this.

First, chances are there is some overlap in your audiences.  Posting the same status looks lazy and will lead some followers/fans to re-evaluate the economy of following you in several different places instead of just one.  Second, each medium has its own personality so what may be interesting on Facebook is just plain lame on Twitter and TMI on LinkedIn.  Third, some of your followers/fans are just on one medium and may not understand the lingo of another.  Some Facebook fans will understand what "RT" means; others won't have a clue.

Now, I also want to make a special note of automation opportunities (and pitfalls) on LinkedIn because it’s the most common social media channel for professionals and I see this one get abused all too often. 

LinkedIn has made a number of improvements in recent months that allow its users to automatically share content.  On the personal side, you can link your Twitter account to your LinkedIn status updates to simultaneously post content, and you can install the Wordpress or Typepad applications to share your blog posts.  Also, associations should consider adding their blog's RSS feed to their group pages.  This automatically adds fresh content to group pages to keeps followers interested and engaged.  Woo hoo!

However, beware of overstimulating your LinkedIn connections with too much content or including inappropriate content!  I can't stress this enough.  It's important to remember that although automation can save you time, each social media channel is different.  This means you need to consider the different personalities of each and the different tolerance levels for update frequency. 

I advise you NOT to automatically post your Twitter feed to your LinkedIn status, and here are two examples showing why. 

  1. "Ben" works for an association I belong to. We met a few years ago and became connected on LinkedIn.  I see Ben's status updates in my weekly digest of connection activities.  Outside of work, Ben has a personal blog that he promotes on his personal Twitter feed.  The content has sexual overtones and his headlines are often racy.  Until recently, his Twitter account automatically posted each entry to LinkedIn.  That meant the only statuses I saw for Ben had to do with post-booty call etiquette and getting a girlfriend to agree to a three-way.  Not professional and not his intention, I'm sure.  While he still maintains the blog, he recently locked down his Twitter account so it's private and eliminated the automatic posts to LinkedIn.  Unfortunately, he can't unring the bell.
  2. "Barbara" is a friend who has built a successful consulting business.  She's become a big fan of using LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to promote her business and position herself as a thought leader. She automatically posts links to articles about her industry to all three of these channels several times a day.  And while her many posts (more than a dozen per day) are fine for Twitter, they are too frequent for Facebook and LinkedIn.  She's actually doing herself a disservice because it looks as though she is sending everything that catches her fancy.  No filter.  And since I have no idea which items she finds most valuable (nor the time to read them all) I end up tuning her out altogether on Facebook.  Definitely not her intention. 

Personalize Connections

If you think social media is about content distribution, you need to read my previous post.  It's not.  It's about making connections. 

Now that's not to say your audience won't tolerate a little self-serving marketing on your part.  They will.  It's part of the bargain.  But the real benefit of social media comes from your interaction in that space with the people that use your goods and services. 

And that, my friends, should never be automated.

Automatically responding to a new Twitter follower with a "Thanks for following me.  I look forward to your tweets." message makes your follower feel common, not special.  Instead, try reviewing your new followers on a regular schedule (once a week, for instance) and checking out their last few tweets.  Select one and respond directly to it, along with a "Thank you" for the follow.  This tactic may not work for corporate accounts pulling in hundreds of new followers a week, but shouldn't be a problem for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.  And it goes a long way toward setting a positive, personal tone with your interactions.

Remember, the goal here is to have your content consumed (and possible acted on) by your audiences.  Automate wisely and you’ll save time.  Automate everything and you’ll lose your audience.

Article originally appeared on Senterline Communications (http://senterline.net/).
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