Social media represents the biggest opportunity for businesses since the internet arrived, but nobody can deny that to make it work well takes hard work and a certain amount of talent. There’s lots of fantastic software out there, much of it for free, claiming to take the pain away. We all know though that “social” is about people, not machines, so how do you resolve the contradiction of automation vs relationships?
If you get this wrong, not only will your social media efforts do very little for you, they can leave people who are encountering your organization for the first time with a really negative impression.
Here’s our guide to the tasks you can safely use software for, and which functions you should never, ever consider going near.
Prescheduling – If you’re going to maintain a consistent social media presence, particularly if Twitter is involved, some degree of pre-scheduling is pretty much unavoidable. The number of tools out there to help you do this seems to proliferate almost daily, but Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Bufferapp are the biggest players.
Provided you still engage with others and keep some real-time tweets in the mix, using software to preschedule can actually help you make a much better job of your social media presence. For example, being able to review a week’s worth of core content all in one place before it goes out makes it easier to keep an eye on the overall quality and tone of your posts. Are you talking too much about your own organization? Overdoing it on a particular topic? Not mixing it up a little with content from others? All of this is easy to evaluate when you’re reviewing your output holistically.
Analytics – Another benefit of prescheduling is that a built in link shortener usually comes as part of the package. That means you can track how many readers have actually clicked on your links – great for the ego, but more importantly helping you fine tune your content to the stuff your audience have an appetite for.
Community management – Or rather, the logistics of community management – physically being able to see and keep up with the conversations. Many social media management tools help you with this, in various ways. Whether it’s showing your VIP Lists on Twitter in a single dashboard, to helping you keep track of conversations on Facebook, this is good, helpful functionality, and can be crucial if you have multiple or large communities.
Syndication – within reason. Carefully considered syndication of your original content (blog posts, usually) to quality sites with decent editorial standards, a relevant audience, and proper attribution back to your home domain: good. This provides you with a lot of extra visibility, and can really help to bring in a new audience. Scattergun syndication to sites which don’t meet those criteria: bad.
Reputation monitoring – from the big enterprise level tools like Radian6, Brandwatch, Meltwater etc through to free alerts from SocialMention.com, reputation monitoring is unarguably best done with some help. Using up time daily to search for mentions of your brand just isn’t productive. Just be realistic about what tool you actually need – unless you’re a household name, you probably don’t need to pay out for large scale analysis – and if you’re purchasing a tool with automated sentiment analysis, don’t forget to dig into your raw data regularly, as that’s often where the real insights lie.
These are the areas which many companies are tempted into, and which while not catastrophic for your image, tend to dilute the value of your investment in social media.
Cross-posting to multiple platforms – Here’s the deal with this: just because so many of the social media tools allow you to post to every site on earth simultaneously, it doesn’t mean you should.
If you stop to think about it, you know that the audience on Twitter is different from the audience on LinkedIn is different from the audience on Pinterest, right? Think of it in terms of the daily newspaper market – people don’t buy the Telegraph vs the Sunday Sport because they want the same articles in a different shaped paper.
If you’re going to be on multiple platforms, figure out your target audience and objectives for each one and then make sure your content is appropriate. If you don’t have time for that, choose the platform with the highest cost / benefit ratio in terms of your time investment, and leave the others alone. Simple as that.
Being present on social media – The biggest risk with all social media tools is that they tempt people into believing that they’re “set and forget”. If you do this, your social media presence is guaranteed to be worthless. Remember, the value is in the “social” – and that means “hands on” communication.
RSS feeds to autocreate content. For example, linking up to either a single RSS output (the feed for your blog) or a search output (all news stories containing keyword X).
There are some very specific scenarios where these can be valuable: a niche recruitment agency automatically tweeting out links to new jobs as they’re posted, say. If the account clearly states that it’s just an automated feed in the Twitter biography, some people might prefer to receive updates that way. But on balance, they’re usually used badly by folk grabbing for a badly considered shortcut. The search outputs tend to be the worst offender here, as the law of unintended consequences just loves these; that’s how you get Investment companies tweeting about a new bar in Bali called Dividend, and the like.
This is the special circle of hell reserved for things you really don’t want to do. These are the things which will make your organization look clueless and unprofessional at best, and get you kicked from a social network site at worst.
Automated messages. The #1 sin in social media; possibly even worse than neglectful silence. Don’t be tempted to set up auto-responses to messages anywhere, and in particular NEVER auto-send Direct Messages to new Twitter followers. Without exception, people hate these. Like sending out vast quantities of email spam, you might occasionally get an extra web click out of it, but the overall damage to your reputation will be much greater than any benefit.
Autofollowing. There is one way, and only one way, to build an engaged following on Twitter which will genuinely benefit your business. That is to consistently send out valuable (interesting, newsworthy, entertaining) content appropriate to your target audience. That audience retweets you, their network checks you out, you gain followers.
Any software which promises to massively grow your number of followers without any effort on your part, is leading you astray. It’s not that they can’t do it – they can, hence the number of “business coaches” and “motivational speakers” on Twitter with tens of thousands of followers, despite sending out nothing but self-promotional or nonsense content. But the way the software achieves this is simply a numbers game. It automatically follows a large number of people, and then unfollows those who don’t follow back, and repeats the process.
Even with the cleverest keyword filtering on the following criteria, this is ONLY going to work if you’re also sending out quality content; if not, the only people who’ll follow back will be those also concerned with the numbers game, who have no intention of reading your posts anyway. Plus, mass following and unfollowing is against Twitter’s terms of service, and the number of accounts being deleted for this seems, anecdotally, to be rising.
I hope it’s clear that we’re far from anti-automation; in fact, I couldn’t do my job without it. Automation used as a tool, to help you interact more effectively with others, is great. Automation used as an end in itself will almost always end badly, and it’s important that you critically evaluate which of the “shiny toys” being offered by software vendors are which – and keep sight of your business objectives for social media while you do so. Have a properly thought out social media strategy and choose tools that will help you maximize the time you have available for personal interaction, and you won’t go wrong.
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