Major corporations, small businesses, and entrepreneurs face a daunting task as they try to keep up with today's 24/7 social media landscape. Many have turned to scheduling posts to ensure their followers constantly receive content and updates.
Is this a good practice? The jury is out.
Chris Voss, CEO of Strategix One Consulting and host of the Chris Voss Show, is pro-automation. He says, "Social Media itself is actually a grand automation process. Let's get REAL, we all use automation. True engagement is IN PERSON. Unless you are coming to meet me FACE TO FACE, you are using automation."
On the other side of the coin is Peter Shankman, founder of HARO, Vocus vice president, and small business evangelist. "Automation does not understand breaking news or life changes," he says. "Automation means that you're locked in, with no way to change when something happens. Do you really want to offer ten percent off after a major world tragedy occurs?"
It seems there really is no right or wrong answer. However, there are definitely right and wrong ways to go about automation. Here are five essential rules to follow:
1. Test-drive several scheduling apps.
A certain car or phone may not be for everyone, and the same goes for scheduling applications. Test out various apps to find the one that fits your needs the best, as well as the one that makes you feel the most comfortable.
Test content on these apps so you can see how your posts appear. Make sure content is not cut off and looks exactly the way you want your followers to see it.
Some well-known applications are Buffer, Social Oomph, SocialBro and TweetDeck.
2. Research your followers.
You need to find the best times to schedule posts to engage with as many followers as possible.
When are your followers online? Which days are your followers the most active? When do you have the most exposure?
Many scheduling apps offer analytics to help you determine the answers to these questions. Once you know this information, make sure you post your most pertinent information during the times you know the content will reach the highest number of followers.
3. Strike a balance.
Nothing says "snore" more than having all scheduled posts and zero personal connection. Scheduled posts are not a way out of having real interaction with your followers.
A Forbes article puts it perfectly: "You can automate content, but you cannot automate connection."
Use automation to your advantage by posting interesting content for your followers while you free yourself up to interact live with your users.
David Webb from Search Engine Journal said, "An effective posting strategy has given me a much more organized day, where I spend less time worrying about what I'm going to post and more time interacting with people, which is exactly what social media is about."
4. Be careful.
Keep in mind that the world will continue to turn and events will occur out of your control during the time when you schedule your tweets and when they actually go out.
Do not schedule time-sensitive information, or you could have a sticky PR situation on your hands. For example, prior to a Radiohead concert, the stage collapsed, killing one and injuring many more. LiveNation sent a tweet alerting fans the show would be cancelled. A half hour later, the following prescheduled tweet went out:
Followers jumped on the tweet and immediately started bashing LiveNation. To make matters worse, the prescheduled tweet stayed on the LiveNation feed for 45 minutes before someone took it down.
Again, I draw from Forbes to nail this point home: "Automation used in the wrong places, in the wrong way, will kill your online potential and brand reputation."
5. Post differently on different platforms.
Treat the various social media platforms like the separate entities they are. You shoot yourself in the foot if you post the same information across the board.
David Webb said, "We know that different networks react better to different kinds of content, and that different demographics are more likely to be found on different networks. By using the right combination of factors, you can get the right people at the right time."
People use different social media outlets for different purposes, and you must cater to this. Be creative and imaginative.
Laura Spaventa is social media manager for HARO. A version of this article originally appeared on the Vocus blog.