Posted: Mon 27th Nov 2023
Social media is a fantastic tool for small business marketing. It lets you get your message out there and speak to customers one-on-one so you know how they really feel about you.
But it can also be a huge drain on time. How often have you popped on to one of your social channels just to send a quick message and found you're still there an hour later? And what about all those times you want to use social media but can't? If you're in a four-hour meeting, you can't interrupt things to repost your latest blog on LinkedIn.
Automation can help you with all of these problems, and more. In this blog, we'll look at some really simple ways you can automate your social media presence, which should help you save time, and make sure you're always posting high-quality content, even when you're otherwise indisposed.
Throughout, Enterprise Nation adviser Emma Goode will share her top insights and tips about some of the ways you can automate your social media and the best (often free) tools you can use.
A warning about social media automation
Before we get started, there's a quick warning: You should never fully automate all of your social media tasks.
There are a couple of very good reasons for this. First, social media thrives on a personal touch. If you're just scheduling news articles to go out on X (Twitter) every hour, and never actually interacting with people, don't expect anyone to be interested in your accounts.
The second reason is perhaps even more important. What seems like an innocuous post when you scheduled it to be published in a week's time can become something very different if a major news story happens. Always be aware of the automated content you have scheduled, and be prepared to change your plans if you need to.
And remember, we're living in an age where people will react to breaking news on social media, while the event is actually unfolding. In these circumstances, it's often wise for businesses to stop posting altogether as the spotlight is elsewhere, and posting about other topics may seem crass.
Why you should automate your social media
So that's the warning out the way. Now let's look at the reasons why it pays to get to grips with social media marketing automation. Emma Goode has some useful insights here.
"Essentially, as a business owner, you want to avoid the repetitive tasks that machines can do and create more time for doing what you're best at.
"Every business is different, of course, but there are some commonalities around what aspects of your social media efforts you can automate. All told, you should be able to save about three to four hours a week on average.
"So essentially, you've got Friday afternoons off, which you can use as your pleasure, to scale your business or whatever you choose!"
It makes planning time-sensitive social content easier
Launching a product on the same day you're travelling to an important meeting? Patchy internet access might make it hard for you to post the big announcement on social media. But if you've automated things, you can write and schedule announcements like this weeks and even months in advance.
It lets you keep things consistent
Consistency is hugely important when it comes to social media – most people like to know what to expect and when to expect it. So if you post five tweets on a Monday, but then nothing at all for two weeks, don't expect your follower count to shoot up. Automation makes it easier to develop and stick to a consistent posting schedule.
It makes it easier to monitor things
Scheduling content irregularly can really mess up the conclusion you're able to draw from monitoring your social media results. Why?
Well, if you post your latest blog article to Facebook at 11am on a Tuesday one week and it gets very few interactions, and then post your next article to Facebook at 4pm on Friday the following week and it gets absolutely loads of clicks, likes and shares, what conclusions can you draw?
Well, you might say that the second blog was much better than the first. But it could be that 4pm on Friday is the best possible time to post articles on your Facebook page. With a fixed content calendar and schedule, it's easy to draw firm conclusions about what is and isn't working.
How to automate your social media accounts
So that's some of the benefits of automation, but how do you actually go about setting it up?
Here, we'll take a look at what you need to do to get started with social media automation. But remember: there are no hard and fast rules here. Just follow the basics, then experiment to find out what works best for you and your business.
1. Develop a social media content marketing strategy
What are you going to post to your social media sites and why? It's a big question, and one that can take a lot of answering. Really though, your focus should be on sharing content that your business's existing and potential customers will find interesting.
If you don't know what that content might be, you need to understand your customers better. Our blog explaining buyer personas is a good place to start.
But assuming you do know, the next step is to start thinking about how you can place this content in the 4:1 strategy. This is a technique recommended by Joel Gascoigne, who started social automation tool Buffer.
Basically, the 4:1 strategy means you make four posts of one kind and then a different kind of post. So you might post four blog articles, and then ask your followers a question. It's a great way to add variety into your social mix, so you can test things while still staying consistent.
2. Develop your social media schedule
Now you know what you'll be posting, you can work out when you'll be posting it. Before you can create the schedule, however, you'll need to know the following:
The specific content you'll be posting. This could be links to interesting articles, the name of a forthcoming post on your own blog, or an image. You'll also need to write the text you want to include (if any) when you the post goes out.
How often you should be sharing content with your social network. There's a recommended limit to posting on various social platforms. If you keep your posts below five a day for Pinterest, three a day for X (Twitter) and two a day for Facebook, you should be fine. After that, people's interest starts to fall off.
Also think about how often you should share an individual piece of content. If you're just sharing your blog posts once, you're really missing out. Research from Kissmetrics shows there's huge value in sharing content to your social media networks more than once.
How far ahead you'll be planning. Really, this needs to be at least a fortnight ahead, and ideally a month (if not longer). If you can dedicate a few hours each month to planning and preparing your next four weeks' social media output, you'll get a lot more out of it than if you're scrambling to schedule posts every Sunday evening.
Once you've got your head around all that, you can start creating your social media content plan.
Pick an automation tool and begin using it
Once you've got your strategy and content plan in place, the next step is to put your plan into action. To do that, you'll need to decide on a social media automation tool.
Whatever social media tool you pick, you'll need to upload the content from your plan and schedule it for the date and time you want it to be published. With most tools, you'll be able to view, edit or cancel a social media post right up until the moment it goes out, meaning you can always make last-minute adjustments if you need to.
Popular social media automation tools
There are plenty of tools out there, but here are some of the most well known, and their key features:
This powerful tool allows you to manage several social media platforms from a single dashboard. You can schedule posts in advance, engage with your audience and track analytics across various channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. It's a time-saver for managing content and monitoring interactions.
Buffer is fantastic for publishing posts across different social media platforms. It helps you keep your posting consistent by allowing you to plan and schedule content ahead of time. Plus, it provides analytics to track posts' performance and audience engagement, which helps you refine your social media strategy.
Focused more on visual content, Later is excellent for scheduling and managing Instagram posts. It lets you plan and arrange your Instagram grid, schedule stories, and automatically publish posts at the best time. If you're a visual planner, you'll find it handy for maintaining a cohesive aesthetic and engaging with your audience.
This tool offers a comprehensive suite for social media management, covering scheduling, engagement and analytics. It's particularly useful if your small business is aiming for a more data-driven approach to its social media marketing. Sprout Social provides in-depth analytics that can guide your content strategy and tactics for engaging your target audience.
Meet Edgar specialises in recycling and repurposing evergreen content. It automatically reshares social posts over time, making sure your best content is seen by a broader audience. If you're looking for your content to have the strongest possible impact without constant manual scheduling, Meet Edgar is a great solution.
Other tools you can use to automate your social media marketing
Below, Emma Goode recommends some of her favourite social media automation software and tools:
"This is a free tool that Google provides. I use it to set alerts that will tell me every time I'm featured in the news, my company's featured in the news, and also my competitors.
"The benefit from that is then you can create blog content around topics relating to any new press releases written about your competitors. You can go away and write a similar article and publish it on your website, because you know that there are enough people talking about that particular subject.
"If you set up alerts for your sector or industry, every time something newsworthy happens, you can get an alert on it and then write a blog about it. So think of Google as providing insight both from an industry inspector point of view, from a trend point of view, and from an individual company and competitor point of view."
"Another free Google tool, and this one shows you what people are searching for. You can check it every day and in real time. You can set up alerts to find out what's trending in the UK every day, and then go away and make a social media post about it.
"If you see that a particular subject is trending over the year, you can determine the best time to write a blog about it – for example, November for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Or, ahead of the end of the financial year in April, you could put out a blog that talks about invoicing.
"You can plan your yearly content around what's trending over six months, and this is a great tool for anybody that is struggling to find blog inspiration."
"If you don't have a Google Business profile (formerly Google My Business), know that it's hugely important for local SEO results. But what you can do is automate the process so that when you post on Facebook, you also post on your Business Profile automatically, which saves tons of time.
"Ideally, you should update Google Business every time you update the rest of your social media channels. The posts expire after seven days so it's really important to keep Google Business up to as it's your shop window when somebody's searching on Google.
"When the map comes up, you want some posts included in there to give the user a really rich experience. It's a massive time-saver, but you also get really good SEO benefits as well."
Another Google product. If you have Google Reviews set up automatically, you can reply to people who leave you reviews. Obviously, you should read them first and make sure everyone's happy.
Then what you can do is automate it so every time you get a review, the robots reply to that person. You can do it manually, but if you're happy to automate it, it's another massive time-saver.
If you're running a Google pay-per-click campaign or sending someone to a landing page that has a form, once the form entry comes through when someone's clicked onto the landing page and left their details, you can automate the process so that data goes directly into your email newsletter system (for example, Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor).
You can also get that information sent out via SMS or WhatsApp as well. For example, if you have an electronic brochure that could automatically go through as an SMS the minute somebody fills in a landing page, you can completely automate that.
Not everyone seems to know about this, but Facebook (now Meta) shows you in its database what advertisements are run and by who.
So if you don't have a massive marketing department and you're slightly unsure about launching another campaign on Facebook, you can look at a bigger brand that has large marketing departments and planning teams to see what kind of creative they're using.
Look at the types of ads they're running and then tweak them for your business. They've done all the hard work and research for you!
If you're creating videos on YouTube, you can automate them going into your blog at the same time. You're killing two birds with one stone. You're getting great social media posts, but also you're creating a blog at the same time, and that will improve your SEO as you go along.
You can now use Canva's scheduling tools for your social media. If you've designed something in Canva, you can automatically schedule it right from the platform to go out on your Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. You can even integrate Google Drive and Dropbox, so you don't have to download the imagery from the cloud and upload it to Canva. It's a huge time-saver.
Measure your results
Once your automated posts are underway, you'll undoubtedly want to see how they're performing. One of the great things about social media is the sheer number of metrics and detailed analytics available to help you judge how you're doing.
Get to grips with these valuable insights, then look at what works and what doesn't work. Maybe the posts you share in the afternoon have much more engagement than those you send in the morning? If so, you might want to tweak your publishing schedule in the future to send more tweets in the afternoon, and fewer early in the day.
Understanding social media reports is a big topic, so if you need further advice on it, check out this guide from Kissmetrics.
By now, you should have a good idea of how to automate your social media and the benefits of doing so.
You won't be able to leave everything up to the machines. But automation should make it easier to manage your social media campaigns, and increase the value they produce for your business and followers.
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