At one time the entirety of a company’s digital strategy could be summed up with the question, ‘Is it worth making a website?’
Those days are long gone and even small bricks and mortar businesses need some sort of presence online. Websites, listings and social media profiles can all help to increase the visibility, branding and ultimately the profitability of any business. It does require the expenditure of a certain amount of resources to deal with all your digital commitments, however. Whether you are a large company that can employ or outsource to dedicated social media handlers, designate someone to spend part of their workday on it, or look after it yourself as the owner of an SME, there is always a cost involved – even if it is in time, that could be productively spent elsewhere.
Thankfully, there are a number of tools and techniques that can take some of the strain out of managing your social media and other owned online assets, including your business website. Social media automation is one of these tools. It has a lot of uses, but what exactly can it do and are there any times when you definitely shouldn’t use it?
So what is social media automation?
Just as the name implies, social media automation involves automating various parts of your social media marketing activities. This could involve scheduling posts to go live at a specified time, answering basic queries, recycling evergreen content and searching for new shareables.
As well as reducing the time spent on existing social media tasks it can allow you to expand your activities in this area. There are also numerous other automation tools available, with email marketing automation being particularly prevalent. According to a couple of recent reports, businesses saw a revenue increase of nearly a third (32%) after 12 months of introducing automation, along with an increase of approximately 77% in conversions.
Perhaps the most common form of social media automation involves queuing and scheduling your posts. This means that you can prepare the content ahead of time and either queue it to go live at regular consistent intervals or earmark certain posts for the most effective times. The best times to post content can vary throughout the week and across different platforms as this research from Sprout Media shows. It’s easy to miss these slots, particularly on a busy day, and some of the best times to post might also be times when your team (or yourself as manager or business owner) could be better employed elsewhere. Scheduling can be particularly valuable if you do not have the resources to have employees dedicated to managing your social media.
You can also keep posts going out of office hours through the week, over the weekends and during holidays. If you have an audience that spans different time zones, you can schedule your posts to reach them at the best time, based on their location.
If you do use automation to schedule your posts though, it’s worth keeping a human eye on what is due to go out when, and to override or cancel scheduled posts if required. In particular, you don’t want inappropriate or insensitive tweets and other messages going out during a natural disaster or time of national tragedy.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to using automation to reply to customers and others via social media. One insists that you should only ever respond personally as customers do not like the impersonal touch of a bot. This may have been the case a few years ago, but chatbots offer a whole new layer of potential as they have become more effective, affordable and widespread.
Many customers are now used to the option of talking to a chatbot over a service like Facebook Messenger and prefer the immediate response over having to wait for a human to reply. Providing a personal, human response is still generally the best option, but an automated bot can be great for picking up the slack. They are increasingly capable of answering basic queries and can provide a first response and acknowledgement and point out further resources, even if the communication ultimately has to be followed up by a human agent.
Of course, if you’re going for quirky and funny in your social media persona, or like to respond to current and trending events, you will still need to maintain that human presence.
Many social media automation tools also offer additional services, which may include insights and analytics. As well as the previously mentioned research on when people tend to respond better to various types of content on different platforms, social media management suites can tell you more specifically how your audience responds to your posts and content. This can provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of different types of content, as well as the best times to post them. Analytics related to engagement, reach, impressions and more can really help you to plan your campaign strategy across different social media platforms.
You can also use many of these tools to monitor social media channels for mentions of your brand and relevant keywords, helping you to keep your eye on the conversation about your business and sector.
Some automation tools also provide the facility to curate content that you can then share on your own social media. They will search for relevant content based on keywords, your sector and previously published content. This can be set to publish automatically, but it’s generally best to vet the content that is found before scheduling it to go live.
Some automation systems are able to create content, but this is generally not of a high quality and can look amateurish and inappropriate. You can use drafts as a jumping-off point, as well as creating and storing templates that allow you to make your own content more quickly, but actual content creation is – for now at least – still best left to human creativity and judgement.