Social media are changing the way we communicate, and businesses are increasingly turning to these platforms to reach out and communicate with existing and potential customers.
However, many small business owners view social media marketing with a combination of suspicion and mystification. It can seem like a lot of work for uncertain returns. However, automation can help streamline the process and cut down a lot of that work.
Do I even need to be on social media?
It’s all very well for multinational corporations like Coca Cola or McDonald’s, to launch social media campaigns. As a small business, should you be rushing to join them?
The return on investment of a social media campaign is notoriously difficult to pin down, but it is a free and easy way to get your name out there quickly. Also, consider the fact that 73 per cent of online adults are now regular users of at least one social media site. Facebook remains the dominant platform but 42 per cent now use multiple social networking sites.
Shoppers often use social media as an ‘assist’ for purchasing when trying to determine the legitimacy and reputation of a product or company.
Social media gives the opportunity for you to grow your brand reputation by direct interaction and by the online equivalent of word of mouth marketing – or ‘word of finger’ if you will.
Finally, a strong social media presence can also provide search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, meaning your main company website is more likely to appear towards the top of the search engine results page when people search for a relevant term.
How does automation work?
You can use various tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer to schedule pre-prepared posts to go live in advance. This can allow your posts to appear at the most valuable or appropriate time, without you having to sign on and post them yourself each time. This can be particularly useful if you have a lot of messages you’d like to go out, or if you are going to be busy or even asleep.
You can also multiply the value of each piece of content by scheduling it to appear on a variety of different platforms. A great tool for this is dlvr.it as it allows you to specify the source where you want to pick the content up from and the destination(s) where you want to put it.
Social media also allows you to share content that you didn’t create but which you think will be of some value to your audience. Tools like paper.li allow you to automatically find content based on hashtags, keywords, or other variables that you specify. This can save you having to trawl the web yourself. But it can be useful to filter it with a human eye to make sure it’s all appropriate, instead of just using the “auto-share” function.
Benefits of automation
If you’re running a campaign or offer, you can write all your relevant posts in one go, and schedule them over the period you’d like to cover, as frequently as you like. You can also easily use the same messages/posts time and again to save you having to think up something new every time you log on. Concentrating your marketing effort in one go will save time and improve the overall coherence of your messaging.
You can plan around popular international, national or local events, and use relevant hashtags in advance. If you know something is going to happen on a certain date, and relevant hashtags already exist, start using them already. If, for whatever reason you’re unable to post on the day itself, at least you’ve already got your automated posts set up so you don’t need to worry about it.
Things to avoid
As great as automation is, there are some things it can’t (and shouldn’t do). These include personal responses to your messages. You can still use a tool such as Hootsuite to reply to these more easily than logging in to each of your sites and doing this though. Keeping on top of your engagement in social media is half of the battle, so automation should really be only used for broadcast promotion.
Planning your posts too far ahead could also prove detrimental in some circumstances. Your comments could be seen as trivial, insensitive and offensive in the face of a natural disaster or some other national or international tragedy. As Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc in the US, for example, it was reported that a number of local businesses were inviting people to “come on down” and do some shopping. They had clearly forgotten about their automated posts and didn’t think about going in to post messages of condolence instead.
Automation can be a great labour-saving device but it should be used sensibly. You need to keep the ‘social’ in your social media, whilst employing whatever tools you can to make the most of the time and resources you can devote to it.
*Picture credits: Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com