You’ve now got seven social media accounts, including your blog. How can you possibly find time to manage all these accounts, given the time demands of the average academic?
Today, we’re going to talk about how you can use social media automation tools like Buffer and IFTTT to manage these accounts in a more efficient way.
Below, we’ll introduce you to how social media automation works, the best automation tools, and rules to follow for success.
What is social media automation?
When you want to share a new blog post or article link on social media, you can save time by using a single tool to post to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all at once. These tools will allow you to compose one message and post it to all your connected social media accounts with the click of a button or whenever a “trigger” is tripped. That’s social media automation, and it’s going to save you a ton of time.
Many social media automation tools can also be used to schedule posts in advance, so you can plan ahead to share a lot of content over the course of a day or week, rather than all at once.
Cyborgs vs. robots: your best options for automation
There are two types of social media automation tools:
First are composing and sharing platforms, which we’ll call “cyborgs” because they require some human input to automate future actions. Buffer and Hootsuite are in this category (we’ll talk about both of these below).
In general, here’s how cyborg tools work: you log on to the platform, compose a message to share, select the social media accounts you want to share the message on, and then schedule the message to post at a later time. Cyborgs are more hands-on, but they allow for superior control of messaging and timing.
Your other option is full-blown automators, which we’ll call “robots” due to the fact that they automate posting not based on human input but instead based on whether or not certain actions have occurred on the platforms they’re connected to. IFTTT is in this category (again, more on IFTTT below).
When using a robot tool, you first define and set up actions you want to automate–say, “if I post a new blog post, then I’ll share a link and the title of the post automatically on Twitter and Facebook.” Then, whenever you complete that action, the robot will do its work, immediately automating posts across various social media sites. In general, robots’ big drawback is that you don’t have much control over what’s automatically posted and when, but they do save you time and effort by not requiring human intervention in order to work.
All of the tools we’ll cover below tend to post to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn out-of-the-box. All also have a flaw: they don’t let you automate posts to or from ResearchGate, Academia.edu, or Google Scholar. Below, we’ll introduce some workarounds that address this problem. But first, let’s check out the most popular automation tools one by one.
Buffer is a popular, browser-based, “cyborg” social media automation platform. On the free tier of the service, you can connect and post to your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts from a single update box (seen above).
To get started, sign up for an account and connect the social media accounts you want to post to. On the Content tab, you’ll see a blank update box. This is where you’ll compose your message.
First, select the networks you want to post to; then, compose your message (a “remaining character” limits appear to the left of the “Add to queue” button), add a link, and add a photo (click the camera icon on the bottom left of the update box, and Buffer will guide you through selecting and adding a photo to the post).
When you’ve finished composing your message, you can either add the post to your queue to be shared at a time that Buffer selects, share the post immediately, or schedule the post to appear at a time that you specify.
You can also customize the times at which Buffer will share items in your Queue. Click on the Schedule tab, select the days of the week you want Buffer to share content, and then add the times of day (and night) you want Buffer to share content.
Hootsuite is another popular “cyborg” social media automation platform. You can both schedule posts on the service and monitor interactions across your profiles via its Stream interface, pictured above. We’ll focus on Hootsuite’s post automation features below.
To get started, sign up for a Hootsuite account and connect up to three of your social media profiles for free (perfect if you’re just connecting your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts).
To compose a message, hover over the “Send to” box at the top left of your screen. The box will automatically expand to show you the full composition and posting options.
When you’ve finished composing your message, you can choose to “Send now” or click the calendar icon to schedule your post for the future (“Schedule” menu seen at right).
If you choose to schedule ahead, note that you can either specify a time and date for your post, or allow the post to be added to the AutoSchedule. AutoSchedule works like the Buffer Queue: it will post your message at predetermined time and dates that you can adjust by clicking the gear icon on the AutoSchedule box of the “Schedule” menu.
OK, we’ve covered your options for automating part of your social media routine with cyborgs. Let’s talk about what robots can do for you. 🙂
IFTTT (“If this, then that”) is a powerful “robot” automation platform. Here’s how it works: you create a Recipe, select the Trigger, and define an Action you want to automatically happen once that Trigger is tripped. In the example pictured above, I’ve told IFTTT that anytime a new post appears in Carl Boettiger’s blog’s RSS stream (Trigger), to send me an email (Action).
You can reuse others’ Recipes that will post to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn anytime you’ve written a new blog post; cross-post from one social network to another, so your LinkedIn posts automatically appear on Twitter and Facebook and vice versa; tweet when you’ve created a GitHub repository; and so on.
To create your own Recipes, sign up for IFTTT, click “My Recipes” at the top of the page, and click “Create a Recipe”.
Click “this” to define your Trigger. Search for your Trigger Channel–the platform that you want your data or updates to come from. Then, choose the Trigger–the event that will initiate the Action. For example, if I want to post to Facebook anytime I tweet a link on Twitter, my Trigger Channel is Twitter, my Trigger is “New link by you.”
Define your Action next. Click “that” to search for your Action Channel–the platform where you want your data or updates to appear. Then, select the Action itself–the event that will happen when your Trigger occurs. You’ll be prompted to define what text you want to appear in your Action, using “Ingredients” from the Trigger (click the Erlenmeyer flask icon to see what Ingredients are available).
Continuing with our above example, my Action Channel is Facebook, and my Action will be “Create a status message” on Facebook, and the text that will appear in the status message will be the “Text” Ingredient from my Twitter update.
Select the Ingredient, click “Add ingredient,” click “Create Action,” then click “Create Recipe” to set your automated Facebook posts into effect.
IFTTT offers more than 4000 Trigger and Action Channels, so the possibilities for automation are endless (and a bit overwhelming). Start out small–one or two Recipes, tops–and test how your audience receives them before automating more content sharing.
There aren’t very many options for automating actions when new content is posted to ResearchGate, Academia.edu, or Google Scholar, as I mentioned above. That’s due to the fact that none of these services have APIs. (If you think that should change–we do!–you can contact all three companies via webform to let them know. ResearchGate – Academia.edu – Google Scholar)
But there are workarounds: you can adapt or create Recipes that post your most popular Academia.edu papers to Facebook each week, tweet when a new publication is added to your Google Scholar profile, update your LinkedIn profile whenever a new PubMed item from a saved search appears, and so on.
Built-in automation tools
Though ResearchGate and Academia.edu aren’t connectable to IFTTT, Buffer, or Hootsuite, you can use their built-in automation tools to post updates whenever you add a paper to either platform.
On ResearchGate, add a new publication and then head to the publication’s page. Beneath the basic article information at the top of your profile, you’ll see a button to “Share” your article on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Click on the service you want to share your article to, and you’ll be prompted to connect your profile and share the post.
On Academia.edu, add your Twitter handle on your profile homepage. Whenever you add a new paper, you’ll be prompted to tweet about your upload.
Ingredients for successful social media automation
There are some general best practices you should abide by when automating your social media streams to optimize your efficiency and avoid inadvertently coming across as a spammer.
Pay attention to formatting and medium when posting across multiple platforms
Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have different limits on the lengths of content that can be shared in a single message. If you’ve got a message that is better communicated in a long post, try posting separate messages to Twitter and to Facebook and LinkedIn.
(Carefully) Schedule ahead
Consider automating your sharing for maximum reach and engagement. For example, some content gets more clicks, comments, and shares if posted on the weekend or late at night. You could schedule your posts to appear during those times, and also test other times to see if they’re better for your audience. (More on that below.)
Automation can be great for sharing links to posters, slides, and comments while you’re presenting at conferences. Postdoc Ross Mounce used automation to announce that he was presenting while he was on stage. Research scientist (and Impactstory Advisor) Keith Bradnam used automation to tweet a pre-recorded video related to a presentation he was giving, while he was giving it. You can also share blog posts that you’ve written in advance when you’re on holiday, at busy times in the semester, and other times when you don’t have time to post to social media.
If you do schedule ahead, be prepared to hit “pause” if major events happen. Otherwise, you can come across as insensitive. One example to learn from is Guy Kawasaki, who was criticized for keeping his social media automation running while the Boston Marathon bombing unfolded in 2013. Imagine if your automation made it appear as though you were trying to promote your work during a similar catastrophe!
Don’t automate interactions
Some like to automatically tweet “Hello!” to new followers, or reply with a standard message to those who tweet at them. Both of these tactics detract from the reason you’re on social media–to be social! Automated interactions can be a missed opportunity to learn about new followers or engage in discussions. Rather than automating interactions, save time by setting aside a half hour or so on a weekly basis to batch your replies.
Find the best times and content types to post for your audience
You’ll want to post when your followers are most likely to read and interact with your posts and articles in the form of shares, retweets, clicks, comments, and so on. In general, there are ideal times and days to post to various social networks, but you should learn what’s best for your specific audience.
The Buffer blog suggests that you consider the following when determining your social media automation schedule:
- What time zones are the majority of your Twitter followers located? (We recommend Tweriod to learn when your followers are online.)
- When do your posts most often get clicked and shared? (Experiment with posting the same content on different days and at different times, then use built-in analytics tools for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to see which date and time performs best.)
- When are you around to respond to interactions with your content? (You know your own schedule best, so consider posting the content that’s likely to be most discussion-inducing when you’re awake and around to respond to comments.)
Also experiment with what you’re posting to learn what resonates more with your audience. Do more people read your articles when you’ve posted them to your blog and shared those links, rather than links to the articles themselves? Are your colleagues more likely to strike up a discussion if you post questions when sharing content? Again, share the same content multiple times but in different formats to learn more about what your followers are most likely to read, discuss, and share.
Your homework is to sign up for and test Buffer, Hootsuite, and IFTTT. Which one(s) work best for you and why?
Once you’ve figured out which one you prefer, create a plan for how using it will fit into your social media schedule, and how you’ll test the popularity of posting times and types of content. Then, start automating!
Finally, read this LSE Impact Blog post on automating measurement and collection of your social media impact. You don’t have to enact any of the suggestions from the post, but keep in mind that it’s possible to backup all of your impacts to Google Drive. It may be useful for you down the road.
In tomorrow’s Impact Challenge, we’re switching gears: we’ll explore platforms for sharing your research data.