3 Ways to “Automate” Your Social Media Efforts—And Why You Should

I’m delighted to welcome back a guest blogger, Nick Thacker, whose post earlier this year resulted in some interesting feedback. He has some great ideas here, many of which are new to me and I am already planning to try out.

 “Automation” is a word that tends to invoke thoughts of iRobot-style post-apocalyptic societies, machine-versus-human world wars, and other disturbing concepts.

It’s easy to see why: we’ve gone from an unplugged, eating-dinner-at-the-table family lifestyle to a smartphone-wielding, status-updating and Pinterest-crazed world. There are automated banks, door-to-door grocery delivery services, and machines that will eat your money and turn it into a hot and “fresh” hamburger.

But that’s just one side of the argument. We can’t forget that all of this automation and the fast-paced society we now live in have given us some remarkable innovations as well—including marketing innovations for authors.

Whether you’re published through a “Big 6” house or are going it alone, it’s no secret that the most successful authors are “building their platforms.” Using tools like websites, newsletter, and social media accounts, authors are creating their own marketing powerhouses—putting their books directly into the hands of the readers who want them.

As an author, understanding how all this stuff works can mean the difference between success and failure.

The tradeoff

Unfortunately, to effectively use these marketing tools and build an author platform, you’re going to need to either pay someone to do it all for you (not recommended) or spend the time doing it yourself (at the expense of your writing).

Or, you can automate.

Using some simple systems, you can benefit from social media’s reach without needing to spend a full workweek promoting your books and your writing. You also won’t need to “sell your soul” to get it done (like paying for followers or engaging in “less than reputable” promotional tactics).

Technically, the term that best describes the concepts here isn’t automation—it’s cultivation. You’re cultivating and maintaining an active social profile online, but you don’t need to constantly hover over your Twitter account or Facebook page. Likewise, this approach is more involved than a simple “set it and forget it” methodology.

The guiding principle

Many other successful authors have repurposed the famed “80/20 principle” to apply to social media, and it’s a formula that works:

80% of the time, promote the work of other people. 20% of the time, feel free to promote your own.

When you follow this concept, what you’re really doing is adding value to peoples’ lives—you’re providing them help with their problems, via the blog posts you share and the links you send out. All of this positive reinforcement for your brand solidifies yourself as an expert and someone we can trust.

I use three main tools for my social media “automation,” and if you use them in conjunction with each other, you might find—like I did—that you’re spending less time on social media accounts and more time writing—all the while growing your platform and generating buzz for your platform. Here are the three elements of my social platform:

1. Planning updates

When I get ready to launch a product, release a book, or publish a blog post, there inevitably is a flurry of activity I want to create around each of them. The problem, of course, is that I’m one man—not an entire marketing team. The amount of buzz I can generate is limited to what I can do on my own.

For that reason, I like to keep track of what I’m promoting—so it doesn’t get “over the top” and scare people away, but also so I can track the results and know what’s coming next. I use Evernote for most of this, as it lets me easily keep a notebook full of Tweets, status updates, and links that I can copy and paste into a social media account if need be.

Planning is an important part of any project, and it’s been one of the main reasons I’ve been able to make money from my writing. That said, I like to keep things simple—a few notes about the overall marketing strategy, some links, and maybe a schedule/calendar of the main marketing events is all I’ll do. After all, there’s always another project looming on the horizon I should get started on!

2. Automating updates

Once you’ve planned out the strategy you’ll use, you’ll want to schedule the individual updates and promotions in as much of a “hands off” way as possible. I use a tool called Buffer that lets me schedule my Twitter updates, Facebook statuses, and LinkedIn updates all at the same time, in one place. The best part about this free tool, however, is that it will automatically add my update to the end of a “queue” line. The times and days of the week for my updates can be scheduled, and Buffer will automatically post the updates at those scheduled intervals.

Using this service has allowed me to go through my RSS reader one time per day, sending off updates to Buffer that will post throughout the next day or so. It’s a great way to link to articles I love, newsworthy posts, or anything relevant to my target audience—and I don’t have to log in to any social media networks!

Also, if you use WordPress, there’s a great plugin called Editorial Calendar you can use to schedule posts to your blog—it’s visual, like a desktop calendar, making it dead-simple to see what’s coming up on your blog.

3. Following up

The worst part of any “automated” system is the lack of human interaction after the initial transaction. Eliminate this problem by keeping track of the buzz you’re generating online—use tools like Google Analytics or GetClicky to check your site’s stats, but also be sure to follow up with people who retweet your posts, share your content, and send you messages. All-in-one dashboards like Hootsuite (premium) and Tweetdeck (free) can help with this, but also check out a site called Engag.io (free).

Engag.io lets you see your “conversations” with people—whether they’re on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or through email. It’s a great way to track everything in a quick and manageable way.

Again, the whole point of automating this stuff isn’t for automation’s sake—it’s to free up your time to do the things that really build your writing career: write more, write better, and interact with fans.

These tools are wonderful ways to cultivate your networks, and they’re easy to implement. Best of all, they’re all free to try—give them a shot, and let us know in the comments what you think!

Nick Thacker writes about writing, blogging, and publishing, and you can check him out on his blog. Be sure to grab his new book, Welcome Home: The Author’s Guide to Building A Marketing Home Base, and grab the newsletter!