With social media eating up an increasingly larger chunk of brands' communications strategies these days, it's easy for marketers to find themselves lost in the day-to-day planning and execution of messaging through all the various channels. What started as a seemingly menial task -- planning a brand's tweets for the week -- has now expanded to crafting Facebook posts and managing Pinterest boards, Instagram uploads, and Google+ interactions. Suddenly, what started as a seemingly simple task has become an unwieldy time-suck. And even those brands that are lucky enough to have dedicated social media managers are finding that the potential channels of interest are proliferating faster than the personnel allotment to manage those channels.
Since social media managers now have to do more with either the same or fewer resources, they have to create efficiencies in their current processes. Here are some simple ways to do so that you might not have considered. Streamlining your processes in this way will free you up to do more of what really matters in social media -- respond and engage.
Some of the following examples might seem obvious at first, but don't knock 'em until you've tried 'em. Simple tools (like calendars) tend to create an outward ripple of efficiencies. Have you discovered a creative solution to an efficiency problem? Please share in the comments below. The following ideas are ones I have personally used and tested.
Keep a calendar
Even if you are the only person responsible for managing a social media community, keeping a calendar is going to help you. It's beneficial to know when bursts of promotion are going to take place. Let's say that your organization releases new video content every Tuesday. This means that there will be a flurry of social conversations peaking on Tuesday and trailing-off throughout the week -- unless you see a big viral lift, which is usually an awesome problem to have. So don't schedule any other big projects on Tuesdays.
If you work with a larger social media team, calendars become even more useful. Think about how many meetings to "get on the same page" could be avoided by a well-groomed calendar. Share the same calendar with your non-social-media colleagues. Allow them to schedule time with you and your team for promotion or even creative collaboration. When these "outside" requests are date-specific, a calendar will resolve conflicts.
Most importantly, try to have a rough schedule of what types of posts will be released every day (or at least every week). Community management can get tedious. After a few months of finding hundreds of different ways to say the same things, a calendar item that says, "Facebook post about discount coupons on website" can relieve a lot of stress about trying to constantly come up with new ideas. Plus, this will help to space out the same types of posts to make your messaging seem less repetitive.
The tools for the job:
- Google Calendar. For its simplicity and compatibility, this is my favorite solution. You won't be able to set up complex task lists, and it doesn't have any work flow tools -- you can't assign anything to anyone. But something simple is often all you'll need.
- Outlook is the calendar that most of the world seems to use. But I hate it, and Google Calendar works with Outlook. So I use Google Calendar.
- Basecamp. Most people seem to know Basecamp, so that's a plus. And it's intuitive. But it has major user-interface problems and is sometimes way more complicated than it needs to be. But if you need full project management capabilities, especially for a large team, Basecamp can be helpful.
- Customer relationship management tools like Sugar, ZOHO, and Salesforce (the golden child) all have calendar tools built-in. But this is like swatting a fly with a cannon. You probably don't need this much firepower.
Collaborate with colleagues
Invite your colleagues to contribute to the social media conversation. Seek the experts on certain products or services at your company and invite them to write blog posts, do guest Q&As on Twitter, and suggest ideas for Facebook posts.
While you might be the expert in social media, you're probably not the expert on the product or brand that you have been tasked with promoting. Help your associates by giving them templates to guide Twitter and Facebook posts. Provide links to good examples of updates by your own brand or by others. Soon enough, you'll probably discover a coworker who gets very excited about the prospect of participating in social media. These will become your "go to" people in each department.
The tools for the job:
- Google Docs. You can get fancy if you want. But a simple, sharable document is all you need.
- Work flow: If you find that your colleagues are skilled and willing enough to contribute directly (i.e. posting directly to Facebook and Twitter with no approval from you), the ability to assign tasks and other work flow tools might become necessary.
This is the oldest one in the book, I know. But there is a reason that this piece of advice is so popular. It's probably the single biggest time-saver in social media. Organize your week so that all of the "announcement" posts (the ones that say "Check out this new video...") can be written beforehand and scheduled. Facebook and most blogging platforms (Tumblr, Wordpress, etc.) will allow posts to be scheduled from their web interface without needing any special software tools. Twitter still needs a third-party tool like TweetDeck, but not for long since third-party Twitter tools appear to be going extinct. Eventually, Twitter will (hopefully) offer this feature via its web interface.
You don't have to schedule every Twitter update and Facebook post in advance. On-the-spot updates, especially about news events, tend to be very popular. But most posts can be scheduled. Play around with the time of day that the updates are released and observe the different types of audiences that engage with you at different times of the day (and different days of the week). Eventually, you'll get into the habit of customizing your posts for these sub-audiences.
The purpose of scheduling posts in advance is to free-up your time for the most important task (the most important social media task of all, actually) -- engaging with your audience. Speaking broadly, social media is most active during business hours. So do the busy work beforehand, and spend those valuable business hours commenting, replying, and otherwise helping to keep the conversation going with your fans.
The tools for the job:
- Sprout Social has a premium service that determines the times that your Facebook audience will be most receptive to updates. While Sprout Social is primarily an analytics tool, it is one of the companies leading the charge in interpreting the social data of your fan base to help you make better decisions about scheduling and frequency. Unfortunately, the future of Twitter's API is unclear, so we'll just have to wait and see how software services like Sprout Social respond.
- There are countless tools to help you schedule updates on Facebook and Twitter. The leading services (TweetDeck, HootSuite, etc.) all work roughly the same. But since Twitter is a wild card, plan accordingly for when third-party Twitter tools stop working.
Remember that your foremost responsibility is engaging with your audience. So if you schedule a tweet to send at 11:55 p.m. on a Wednesday night, prepare yourself for the potential task of responding to comments late into the night.
Schedule your busy work at times when your fans are normally least active. Scheduling updates during off-peak hours is a major time saver. But not just because of the time it takes to write the individual posts. Start with a piece of content and craft the messages for all social media channels at once. It's much more efficient to write a blog post, YouTube description, Facebook update, and a bunch of Twitter updates all at the same time. This way, you can easily borrow language where appropriate without having to go searching for it. And since you're already in the correct mind set, it's much faster to write them all in succession rather than spacing them out over time.
Automation tools (like ones that auto-follow on Twitter) can be dangerous in the wrong hands. The moment your social media account starts behaving too much like a robot, you're going to get flagged by spam filters. So, whenever possible, customize the messaging of automated tools.
"Wasting time concept" image via Shutterstock.