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The Publishing Sweet Spot: Balancing Scheduled and Real-Time Content Posting


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As companies' social media footprints have expanded, publishing content to global social media accounts has grown from a relatively simple process to a bona fide discipline that requires detailed planning to succeed.

What does it mean to find the "sweet spot"? This paper explores this, plus:

- The pros and cons of pre-scheduling content and using automation tools
- How modern technology can boost the impact of that content
- An example of how one company balances scheduled content and real-time interaction
- Tips for mastering the art of sophisticated social media publishing

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The Publishing Sweet Spot: Balancing Scheduled and Real-Time Content Posting

  2. 2. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.012 • • THE PUBLISHING SWEET SPOT BALANCING SCHEDULED AND REAL-TIME CONTENT POSTING As companies’ social media footprints have expanded, publishing content to global social media accounts has grown from a relatively simple process to a bona fide discipline that requires detailed planning to succeed. A huge component of this is balance. Not only balance in the content and messaging you’re posting, but also in the balance of mechanisms and tools you’re enlisting to post the right content to the right audiences on the right social networks. It’s finding the perfect mix of time-saving and productivity tools like social media automation and real-time posting. We call it the “publishing sweet spot” – the place where your company is using the latest cutting- edge tools to maximize the effort your team is putting into social media while also maintaining a responsive, lively dialog with your community. In this paper we’ll tackle what it means to find the sweet spot, including: • The pros and cons of pre-scheduling content and using automation tools • How modern technology can boost the impact of that content • An example of how one company balances scheduled content and real-time interaction • Tips for mastering the art of sophisticated social media publishing SCHEDULED/ AUTOMATED POSTS REAL-TIME POSTS BALANCING
  3. 3. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.013 • • THE EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL MEDIA PUBLISHING Publishing to social media sites for businesses has evolved. It’s moved from simple posting to a practice that involves aspects of timing, optimization, and tools. (So many that an entire industry – the social media management software market – has emerged to meet demand.) HOW HAS PUBLISHING CHANGED? LET’S TAKE A LOOK: Companies manually log into individual social media accounts to post as part of their daily routine. Optimization is in full force. More content in social media competes for audience attention. To focus on generating engagement and conversations, companies begin to pay more attention to tailoring the message to entice users to respond to posts and take action. Tools emerge to automate cross-posting to other social networks. With a slew of tools, autofeeding content from blogs and sites to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and others becomes available. Feature sets of tools expand. Enterprise social media management systems give companies tools to not only schedule and build status updates, but also manage and pre-schedule other content, such as Facebook tabs. Scheduling content emerges. Social media management tools are introduced to help alleviate the hassle of logging into multiple accounts and allow companies to build and schedule status updates, tweets, Facebook tabs, and other content and publish it at a specific date and time. Next generation tools begin to develop that allow consumers and brands to publish content, but go beyond real-time posting and pre-scheduling based on date and time. Instead, they base content on other triggers. For instance, consumer tools on the mark such as (“If This, Then That”) allow for publishing based on content publishing rules you create. As social media marketing evolves, the tools and techniques for syndicating that content has grown with it. Brands and agencies have a multitude of tools at their disposal now, including those new products that allow for both scheduling and automation. Enterprise-level tool Shoutlet offers companies the first trigger-based publishing tool to base content distribution on the actions on your social media followers, allowing companies to pre-plan full campaigns and let triggers ranging from hitting certain levels of Face- book fans, Twitter followers, comments, likes, contest entries and others be the trigger that sets off a specially crafted piece of content.
  4. 4. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.014 • • SOCIAL MEDIA AUTOMATION: TWO SIDES OF THE COIN AUTOMATION. The very word evokes shudders among its strongest opponents. But when managing a large-scale social media program, incorporating these tools is critical for efficiency (when used wisely). Social media automation doesn’t have the best reputation, and based on many cases of its use by companies, it’s well-deserved. It can lead to updates that are spammy and overly promotional. It’s been the darling of businesses with updates so sales-driven they read like Sunday circulars more than social media accounts. But one of the most poignant points is that, critics say, it goes against what social media stands for – true connection. It turns social media channels into just another channel for pitches and promos, which is exactly the reason why users have turned toward social media and away from such channels. They’ve embraced the media that involve two-way communication, versus the traditional one-way broadcast channels. When misused, all of these criticisms are true. Automating too much – especially when the wrong content is used – can do more damage than good. But with social teams trying to manage hundreds of social accounts (an average of 178 according to the Altimeter Group [1] ) there is a strong need for scheduling content to publish and other tools that automate the process of posting. So, what are the upsides? When executed well and as part of a thoughtful strategy, this technology can be helpful internally and give users a better experience overall. SOME OF THE BENEFITS Efficient use of time and resources As social media has expanded, the demand on companies and their social media teams has been intense. Pre-planning updates can help overextended teams reach their customers at optimal times across the globe. As Forrester’s Melissa Parrish advises, scheduling content in advance frees up resources to respond to customers in real time. [2] Plan and visualize campaigns in advance Planning campaigns in advance can help your team see the flow of posts across social media accounts and networks. Building the end-to-end map of each campaign helps you visualize the full user experience before the campaign is launched. Ensures that all content is the best it can be before publishing Pre-planning and scheduling gives each piece of content the time it needs to be fully developed. Being able to pre-plan posts and campaigns allows you to put more resources toward developing and optimizing them ahead of time, have them approved by legal, etc., rather than attempting to build content as you go. [1] Altimeter Group, January 2012. “A Strategy for Managing Social Media Proliferation” by Jeremiah Owyang [2] Forrester Research, September 2011. “Becoming Responsive Through Push and Pull Social Media Marketing Strategies” by Melissa Parrish
  5. 5. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.015 • • Smart automation makes content relevant to your audience Traditional marketing automation tools have been doing this for some time by sending primarily email to users based on their preferences and activities. New classes of social media software let brands determine which content will be posted when certain milestones are met, freeing up time to converse with users. These milestones or triggers automate the publishing of content that’s tailored to be relevant to the trigger its publishing is based on. For instance, if a company wanted to send a new post or launch a new promotion each time it acquired 10,000 new fans, that can be scheduled in advance. This timeliness, coupled with the right messaging, makes content like this more relevant to audiences. MAKE AUTOMATION A PART OF THE PROCESS, NOT THE PROCESS ITSELF Automation is a valuable part of the publishing toolset. As one tool in a larger arsenal, it has a place. Relying totally on automation will have disastrous effects, but using it as a secret weapon in the everyday engagement of your social media program is how large, organized brands make social media work for them. Like the crack of a home run off the “sweet spot” of a baseball bat, pinpointing the publishing sweet spot that’s unique to every company is an achievement. It means a well-balanced mix of great content sent at optimum times, real-time dialog, and the use of scheduling and automation tools. WHAT THE SWEET SPOT LOOKS LIKE So what could the “sweet spot” look like for a brand? Let’s use the fictional outdoor brand Summit Active as an example. The past several months the outdoor gear brand has been working on plans to incorporate a more strategic use of scheduling and automation in its social media plan. By creating more content in advance, Summit has generated more free minutes every day that it can devote to interacting with outdoor enthusiasts on Facebook and Twitter, plus tackling important tasks, such as monitoring, planning future content, and producing video. THREE KEY COMPONENTS OF ITS PUBLISHING TOOLBOX: Everyday Interaction At the heart of Summit Active’s social program is a consistent, daily effort to respond and conversing with customers in social media. Real-time content publishing/community management Scheduled content publishing, based on date/time Trigger-based content publishing, based on interaction levels of community THE PUBLISHING SWEET SPOT
  6. 6. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.016 • • Day-to-Day Social Content In a typical week, the balance between scheduled and automated content and live, real-time interaction is fluid. Social media moves fast, and Summit is ready to pivot at any moment. At the foundation is content it has planned as part of its editorial calendar. These posts are scheduled to post at the times throughout the day Summit has identified as the best times for audience feedback. Based on research and testing it has conducted, these times, the types of content, and the messaging have been selected based on what has sparked engagement from fans in the past. Social Media Campaigns To supplement the real-time interaction and day-to-day messaging from the brand, Summit Active launches regular promotions throughout the year. This quarter it is launching a new line of its Peak brand backpacks. It’s planning a full social media campaign around the unveiling of the new product and wants to build awareness for the new line, increase engagement, and build its database of social customers. It plans and builds its full campaign in advance, from Facebook status updates to stages of a contest. By planning the flow of the promotion, it can take advantage of the best of scheduling, while still ensuring that the campaign gives its community an authentic experience with real-time interaction. Here’s how the campaign might look: 1. PRE-LAUNCH To tease the announcement of its new line of backpacks, Summit Active posts a sign-up web app on its Facebook wall that asks fans to enter email to get an exclusive sneak peek at an upcoming announcement. The day before the official launch, the company emails contacts in its existing database, which now include the sign-ups gathered from this Facebook post, to generate conversations and give their existing customer a special look into its new line. Publishing type: Scheduled
  7. 7. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.017 • • 2. PRODUCT LAUNCH Summit Active’s product release goes live. It releases a web page with embedded YouTube video player that announces new backpacks. This page is also published as a Facebook tab. Publishing type: Scheduled 3. CONTEST LAUNCHES As part of the launch, Summit Active is holding a sweepstakes to generate interaction and help promote the release of its new line. When the YouTube video mentioning the announcement hits 2,000 views, the contest automatically launches on its website and Facebook. Summit has chosen for this contest on Facebook to be app-gated, allowing users to opt-in to the app. Facebook posts and tweets that have been pre-built are published simultaneously. Publishing type: Automated campaign trigger 4. COUPON CODE While the sweepstakes is running, Summit Active plans to release a short-term promo code to encourage the first purchases of its new backpacks. To add an element of user participation to this piece of the campaign, the release of this code will be determined by the community; it will automatically trigger when a certain level of community interaction is reached. It builds a Facebook post and tweet announcing an upcoming short-term sale is imminent, and that only fans can unlock it by liking a status update. When the status update reached 300 Likes, a web app showcasing posts to its Facebook wall and website. Publishing type: Automated campaign trigger
  8. 8. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.018 • • 5. CONTEST ENDS After 3 weeks, the sweepstakes ends. This triggers new content that transitions Summit Active into the next phase of its social media plans for the year. Publishing type: Scheduled Throughout the duration of this campaign, the social media team is engaging with users throughout, answering daily questions and responding to comments about the campaign or otherwise. It’s also posting regular updates not related to the campaign specifically. It’s poised and ready to adjust course if necessary based on the reaction of its audience and the cadence with which the audience-based triggers progress. By mixing real-time, scheduled, and trigger- based content, Summit Active has been able to create an engaging experience for users. TAKEAWAYS USING SOCIAL MEDIA SCHEDULING AND AUTOMATION TO MAKE YOUR SOCIAL PROGRAM EASIER FOR YOU – AND YOUR COMMUNITY So what are some ways your company can take advantage of scheduling and automation tools, while still offering prompt, reliable social media interaction to your community? 1. DON’T SCHEDULE AND RUN. A surefire way to illustrate you’re not available to your community is to publish, get feedback (or worse, backlash), and not know about it. Scheduling posts can help save time, but have plans in place to monitor and respond. Save time by building posts in advance, but remember there’s no shortcut for building relationships with your community. 2. TAILOR THE MESSAGE TO THE PLATFORM. The reasons that certain segments of your customer base follow your brand on different social networks vary. Each social network also has its own rules and styles. Not taking these factors into account could alienate some of your followers, especially if you’re posting the same message verbatim across networks. For example, a Facebook fan could be confused by a #hashtag posted on your wall. Sharing content on multiple platforms simultaneously is a great strategy, but make sure you’re tailoring the message to resonate with each platform’s unique set of followers.
  9. 9. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.019 • • 3. SCHEDULE MORE THAN POSTS. Tweets and Facebook posts aren’t the only content that can have a timed launch. Photos, videos, contests, web apps, web pages, and other pieces of rich content can be scheduled to launch at a set time or after a milestone is reached. Think broadly when planning this content. 4. WORK EARLY, SAVE TIME. Planning campaigns in advance can help your team get a birds-eye view of what your customers will see. Plus, it allows you to spend extra time building interesting content, creating more hours to spend during the campaign monitoring its progress, getting feedback, interacting with users, and tending to any unexpected circumstances that arise. 5. TEST, LEARN, AND TEST AGAIN. There’s been an influx of research in recent months about timing posts on social network sites. While these studies are interesting, the only true way to know what works for your brand is to test what times certain content gets a reaction. This will help your team know when the best times are to schedule posts and be available to post immediate responses to customer comments at peak times. Extracting engagement insights from previously published content can also help you understand what types of calls to action work best for your fans and followers, which can help you select not only the best times to publish these posts, but also any community-powered triggers for content. For instance, does your community respond well to video? Factor this into your plans: Get customers involved by promising a special announcement or exclusive content when views of a video hit a certain threshold. Social media automation tools can support this effort, making the release of “reward” content automatic and timely without your team having to manually watch and publish content progress. 6. DON’T GO OVERBOARD WITH THE CUT AND PASTE. Scheduling tweets to publish at different times over the course of a day, for instance, increases their visibility to new customers. But be wary of sending the exact same post out multiple times. Not only will you avoid the same people noticing the same tweet, but you could also be overlooking how tweaking the messaging at different times can spark interaction. For example, a fashion brand publishes a post about winter style tips from an in-house designer. Tweets in the morning might focus on her work outfit tips, while weekend versions might focus on trends in holiday party outfits. 7. DON’T FAKE REAL INTERACTIONS. If a message gives the illusion that it’s a one-on-one conversation, steer clear of automating it. Take auto-DMing on Twitter: Someone follows your brand and receives an instant direct message that sounds like a genuine hello. Sadly, it’s not. Don’t take the chance of getting a new social relationship off on the wrong foot.
  10. 10. Shoutlet, Inc. 2012 • v12.0110 • • CONCLUSION Ultimately, each brand’s publishing “sweet spot” will look different depending on the brand voice in social media, the content it’s creating, and the community it’s engaging with. Being able to take advantage of social media scheduling and automation tools is a must for scaling your program and working efficiently. Striking a balance between the utilization of these types of tools and real-time interaction is imperative. Start with a solid foundation of community management and the use these tools to enhance – not detract from – the engagement you’re creating with your customers in social media. ABOUT SHOUTLET Shoutlet is leading enterprise social marketing software. It includes Facebook, Twitter and YouTube management, Social CRM, a contest platform, HTML5 web app building, analytics, and professional-level design tools, in addition to tools designed to aid global brands manage and measure social media programs for hundreds of locations, franchises, branches, or agents. In addition to these features, Shoutlet’s Social Switchboard™ tool allows brands and agencies to build complete sophisticated social media marketing campaigns in advance and set a vast array of pre-scheduled markers and milestones to trigger automatic changes to content across multiple social networks. Social Switchboard is smart social media scheduling that distributes pre-created content when your criteria is met. CONNECT WITH SHOUTLET Website: Facebook: Twitter: Blog: Email: