February 12, 2014

I recently wrote a blog post about the importance of scheduling posts. I talked about how I believe it is extremely beneficial to use scheduling tools within your social media strategy, and also when it comes to blogging. Overall, the post was really well received. But, as is inevitable with this topic, the discussion about scheduling and automation became a hot topic.

I would like to be clear. I am a proponent of responsible scheduling. I am even going to say that automation is ok in a few circumstances. But neither should be abused nor used to replace the human interaction expected on social media and in blogging.

Ok, so with that said, what's the difference between scheduling and automation?

Scheduling

I like to think of scheduling like the autopilot feature on an airplane. It's a tool that allows the pilots to control a flight and make them more efficient. The pilots set the course and the parameters of the flight. They are still in the cockpit while the autopilot controls the flight. The pilots are able to make course corrections or override the autopilot at any time to handle an emergency or unexpected diversion. Beyond all of this, the pilots still control the take off and landing using their skill and expertise directly.

Scheduling tools are much the same. You control what to post and when. You control the language and tone. And most importantly, you're available to respond and engage to the post when it actually gets posted. You're also available in the event that an emergency or issue arises that requires your attention. Scheduling tools merely allow you to be you, more efficiently.

For example, if I read 5 articles within half an hour that I think will benefit my readers, I'm not going to post each of them to Facebook or Google+ the moment I read them. Can you imagine how annoying my pages would be if I slapped 5 posts within half an hour and then didn't post anything again for another 6 hours, or even until the next day? Or, what if I read those articles late at night (when it's convenient for me) but the majority of my audience isn't online at that time? If I share all those posts when I read them, but my audience never sees them, I'm failing to provide relevant content to my fans when it benefits them.

So, instead, I schedule those posts to go live at various times during the day. I select times that benefit my audience, not me. I select times that are spaced out so that their feeds aren't overrun with my posts. I also carefully phrase the comments to accompany the scheduled posts. I write the comments just like I would if I was posting it live so that it remains conversational and engaging. And when someone comments on or responds to the post after it's gone live, I am able to check in regularly to respond and engage.

I also "schedule" my blog posts. As a blogger with a full-time (unrelated) day job, I can't possibly share blog posts at ideal times. I'm often busy writing posts on the weekends or late at night. I also go on blogging binges where I'll write 3 or 4 blog posts a day, then not write again for 4 or 5 days because of my schedule. If I shared my blog posts when I actually wrote them, you would go crazy trying to keep up! So, I rely on a scheduling tool to share my posts at set times that I know work better for my readers.

THIS is how you use scheduling to benefit your audience and make yourself more efficient.

Let's face it, no one has the time to sit in front of their computer all day, 24/7, to post every post live, as it happens. Even if your only job is to manage Facebook, this is still not practical. You still need time off, you still need sick days. You still need to space out your posts so as not to annoy your audience. And really, how many of us have even more than a few hours a day to post to Facebook?

Of course, you should incorporate live, spontaneous posts into your pages. Not everything should be scheduled. But scheduling allows you to plan ahead and stay actively engaged with your audience.

Automation

Automation, to me, is like a production line. Everything is pushed through by machines with little to no human interaction. Items fly down the conveyor belt, being diverted and handled by mechanical devices until something falls off-line and the whole thing shuts down. The red lights start flashing, the alarms start ringing, and the couple people on shift (obviously preoccupied with other responsibilities) come running to the area in question, scrambling to fix the problem.

While maybe a little extreme, this is how I think about automation. Every post is generated without much human touch. Things are just pumped out repeatedly, waiting for a disaster to shut the whole thing down. And, if you're lucky, you might be around to try to fix the problem when it happens.

Often, however, those who use automation aren't around to fix the problems when they occur. We've all seen bad examples of Twitter conversations going bad or customers jumping on a poorly worded Facebook post. And yet the business fails to respond for hours. The longer they take to respond, the worse the problem gets and the more out of hand it gets. By the time they've realized what happened, they're so far beyond damage control.

I wrote an article back when I started blogging about why I don't like autoresponders. Since then, my opinion has not changed. I don't use autoresponders on social media - ever. I do, however, use them for responding to opt-ins on my blog. And I completely support using them for opt-ins on webinars or promotions. You almost have to use autoresponders in these situations in order to effectively communicate with this many people. But I would like to stress that if you use these types of autoresponders it is still imperative that you customize them. Don't use the generic message they provide. Edit the content to reflect your voice and personality.

I hope this helps clear up the difference between scheduling and automation for you.

You will hear people speak negatively of both and you will hear people support both. In my opinion, neither one is "wrong" if they are used appropriately to enhance your social engagement with your audience. If either is used to replace your social engagement, however, you're using them incorrectly.

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. There is a huge difference between automation & scheduling, Jenn, and you’ve really nailed it in your explanation. I tried autoresponders myself on Twitter when I was new to social media, but soon gave them up because they just felt (and are, in my opinion) wrong. For me, they’re the equivalent of the computer-generated marketing calls that we all detest so much! 😛

    1. Thanks Linda! I’m glad the explanations I gave made sense.
      Many people have tried the autoresponders on Twitter. Thankfully, you learned from that and stopped using that feature 😉 Because, I agree with you that they are wrong. It’s one thing to send a DM or reach out to someone, but automated DMs are just plain wrong. Your analogy to the marketing calls is perfect!

  2. I completely agree with you Jenn about scheduling posts. I like you, do most of my working at night after my son goes to bed, and I schedule my posts for throughout the day. Since I started doing this, I have noticed an increase in my post engagements!

    1. That’s great, Robin! It is hard for those of us who have to multitask these responsibilities by working at night. But scheduling really does make it easier. I’m happy to hear it’s helping you so much too.

  3. Great information on the differences between scheduling and automation Jenn! I use scheduling tools (which we have discussed before), but I have never used automation in my social media posts. Like you, I value the “human” touch more than anything. For me, that is what using social media for my business is all about!

    1. Thanks Kim! I totally agree that the human interaction is worth so much more. And, like you said, it’s what social media is all about.

  4. Very good explanation of those two concepts. I – and most of us – hate when there’s too much automation and not human interaction behind. There are some famous bloggers out there preaching against this too, when they are the first ones doing it!!! (not you, of course)

    1. Thanks Antonio! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I have to admit that while I preach this practice of keeping it personal and avoiding automation, it is hard for big brands and companies to individually respond to so many posts. I understand their need to rely more heavily on other tools to assist them. However, they really should look into having social media managers to help manage these responses, IMHO.

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