Isn’t it annoying that we've typically had to create a social media calendar in one format to plan our updates, and then copy/paste that information into another system for scheduling? What if you could have a single social media automation system that boils this process down to just one step – not for hundreds or thousands of dollars a month, but for less than $15 a month (maybe even free)? You can, and I’m going to show you how.
At Solo PR, don't endorse blanket or overdone automated sharing of social media posts. But there are some messages that call for some degree of scheduling (a new blog post, for example). While we don’t “set it and forget it,” most of us have learned that these days it’s necessary to share information on social media more frequently – and scheduling some of your routine social media updates frees you up to actually interact with your community in a meaningful way.
Most all-in-one content calendar/social media automation tools are priced out of reach for indie consultants. There may be times when a standalone social media calendar is still the best option for clients, but this post will reveal two road-tested – inexpensive – methods for automating updates that really work. My days of paying a virtual assistant to help me schedule social media posts are over!
As with most communicators I know, I need a robust tool. To make the system useful for both my clients and me, it must:
- Connect to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ pages, at a minimum
- Allow me to easily see – in a combined calendar view – which social network an update is going to, ideally with color coding (this is where tools like Hootsuite fall short)
- Allow for edits to the schedule on the calendar view using drag-and-drop
- Show at least the beginning of the planned update/post text, so I can see the topic from the calendar view (some tools just show that a post is scheduled for Twitter, for example, without any post content)
- Be collaborative, with the ability to share the tools with clients and/or subcontractors, as appropriate
The two methods I’ve identified and tested are:
The How-Tos, Pros and Cons for each of these methods follow:
1. Zapier/Google Calendar
This one may seem a little techie, but once you have it established you're done (and if you don't understand exactly how it works, that's OK – we just have to know how to set it up. If it's too much for you, scroll on down to method #2). It’s possible to use this automation method for free. Yes, free!
- Works even if you don’t have a blog (you can just set up different Google calendars for each network, schedule the updates, and then have Zapier automate the distribution)
- You can add additional social media updates directly to a Google Calendar, so the planning benefits are not limited to blog posts
- You don’t need access to the backend of your client’s blog for installation of a plugin or tool – you can manage blog-related updates using their RSS feed
- When a client wants the ability to review and edit your planned social updates – you can share the calendars with them, and they can edit easily
- If you don’t want your client anywhere near your actual live tool J, you can do a screen grab or PDF of the calendar and send it to them
- Rigid scheduling – for the Zapier-driven updates, your posts will go out at the same time, every time
- When combined with a blog’s RSS, the planned social media updates don’t appear on your Google Calendar until after the post goes live
- There is no automatic link or campaign tracking, though you could add those links manually within the calendar
- There’s no reporting within the system – you can see which social network drove traffic in Google Analytics (if you use it), but you won’t see which update was most effective or how many people shared/clicked an individual post
Zapier is a tool similar to IFTTT (If This Then That), which allows you to easily automate certain tasks. I personally find Zapier to be more logical and easier to use than the more widely-known IFTTT, but this method can work with either. IFTTT is free, while Zapier has a free plan with a limited number of automations/tasks (I use Zapier’s unlimited $15/month plan – still a bargain).
In Zapier parlance, a “Zap” is each automation you setup (for example, RSS to Twitter), a “task” is each time that automation is performed (in our previous example, one tweet). Here are the steps:
1. Create a Google Calendar for each social network you plan to use – color code them in a way that’s meaningful to you, so you can identify each at-a-glance in the combined view. Also give them meaningful names, since you'll use those in Zapier.
2. Decide what you'd like your schedule for automated posts to be (for example, post to Twitter when the blog post goes live, another 3 hours later, another 6 hours later, etc.).
3. Go to Zapier and create “Zaps” for each post you’d like to make.
The system will walk you through the steps to set them up – in our example to follow, we are telling Zapier to create a scheduled tweet in Google Calendar each time there's a new blog post (using the blog's RSS feed), and post to Twitter on the desired schedule.
First, create a new Zap, select RSS/New Item in Feed as the trigger, and create a New Detailed Event in Google Calendar as the action:
After filling in the specifics of your feed and integrating your calendar (the system helps you do this), choose one of the Google Calendars you created in Step 1 (for example, @KellyeCrane on Twitter).
Note that in the Summary section, you will define the wording of the tweet. Use the “Insert Fields” button to identify placeholders – such your post's “Title” and “Link,” in our example – that will change based on each new blog post. You can also include text that is universally applicable, such as “new today,” “now available,” “our latest post,” and relevant hashtags:
Next, Zapier asks you for the Start and End Date & Time for your Google Calendar entry (they should be the same). This is also the section that allows you to add time to a Zap so you can space out the updates (in our example, this tweet will go out 26 hours after a blog post goes live):
4. Test the function from Zap to see if updates appear properly in your Google Calendar(s).
5. Then, create a separate Zap that tells Zapier to send the events from a given Google Calendar (it will ask you which Calendar – in this case, @KellyeCrane Twitter) to the appropriate network (Twitter).
Create a separate Zap for each update you'd like to schedule/automate. – note that you can create a copy of your first Zap, and then just change the Time and Summary (as described above, the Summary field of each Zap should vary so your updates are not too monotonous). The following list of example Zaps corresponds to a regular drumbeat of Twitter updates when a new blog post is published:
5. Once your blog posts go live, you can view the schedule in Google Calendar (sample below), and if you’d like to make any changes to a planned update, just click the individual calendar event and make your edits. You can also add additional events to the same calendar Zapier is using to schedule tweets not related to a blog post.
6. Note you can also pause the zaps any time (for example, if there’s a national emergency) by turning them “off.”
One variation of the above method involves using Zapier to send posts to Buffer. Buffer’s relatively new “move to top” and “schedule posts” features mean you can use this combo to automatically schedule dissemination of your blog posts via Buffer. However, Buffer doesn’t offer a calendar view – the updates will just appear in your Buffer queue/list.
Pro Tip: If you don’t need to see all your social media updates in one combined Google Calendar view, you can use Zapier with GCal and Buffer in tandem. For example, I found that posts to the Solo PR Pro Facebook page worked better when I routed them through Buffer, while I used Google Calendar for tweets.
For $10 a month, CoSchedule is an editorial calendar for WordPress that also makes planning blog posts and social media messages simple and visual. In the past I found this product clunky, but after putting the current version through its paces, this is the tool I’m now using for Solo PR Pro, and I’m a fan!
- Customize each social media update individually (though you can send the same update to more than one network), so there’s complete flexibility in what you say and when you say it.
- You can use drag-and-drop in the calendar view to change the publishing date for a blog post, and all its associated scheduled social media posts automatically update to go with it. Cool!
- Many editorial calendar tools require you to actually schedule the blog post before you can work with it – this always makes me nervous (I prefer to schedule a post only when it’s actually complete). Coschedule allows you to put draft posts on your calendar, which is excellent.
- CoSchedule can automatically add Google Analytics tracking tags to all of your links.
- Bit.ly integration allows you to tap into Bit.ly analytics for your shared content, and it provides social sharing stats.
- Makes image posts (increasingly important on Twitter) super easy.
- Team features (permissions, task and to-do tools) help with your content workflow.
- Crafting each post individually requires more time than a truly automated method like Zapier.
- You must have a self-hosted WordPress blog.
CoSchedule is a paid service that integrates with WordPress via a plugin, allowing you to plan and schedule blog posts, as well as social media messages. Access your schedule either within the blog post/plugin itself, or in a web-based version online for easy sharing and access.
Here are the steps:
1. Install the CoSchedule WordPress plugin (CoSchedule works with self-hosted WordPress.org blogs – if your blog URL is http://yourblog.wordpress.com, yours is not self-hosted)
2. Sign up for a free trial of CoSchedule either within the plugin or at http://coschedule.com/sign-up. You’ll establish a CoSchedule login that works for both your blog and the online website – so you can use either interface whenever you like.
3. Connect your social media profiles – very intuitive.
4. Start scheduling! CoSchedule functions appear at the bottom of every draft blog post (so you can schedule social media messages right from your Add New Post screen), as well as in the plugin screen and the online versions.
You can even view how often a past post has been shared in the calendar overview:
For more on getting up and running on CoSchedule, checkout their Ultimate Guide (but don’t let it overwhelm you – it really is easy to get started).
To reiterate, the methods outlined here are in no way meant to represent the entirety of a social media program. Round out your efforts with real-time communications and responses, and consider a tool like Buffer to keep a queue of valuable content from other thought leaders coming from your social media channels, as well.
What do you think about these options? Have you tried any variations? Have any questions? If so, please share in the comments.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve received no compensation from any tool mentioned here – we always share the tools we recommend without regard to such things!