One of the best things that you can do for your online presence is to stay active – both on your website/blog and on social media channels.
In this post we’re going to cover some of the best tools (Google Reader + Flipboard + Buffer + Hootsuite) to help stay “alive and kicking” on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Quick Disclaimers: Google Reader + Flipboard + Buffer + Hootsuite
First, while this workflow is really great, it isn’t perfect. There’s a giant gap that needs to be filled here and I’m hoping that one of the app/service developers will step in and fix it.
(I’m looking at you, Buffer and Hootsuite.)
Second, although this is a good way to automate posting to social media channels, it should NOT be your only interaction with followers. Put in a little effort each week to post an original status update or comment on one of your followers’ posts and you’ll be in great shape before you know it.
And although this isn’t a disclaimer, I’d also like to jump on my soapbox briefly to talk about how social media should and shouldn’t be used by businesses.
How Businesses Should And Should Not Use Social Media
Business owners need only remember a few very simple guiding principles for using social media. It’s about interacting with your followers, not selling to them. No one goes on to Twitter or Facebook looking to buy your product or service. Use social media to have a dialogue with your followers. Talk to them about things related to your industry or service type. Bring them helpful information. Or just have a good, old-fashioned discussion with them. This is your opportunity to show them that there’s a real person behind your business. Don’t blow it with a hard-sell or spammy posts.
Ok, let’s break down the tools.
If you don’t already have a Google account by now, then please stop and go get one. I’ll wait. No seriously. Go do it.
Your Gmail/Google account is vital to many aspects of your business, including Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Google+ profiles and Google+ Brand Pages and Google+ Local listings. Starting to get the picture? Good.
Google Reader is the first step in using this strategy. It is free and easy to use. Simply sign in to your google account and then pick out RSS feeds from blogs and online publications that are relevant to your industry. The idea behind this strategy starts with finding news stories on a regular basis that would mean something to your audience. You then save and share these stories using the next few tools mentioned in this article.
So once you’re logged into Reader, you can either browse by category or just put some search terms in. Look for names of well known publications that you recognize first, and add those feeds to your Reader account. Then go looking for lesser known blogs and save those as well. Avoid spam. Believe me, you’ll be able to weed those feeds out quickly.
After you’ve picked out the best feeds for that keyword, move on to searching for other terms and repeat the process of saving them to your Google Reader account.
Flipboard is an app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets that makes sifting through all of these feeds, plus some of your social networks easy and enjoyable. Once you’ve filled up your RSS feeds in Google Reader, simply download the Flipboard app to the device of your choice and then add your Google Reader account to it. You can also add your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Flickr and other social media streams to the mix.
This app provides a fast, easy, beautiful and extremely enjoyable way to flip through any and all content streams you can think up. It basically creates a customized magazine for your mobile device.
The bulk of our workflow, however, will come from adding your Google Reader account to Flipboard. We’ll come back to how you use this with at least one of the other tools at the end of the next section.
Buffer is a nearly perfect service that allows you to either manually write your own updates, save items from the web via some cool bookmarklets, or use a handful of app integrations to save things to your Buffer queue. You can then pick times to autoschedule these posts throughout the day, effectively spreading out a bunch of tweets and status updates to look more random and less spammy.
In short, you fill up your Buffer queue and the service spreads those posts out on a schedule that you determine. Its much more effective than tweeting or posting in batches, and it definitely gives the appearance of looking active each and every day. It’s free to use, but there is a paid version that will give you additional features, such as a larger queue (the default is 10 posts.)
While Hootsuite also now offers autoscheduling of posts, Buffer has it beat hands-down with its “post-by-email” ability. Buffer gives you a super secret email address (usually made of random characters that make it nearly impossible to memorize – and therefore be abused by others) that you can email items to. Those items are saved to your Buffer queue.
My current setup is to post twice a day, once sometime in the mid-morning and once in the late-afternoon. The updates that I save to my Buffer queue are then automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook Page at the times I’ve selected. I’ve actually used slightly different times to post to my Twitter feed than when I post to my Facebook Page.
I fill the Buffer queue up and try to keep it full at all times, even though my auto-scheduled posts are only distributing two updates/tweets per day. I usually go through this workflow for 5 to 10 minutes each morning, but I can also skip several days if I choose and still have posts going out.
Remember that secret email address that Buffer gives you? You can (and should) save that to the address book on your device (or in my case to Google Contacts, which syncs with all of my devices.) I’ve cleverly named mine “Buffer App” in my address book.
As I flip through the stories in Flipboard (in the morning, or while standing in line, or any time I get a few minutes each day) I’ll eventually come across an article that I think is interesting enough to share with my readers/followers. I simply click the share icon, and email the article straight from Flipboard to my secret Buffer email address, which has been conveniently saved to my contacts list with the friendly name “Buffer App.”
Each time I do this from Flipboard, a new item goes into my Buffer Queue. Emails sent to Buffer pull the status update from the subject line of your email, and if there’s a link in the body of the email, they’ll use bit.ly to shorten it. (Bit.ly is one of the reasons that I find Buffer much more desirable to use than Hootsuite, which uses ow.ly.)
A word of advice here – most of the time when sharing an article from Flipboard, the word “Article:” is placed at the beginning of the email subject line. You may want to consider getting rid of this, else all of your auto-status-updates are going to look more robotic than the curated content that they are meant to be. Whenever possible, I try to add some small amount of commentary as the status update instead of the stock title, but when time doesn’t permit I remove the word “Article” at the very least.
As nice as this workflow is, it is missing one vital piece that makes me turn to Hootsuite, and that is Google+ integration. Buffer works with Facebook (and Facebook Pages,) Twitter, LinkedIn, and App.net. But NOT Google+.
It may seem trivial to some, but I’m of the opinion that Google+ is a viable enough social media channel that you should at least try to have some level of engagement there. It’s not my favorite social network, but it definitely feels like a place I need to spend more time with. Being able to auto-post here would be great, but because Buffer doesn’t support it, I have to use workarounds – none of which are pretty.
If the folks at Buffer would solve this problem, I’d gladly sign up for their premium/paid version of the service. And I know I’m not the only one that feels this way.
Alas, however, we are forced to turn to the dark side, which brings us to…
Hootsuite is a nearly perfect social media management tool that definitely earns its right to be a mostly-paid service. As of this writing, I am a paying customer of Hootsuite, although begrudgingly so.
Hootsuite allows you (once you sign up for premium service of about $10/month for Hootsuite Pro) to configure nearly unlimited social media feeds. You can use the website, or mobile apps, to view all of your social media feeds at once, auto-schedule posts just like with Buffer, and schedule posts in advance manually.
And yes, Hootsuite includes Google+ integration.
So why am I begrudgingly paying for it?
There are a few reasons, but the biggest is: no post-by-email ability.
It boggles my mind why a smaller player like Buffer can come up with a secret email service for posting articles but Hootsuite – a giant by comparison – can’t manage to do this.
Oh sure, the other reasons I’m not a super-fan? The analytics are clunky (and not always included in what you pay? seriously? Upcharging me for various report types?) and I’m not a huge fan of the ow.ly shortening service. I like that with bit.ly you can bring your own custom domain name. You can with ow.ly, but its an extra $50. Nickel and dime, man.
Regardless, I’d gladly pay Hootsuite or Buffer with a smile on my face if either company would make it easy on me by including both Google+ and a post-by-email address. Whichever company figures this out first, wins, in my opinion.
There are likely a few workarounds to this situation, but none of them are clean and easily maintainable. One that I know if is to bring all of your feeds into Hootsuite and distribute them from there. I’m not interested in this because Flipboard is sooo damned nice to use. I seriously could not sift through all of the content I have to consume each week were it not for that beautiful Flipboard app.
Speaking of Flipboard, one workaround is to share directly to Google+ from Flipboard. This is a fine way to do it, except you lose the ability to autopost a la Buffer. If I decide one morning to save 5 different articles to my Buffer queue and then also share them on Google+, those 5 posts would have to be shoved out to my Google+ circles right away, which would make me look like a spammer. Not good.
As it stands I now have to fill up my Buffer queue, and then go into Hootsuite and configure those same posts for Google+ autoposting. I don’t usually do that.
So I use Buffer for my autoposts and I use Hootsuite for my planned, manual post scheduling. It is not ideal but it is as close as you can currently get to a smooth, automated workflow for social media management.
Your milage may vary, and I’d love to hear how you’re using these and similar tools.
So, what are you doing differently with these social media tools?