How to automate your social media easily and strategically
Finding time to market your side-hustle, let along run it is hard! Let’s talk about how to keep your business moving even when you are busy with priority number one. There are so many amazing tools out there that are made to help us automate common business tasks and workflows. As a virtual assistant, my most requested service was social media management. I knew I had to create a system to make it easier for me and my clients so I could take on more work. I start with a simple strategy I can recycle, followed by setting up an online tool for automation, then commit to a plan to batch posts. I am going to share my detailed process for easily creating social media content and automating it.
Schedule it in
Estimated set up time: 1 hour
Estimated maintenance time: 3 - 6 hours per month
Content Theme Cycle
Time: 1 hour or less, one time.
Let’s start from the beginning. There are tons of options out there for platforms to help you schedule your content, however, I feel a lot of you don’t use it. Why is that? My theory, based on lots of probing to my fellow side hustlers is that you have a hard time planning too far ahead so you can’t batch schedule because, you don’t know what you want to write about yet. But, when the time comes and you are busy with something other than your side-hustle, you completely forget to post anything at all and then you really aren’t marketing your business well.
My suggestion is to come up with some general content themes that are easy to write about, offer value and are super engaging and then rotate those themes. I like to call this the “content theme cycle.” When I say super engaging I mean prompts that are easy for readers to respond to without much thought. These posts should add value so you attract the right followers who are interested in your content and eventually your product or service too. These posts are great fillers and when you have special promotional or time sensitive posts that come up, it will be easy to slide them into the mix.
For an example of a content theme cycle, let’s come up with one for a natural handmade soap company named…. Sudsy. Sudsy creates natural soap and only uses high quality essential oils and ingredients, no additives or nasty chemicals. Sudsy needs to educate their customers on the harmful chemicals in commercial brands and encourage them to shop small and buy from trusted artisans who sell natural products. The target market is women in Kelowna, BC who crave more self-care in their lives and loves local craft fairs. So let’s think of some things Sudsy’s social media posts can talk about.
Sudsy Content Themes
Essential oils - all the facts, the benefits and how Sudsy uses them in the products.
Shop small - highlight fellow small businesses in the community, how shopping small affects their local economy and the magic of meeting the makers in person.
Community - additionally, talk about events and relevant trending topics in Kelowna since that is the area Sudsy customers are from too.
Wellness - General wellness, creating health habits, healthy foods, wellness activities and interests.
Self-care - talk about anything related to self-care for women.
BTS - Behind the scenes of how Sudsy creates handmade soaps.
Harmful ingredients - educate on all the harmful ingredients in commercial products and why we should avoid them.
That’s a pretty good start. 7 theme ideas for 7 days of posts. The content theme cycle would rotate these 7 themes on a weekly basis. The themes are always relevant and important to convey the overall brand of Sudsy. If a new follower were to find Sudsy and look and their feed, the most recent 7 posts, they would have a very good understanding about what Sudsy is all about and if they’re a good match for the brand, they will hit that follow button.
And just like that, you have created a simple social media strategy. Woo hoo!
When creating a social media post, it’s important to have a photo or linked article depending what platform you are posting on. Let’s talk about how to gather your content.
Collecting Content Inspiration
Time: 1 - 2 hours per month
Next, I like to do a major brainstorming and research session for potential captions or amazing links worth sharing. I like to spend a bit of time building a foundation to prepare myself to easily batch create social media content. For that, I will do a whole bunch of research for relevant links, inspiration and caption ideas that fit in with my content themes. A great tool for this is Evernote, which allows you to create notebooks and clip sections of the web and paste them to your notebook. It also works as a great place to store your ideas as they come to you. You can use your computer, tablet or smartphone using the Evernote app so you can always stay organized no matter what you’re doing.
The way I use Evernote to store all my social media content ideas and inspo is super easy. First, I added the Evernote extension to my Chrome browser so I can easily grab information as I come across it. When I find a bit of information I want to save, I’ll use the extension to save it as a bookmark link, screen shot, full article, simplified article or full page. I then select which notebook to save it to and add a tag. Pro tip: create a tag for each content theme so you can easily find it when you are creating content. I also use the Evernote notebooks to add my own content captions and ideas and images as individual notes.
Of course, you can also use a simple Google Word doc and create a section for each content theme and add your links, caption drafts and images. Personally, I love how organized and easy to search, Evernote is. But, find what system works for you. The point is that you are adding and creating content on the go so when it’s time to batch schedule your social media content, it’s ready to go.
Time: 30 mins - 1 hour per week, or 2 hours per month
This is the fun part! Once you have a library of content to choose from, you can start to input into your favourite social media scheduler. Social media schedulers do exactly what you would expect, they schedule your social media content so it is posted at a day and time that makes sense for you and your content. Recently, Instagram decided to allow certain 3rd party apps to autopost directly to Instagram instead of prompting users to post as it was previously. This totally changed the game for automation. Now, our Instagram posts would be posted without us having to take further action. You basically, set it and forget it. Almost.
I recommend a few social media schedulers for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (and more) including Hootsuite, Planoly, Buffer, Grum, Iconosquare, Native Facebook Scheduler and SpoutSocial, Meet Edgar, Coschedule and Later. They are all similar but slightly different and I do urge you to take a look at all of them to decide what features are most important to you.
In this instance, I will talk about my personal favourite for Instagram, Later. I use this mainly for Instagram posting. I found it had the best free plan and I like it’s user interface. I also love that you can save your hashtags and it has a media library for photos and videos, although videos are an upgraded plan option. It also has the option to search and repost other user’s content which can be useful if done properly.
Now that we have a stock pile of content, I ensure I have plenty of great photos uploaded to my library or saved via the search and repost function of Later. I like to buy stock images that fit my brand but I know that isn’t always possible for some brands who might need specific photos for their niche or brand. In that case, I recommend monthly mini photo shoots where you set up a small vignette with a few variations and snap as many photos as you can. Even if you don’t use them all, you will start to build your own library of stock images.
I then open my Evernote notebook and start pulling content ideas and pasting it into the Later scheduling calendar with an appropriate photo. All of my hashtags are saved based on content themes - set up the same way as my Evernote tags, so it’s easy to add hashtag groups to the end of the Instagram post.
If I am using the same content for Facebook, I will copy the caption and paste it in the native Facebook scheduler for a different date, so they don’t post on the same day. I change the wording a bit and I add a link to a blog post or website is it’s relevant. Even though you probably do have some of the same followers on Facebook and Instagram, chances are high that they aren’t seeing all your posts, so this is a good opportunity to hit more people with one piece of content. If you find one of your posts does really well, make note of which post and recycle that content again in the future. Again, no need to worry about repeating because the way algorithms work, not all of your content is seen by all of your followers. If you use Buffer, it actually gives you the option to re-buffer (re-add a high engaging post to your queue) which is an amazing feature I wish all schedulers had.
You can schedule one week at a time or a whole month, it’s up to you. Be sure you are flexible and willing to add content on the fly too so you stay relevant and you’re mixing in some promotional posts that drive users
Bonus: If you’re using a social media calendar then you can absolutely plan ahead. I like The Content Planner for writing out important dates and then scheduling posts according to these highlighted dates. It ensures I don’t miss any deadlines and I create content proactively rather than reactively.
Pro Tip: Do a bit of research to find the optimal times for posting on your social media platforms for your target audience. Try to be available to respond to comments as they come in. Although, we are talking about automation, it’s not ideal to let your posts happen without any interaction at all. Set some time blocks to engage with other accounts too. This is an important step to growing your audience.
Now, I challenge you to try out one of these systems that will help keep you disciplined with your social media content. You will no longer have to include “post to Instagram” on your daily to-do list that is already a mile long. Instead you will know that you have a block of time set aside on a certain day for this tasks and you don’t have to think about what you need to post next because you know you have a plan in place. I find it relieves a lot of stress when I know when I will be working on my social media so I don’t need to feel guilty or pressured to come up with content daily. And then I know what I will be doing when I do finally sit down to work on it because I have laid the foundation for strategic social media content. Go ahead and download your Content Theme Cycle worksheet to get yours started and give it a try.