I admit it: I am lazy.
I know I am supposed to promote my business on social media, have a twitter account, interact with followers, blog, tweet the blog, retweet the tweet to my LinkedIn profile….and on, and on.
I know these are the things that help to build your audience, connect you with more clients, and build your search rankings. I know this, because I say it to my clients all the time!
But when it comes down to it – when it boils down to tweeting that tweet or following up with a client, when it’s between promoting my blog post or cooking for my wife – social media always loses out.
Because I’m lazy.
I don’t want to work too much! I want my business to run itself as much as possible, so I have time for wife-hugging and dog-petting and burrito-eating. I’m a baby, and I don’t want to do stuff I don’t want to do.
Luckily, I can have both – an awesome social media presence and wife-dog-burrito time. The answer is to use free online tools and techniques to automate as much of my social media outreach as possible…so I can focus on the fun stuff.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Have a Content Plan.
Social media, when it’s done well, has two major components: personal interaction and content sharing.
Personal interaction is just that: it’s personal. This part shouldn’t be automated – if someone re-tweets you or shares your stuff, reach out and say thanks. Comment on the content that other people share and share their stuff in kind. You don’t need to do this a lot – check in on your accounts once or twice a week and make it a point to pass on some gratitude.
Content Sharing is where the rubber meets the road in terms of automation. Here’s where you can save a whole bunch of time, plus grow your audience.
To do this well, you need a content plan. This is just a systematized way of how you’ll be producing, finding, and archiving cool content that will appeal to your readers.
To create your content plan, ask yourself two questions:
– How will I find cool content?
– How will I create cool content?
The key here is to pick something that works for you, and fits painlessly into your schedule. Let’s look at my process as an example:
– How will I find cool content?
Each morning, while I’m drinking my coffee, I sit on the couch with my wife and flip through my RSS reader (a program that collects updates from all the blogs I follow). I spend about 15 minutes skimming the headlines and picking out the articles that look interesting. When I find an article that looks cool, I archive it for in-depth reading.
Once my 15 minutes are up, I spend the next 30 minutes or so reading through my previously-archived articles. These tend to be long, in-depth, and educational. When an article is particularly great, or a good fit for my audience, I save it for future sharing.
– How will I create cool content?
I will try to produce at least one awesome, well-researched article a month. When it’s done, I will post it to my blog.
I will also do a weekly Google Hangout, which gives people a fun way to interact with me (Google Hangouts are like live public webinars).
Note that the only actions I’m taking here are: a.) flipping through some articles in the morning over coffee, much like I would with a newspaper; b.) writing one blog post a month, and c.) participating in one public Hangout a week. These are actions I’m already comfortable with and enjoy…no pain or stress involved.
The cool part comes when we automate the processes that surround these actions…and turn my leisure time into a tool to help grow my business.
Step 2: Choose Your Tools.
To automate your social media marketing process, you’ll need to choose some tools. There are a few general categories of tool you’ll need to pick out: your aggregator, your archiver, and your broadcast channels.
“Aggregator” is just a fancy word for a program that brings content together from a variety of sources. After all, if you had to individually go to every important industry blog to see what people are talking about, it would take hours. Who has the time? Not us lazy people, that’s for sure.
This is where RSS readers come in. An RSS reader lets you “subscribe” to different blogs and websites, then brings all their updates together in one convenient place. It’s a bit like getting a newspaper version of the internet, letting you know what’s going on in your field in real-time.
My favorite newsreader is Feedly – it’s attractive, has a great iPad app, and helps you discover cool new sources of content. To find new blogs to follow, simply click the “Add Content” button on the home screen, pick your preferred category, and easily subscribe to the most popular and followed blogs in your field. Awesome!
RSS readers are great for quickly scanning huge amounts of content – I subscribe to over a hundred influential SEO and marketing blogs, ensuring that I stay up-to-date on what’s happening my industry.
But RSS readers aren’t necessarily the best place to read the articles I’m getting – I much prefer to save the articles I’m interested in for later. That brings us to…
An archive is just a convenient place you can save the content you’re interested in for later. What works best for you just depends on your workflow and habits. Some people just save the article straight to their computer, others bookmark the article for later.
That’s all well and good, but I’m lazy – I don’t want to have to remember to check my folder for old articles or clean out my bookmarks every week. I also want a clean, streamlined reading experience that strips out a lot of the stuff you find on blogs that I don’t really care about, like ads, comments, etc.
Pocket allows you to save articles for later reading. The best part about it, though, is that it turns that article in a super-readable, clean version of itself that makes reading a total breeze.
If you haven’t used a functionality like this yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. You probably haven’t realized just how hard to read a lot of websites are! Fair warning: once you get used to the simplified version provided by programs like Pocket and Readability, it’s hard to go back.
I use Pocket to store articles that seem to merit further reading. When I stumble on an interesting article in Feedly, I make a quick decision: does this look like something I should invest some time in reading? If it does, I click the handy-dandy “Save To Pocket” button, and the article is automatically sent to my Pocket account. Nice.
Later on, when I’m ready to really sink my teeth into an article, I fire up Pocket and am presented with a nicely-curated collection of interesting articles.
Pocket is the place I keep articles I want to read. When I’m done with the article, I just click “Done” and the article is removed from my Pocket screen. But what happens if I want to archive an article for later – say, if it’s a good source for a blog post I want to write, or I want to refer back to it easily?
For longer-term archiving, I use Evernote, the nerds database of choice. If you’ve never heard of Evernote, it essentially acts as a second brain: whenever you want to remember something, throw it in Evernote for easy search and retrieval later on. I use it to store everything from recipes, to my daily journal, to client contact info. It’s fantastic!
I can send articles from Pocket directly to Evernote. That means that whenever an article is particularly useful, I can rest easy knowing that it’ll be cataloged in Evernote whenever I need it.
This comes particularly in handy when I’m writing blog posts. If I’m writing about SEO, I can just type “SEO” into Evernote and be presented with all the articles I’ve saved on that topic…including some gems I may have forgotten!
So, I now have a way of:
– Finding cool content
– Saving cool content to read later
– Saving interesting articles for reference
…All of which happens during my leisurely morning coffee.
But what about sharing? What about social media? How do I turn this content into a tool for growing my business?
Well, first we need to choose our Broadcast Channels.
Your broadcast channel is the way in which you send your information out into the world. This can be a social media site, your email list, your blog, you YouTube channel – anything that puts you in touch with your audience.
Choosing the right channel is a really important decision, because it has a direct impact on who sees your content. LinkedIn serves a professional audience, for example, so it may not be the right fit for you blog on Children’s TV Shows. Twitter tends to skew young, male, and tech-oriented, while Pinterest skews heavily female.
Now, there are always exceptions, but your primary goal when choosing your broadcast channel needs to be finding the channel that serves your target market. Go where your people are!
One more piece of advice: don’t try to do everything. There is just no way you can use a broadcast channel to it’s full potential when you’re spread too thin! It’s better to pick one or two ways of communicating with your audience and absolutely nail them, rather than have a bunch of dead social media accounts you barely touch.
Let’s use my own marketing as an example. I recently decided I wanted to work with more solopreneurs, coaches, and individual service providers (if that’s you and you’d like to chat with me about how I can help you out, drop me a line!). I haven’t focused much on social media until now, because my previous target market wasn’t online a whole lot. So which broadcast channels should I choose?
Well, I knew I wanted my blog to be a main component of my content strategy, so that’s definitely going to be a big piece. I also know that my ideal clients – ambitious, fun folks who want to get started with online marketing – will probably use social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to try and grow their businesses, so I’m going to focus my efforts there. I’ll probably avoid Facebook, because I mostly use it for personal things, and because it’s less business-oriented. I’ll also work in my Google+ account, because I do a weekly hangout there.
Now that I have my process for gathering cool content in place, I have a way of storing that content for later, and I know how I want to start sharing content…how I do automate the process? How do I avoid spending all day on my computer staring at tweets and thumbs ups and so on?
Step 3: Automate.
I’m a huge fan of automation. Automating a task means you can literally be doing two things at once – it’s the next best thing to cloning yourself, but without the risk of the clone killing you and taking over your life. Awesome!
Our goal here is to connect our content collection process with our content sharing platforms. That way, we can just go about our lives, do what we do, and know our content will be spread around the world without lifting a finger.
There are two general kinds of things we can automate:
Tasks, which are things that people need to do; and
Systems, which are the tools we use to do stuff.
In general systems are a lot easier to automate, so we can talk about those first.
Already in this article I’ve mentioned several systems that I’m using to curate content – Feedly, Pocket, Evernote, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. These are all software systems that exist independently of one another.
However, many of these software systems integrate with each other already. Feedly, for example, can save articles directly to Pocket. Pocket can save articles directly to Evernote.
This means that my content curating process is already pretty automated:
Find an article in Feedly I want to read > Save to Pocket.
Read an article in Pocket that I want to refer back to > Save to Evernote.
But what about sharing? I can send articles from Pocket to Twitter, but Evernote doesn’t interact with Twitter. And Pocket doesn’t talk to LinkedIn. Plus, once I add in social networks I have to edit the text of my broadcasts, and now I’m clicking multiple buttons – one for sharing, one for saving….this is already becoming too much work (I told you: I’m lazy).
Remember Barrett’s Law of Online Marketing:
If it’s a pain in the butt, you won’t do it regularly.
…and consistency is king when it comes to social media marketing. So: how do we make this process even easier? How do we help all our different systems talk to each other?
Make Your Systems Talk to Each Other With IFTTT!
IFTTT (it stands for “If This, Then That”) is one of the coolest tools on the web right now. All it does is connect different systems to each other – connect Twitter to LinkedIn, connect LinkedIn to Evernote, connect your email to your phone, connect your wife to your dog (well, not the last one).
IFTTT works by building “Recipes” – you tell the system that when X happens, you also want Y to happen. Let’s look at an example:
I know that I want to post on both Twitter and LinkedIn. I know that Twitter has more daily activity, so I’m going to focus my time there. How do I make it so that whenever I send out a tweet, it also gets posted to my LinkedIn feed?
Easy! Let’s create a recipe in IFTTT that does just that!
This recipe essentially says: “Whenever I Tweet from my @2FriendlyNerds account, I want you to also post that Tweet on my LinkedIn feed.” Now, I’m posting in two places at once – doubling my reach.
There’s no end to the amount of connections you can make, so let’s automate some more of my systems!
I know I’m going to want to promote my blog posts when they come out, so let’s put that on auto-pilot as well.
This recipe says “Whenever a new blog post appears on my blog, post a Tweet about it and include a link back to the article.” Since I already know that all my tweets also get posted to LinkedIn, this will make sure that my blog posts get promoted to both my main broadcast channels – without any extra work on my part. I can just focus on writing!
Thinking a little harder about the kind of social media outreach I want to do, I know I want to share useful articles to my audience. How do I make that easier?
Well, I’m already collecting articles I want to read in Pocket, so let’s connect Pocket and Twitter:
This recipe says, “Whenever I ‘Favorite’ an article in Pocket, post the title and link to Twitter with the prefix ‘What I’m Reading:'”. Now, whenever I think an article is worth sharing, I just hit the “Favorite” button and automatically share that article to Twitter and LinkedIn. I then set up another recipe which automatically saves any “Favorited” articles in Pocket to my Evernote – so now, one button shares and archives any article I like.
Here’s an example of a Tweet generated by this recipe:
….and here’s the same post, automatically linked to LinkedIn:
Now that my Systems are all connected, it’s time to think about automating Tasks.
Automating online systems is all well and good, because computers are not lazy. But I am. And no matter how much I try to automate, there are always going to be some thing that require human input – like writing blog posts.
Now, I want to be clear: I really, truly believe that your social media presence needs to reflect who you really are. Totally outsourcing your blog posts, for example, can lead to lots of problems down the road: disconnection from your brand, getting in touch with the wrong target audience, etc. People know when there’s no one behind the wheel, and personal contact is what makes social media really valuable. No one wants to follow a robot on Twitter!
Your social media presence needs to reflect who you really are.
Because of that, I’m still writing all my own blog posts, and I’m the one who is picking out interesting articles that I think will appeal to my audience. But I still have a lot of tasks – for example, running my weekly Google Hangout called SEO and IPAs – that I could make a lot easier. How can I automate that?
The first thing you’ll need to do to automate any task is to break the task down into unique action steps. For example, whenever we run our Hangout we also post the recording on the blog. If I was going to break down that process into its action steps, it would look like this:
1. Start hangout.
2. Invite Google+ followers.
3. Post streaming link on Hangout page.
4. Post weekly article link on Hangout page.
5. Hang out!
6. Wait 1 day for YouTube recording of hangout to be available.
7. Post YouTube embed code into new blog post.
8. Post all links mentioned in show into blog post.
9. Write brief description of show in blog post.
10. Publish blog post.
11. Post link on social media.
Whew…it’s making me tired just thinking about it. I need a nap.
Now, the last part of that process – posting on social media – is already automated, because I know that whenever a new blog post shows up on my blog it’s automatically posted on my social media accounts. And I can’t automate the whole actually-doing-the-hangout-thing, because people would notice if I swapped myself out with ROBODAN 9000. So how do I automate the rest?
For tasks that require actual human interaction (in this case, creating the blog post from the hangout recording), I use FancyHands, the incredible virtual assistant service.
Fair warning: rapturous praise to follow.
FancyHands is one of my favorite companies. Ever. FancyHands hooks you up with a team of virtual assistants that can take care of almost any task that can be completed online or over the phone. Simple website updates? Check. Send your wife flowers because you forgot your anniversary until the very last second? Check. Wait on hold with the cable company for three hours and then drive a super-hard bargain that saves you cash? Check. Find someone who will plow your driveway with no advance notice during a snow storm? Check.
All of those are real tasks I’ve sent to FH, by the way, and I must say they consistently over-deliver. They’re awesome!
Now, you can send tasks to Fancy Hands through an iPhone app, their website, by phone, or by email. I know that my weekly hangout is at the same time every week (Wednesdays at Noon, EST), so how can I use Fancy Hands and the other tools at my disposal to automate the process?
First, I create an in-depth tutorial on how to create the weekly blog posts and save it in Evernote.
Then, I grad the public sharing link from Evernote, to make sure I can send this note to anyone.
Once I have the link, I head over to IFTTT.
In IFTTT I’m going to connect two things together: The date and time, and my email account.
This recipe is saying, “Every week, on Thursday at 7am, send an email To Fancy Hands with the link to my Evernote note with the subject line ‘Help me make a blog post from this Video!'”.
This ensures that one of my Fancy Hands assistances gets all the info they need, automatically…and that means that my Blog and YouTube channel automatically get updates with valuable content and links….which in turn automatically gets posted to all my social media channels.
Taking this a bit further, we can also use IFTTT to promote the Hangout before it happens!
This recipe tells Twitter to automatically tweet a short promo for the show and link to my dedicated Hangout page every Tuesday. Now, my social media networks are being alerted about my weekly hangout before it happens, then provided a link to the recording after it happens. This to drive engagement with my company and brand. Not only that, but my weekly hangout and morning reading are being turned into valuable content, boosting my Google rankings and helping me make connections with other content creators.
Is it completely hands-off? No. But it shouldn’t be! Social media is all about putting a human face on a brand. You should still be curating your own content, and working to make cool stuff that your audience will love.
But all the stuff in between? Yeah. Automate that.
And now, it’s burrito time.
Links to the tools mentioned in this post:
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