finding the right balanceAll for one and one for all

I’ve found that one of the most important things to do, when trying to build one’s online community, is to participate consistently in your preferred channels. And not just participate as in talk a lot, but share interesting pieces of information, so that your community knows you’re not just in this for you; you’re in this for them as well.

Inevitably, then, the time question comes up. “How can I always be online? Is there a way for me to cut down the amount of time I spend in social media?”

Yes and no. Yes, there are various tools you can use to cross-post your updates, for example, or to automate your updates. But the “no” part of this answer – at least from my point of view – is that if you’re going to try and cross-post every single update, or automate your posting schedule completely, I think you’ll flop.

Image: orangebrompton via Flickr, CC 2.0

Assuming you agree with that “yes and no” answer, here are four tools I’ve been finding very useful recently, and they might help you too.

1. Post Planner

This is a nifty Facebook app that lets you schedule Facebook updates. Now, I know you can do this through HootSuite, for example, or several other platforms. But the advantage I think Post Planner has over them is:

  • You can schedule an update, or link, to your personal profile, any Page you manage, or any Group you’re a part of;
  • Just as when you’re sharing a blog post (for example) manually, and you can customize your update by selecting the image you’d like to appear in the post, make your own comment, etc., you can do the same via Post Planner (this doesn’t always work from HootSuite, for example).

I’ve been using this for a couple of weeks now, and really like it, and their customer service team is very responsive (whether you ping them on Facebook or Twitter).

However, you can’t tag people the way you’d be able to if you were posting directly to Facebook (they may introduce this feature at some point, which I think would be huge). And if you don’t like 3rd party Facebook apps, then this isn’t for you.

How I use it: I never schedule more than one, or max two, updates per day, and I always try to share other blog posts or news items I think my community would be interested in. I try to vary my updates that precede the actual link by adding a bit of commentary, or maybe asking a question. And I never schedule my own posts through Post Planner, because of #2 below.

Hint: If you optimize your blog posts by properly filling out the excerpt, then this will work even better.

2. NetworkedBlogs

One of many auto-posting services that syndicate your blog to Facebook, I tried NetworkedBlogs early on and then, for some reason, stopped. But recently, Ken Mueller wrote about nearly tripling his blog traffic by using, among others, NetworkedBlogs, and that made me decide to try it again.

Since coming back to NetworkedBlogs, I noticed that you can also syndicate to Twitter, but I’m not using that option.

How I’ve been using it: I had set up both my blogs to syndicate to my Facebook Page (that’s where Waxing UnLyrical goes) and my personal profile (that’s where my food blog goes). In addition, WUL goes through to a secret Facebook group that I’ve set up for all the regular guest bloggers. I’m also testing this for a client blog, syndicating to the Page as well as a supporting Group.

Hiccup: since I’m also testing Livefyre’s new SocialSync feature, I ran into problems with any comments on my posts that showed up on my Facebook page not being pulled into the comment stream on WUL (that’s what SocialSync does, it pulls in comments from Facebook and Twitter). Jenna Langer at Livefyre told me this was because when syndicating via NetworkedBlogs, NB’s URL masks the actual blog URL, and loads the site in an iFrame. So basically, Livefyre can’t see that that’s part of the conversation… so those specific comments don’t show up in the WUL comment stream.

But if you’re not using Livefyre as your comment system, you should be fine, and it’s worth a try, because it does make the posts show up nicely in Facebook.

3. HootSuite Publisher

HootSuite was the first Twitter service to introduce scheduled tweets, and one of the main reasons I switched over from TweetDeck (and now I’m so used to it, I can’t switch back). Recently they introduced a “publisher” tab, where you can see all your scheduled tweets in calendar view, and it’s pretty cool.

How I use it: Just as with the Facebook posts, I look for interesting posts and news items, either in my Twitter feed or RSS Reader. Then I schedule them – never more than two, or max three a day (simply because I’m much more active on Twitter than Facebook).

I always try to mention the author or source by their Twitter handle as well, with a question, or again, a bit of commentary, not just the typical “RT.” This way it shows up in their Twitter @ stream, and who doesn’t like knowing someone just shared their post?

Tip: I think it’s perfectly ok to share a post from a while back, or that’s not hot off the press, as it were. So when I find something I think will be useful to people, I might schedule it to publish twice over four days, say, and at different times of day. That way, it is likely to be seen by more people over different time zones.

4. Triberr

Much has been written about Triberr, whether automated tweets being shared by a “tribe” are a good thing, whether it can be gamed, and so on (I for one am glad that Erica Allison decided to make up with Triberr). But when Gini Dietrich invited me into my first tribe, I had absolutely no hesitation in accepting.

I think Triberr is a great way to share posts – and get your posts shared – by a select group of people you trust. While there is a setting in Triberr that allows you to go in and check what’s due to be posted to Twitter via your account, I rarely check it.

Why? Because I’ve seen consistently good content being produced by fellow tribe members, and I trust them. So trust is key.

How I use it: I keep my Triberr settings on “auto” mode. This helps me out, since I don’t have to worry about going to their blogs (or to my Reader) to find their posts and tweet them out (though I still try to do that so that I can comment as often as possible).

I’m also growing my own tribes very selectively, only inviting people whose content I’m completely comfortable with. And thanks to Triberr, I rarely share my own posts on Twitter, because I know my tribe will do it for me (thank you, tribe!).

Hint: It’s certainly a good feeling to be invited into a tribe, but it will only be useful to you if you publish regularly. So don’t take your Triberr invitation, if you get one, lightly.

I’m still yooman

being humanA lot of people look down on any level of automated publishing. I used to be one of them, but I’m not any longer. Frankly, it’s completely unrealistic to expect anyone, and that includes business using social media, to be able to maintain a consistent presence in social media if it’s 100% manual, especially if it’s a small team or one-person shop.

Image: Gilberto Viciedo via Flickr, CC 2.0

As practitioners, we should be trying to find ways to encourage people (and businesses) to use social media more productively as opposed to being terrified of the time they’ll have to put in. Tools like these, when used properly and in moderation, can help.

So when I schedule posts, I usually select days and times I’d normally be online (e.g. not one every hour, on the hour, I mean, I just wouldn’t normally be online at 10:30 pm ET, for example). And some days, I just don’t get to schedule at all.

Because I’m yooman. I figure that’s ok too.

What about time?

Participating consistently in social media will still take time, there’s no getting away from that. After all, it takes time to find good information to share, right? And while I find these tools extremely useful, if you look at my Twitter stream, or Facebook page (or profile), you’ll see that the majority of my updates are interactions with other people, and they’re all manual.

So please don’t take this post as a blanket “ok” from me for automating everything. In my opinion, that would be the worst thing you could do.

But if you can strike the right balance between scheduled updates and good old human interaction, then these tools might help a lot.

Are you using any of these tools? What do you find useful, or not? What about other tools, that I might not know of? Please share, as always the comments are yours.