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Social Media Automation: A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action


I’m a strong believer that good writing should never sit on the fence, which is why I was pretty scathing in my column last year about social media automation. If a magazine column can be said to have a sequel, then this one should probably be retitled “Automation Wars 2: Jeff Bullas Strikes Back.”

Except Jeff is so likeable in person, I doubt he’s capable of striking anyone, never mind a grumpy magazine columnist. Jeff is consistently ranked as one of the most influential social media marketers in the world. A key part of his strategy is social media automation.

So, if there is a fence for me to not be sitting on, then Jeff is definitely on the other side. What should two chaps do when they have a disagreement? I invited Jeff to lunch.

“If someone wants to engage with me and ask a proper question on Twitter, I do interact, but not all the time,” Jeff said between mouthfuls of roasted sweet potato salad. “I see social media as a top-of-the-funnel strategy, a distribution point for your content. It’s only one part of the digital marketing puzzle.”

Not everyone shares Jeff’s view of social media as distribution first and discussion a very distant second. But Jeff didn’t reach this conclusion arbitrarily. His views about social media were formed by years of experimentation.

Everybody’s talking

I suggested a blog couldn’t avoid being inextricably linked with social media if it’s to be successful. “I think you’re leaving a lot on the table if you don’t involve social media,” Jeff said. “More and more, the content is read on your blog and the conversation happens elsewhere, like Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

“As you grow a larger following on Twitter or Facebook, it becomes harder to interact with everyone. There are so many moving parts, requiring lots of individual actions and interactions. If you want to be a social media purist, it’s those interactions that are seen as important.”

Four-and-a-half years ago, Jeff personally loaded every one of his tweets. “I saw Twitter as a great way for me to build personal brand awareness globally. But it really wasn’t efficient for me to spend a hundred hours a month tweeting. It’s just crazy. I needed a way to scale, to feed Twitter properly. I had to automate.”

Jeff was aware he was opening himself to criticism. “A few people said, ‘You’re not using social media properly,’ and I listened to them. But I decided that losing a few followers who didn’t want my tweets in their feed every few minutes was worth the end goal of brand awareness and driving more traffic. So I persisted.

“And it worked. Currently, I have 310,000 Twitter followers and automation saves me about 100 hours a month.”

Breaking the automation taboo

As Jeff explained, “I think automation was frowned upon early on because social media was still a shiny new toy. It was all about power to the people. It was all about the democratization of marketing instead of actually having to pay for advertising. It was free, organic, and earned.

“But the real challenge for small business is how to scale their marketing. The reality is that if you want to be efficient, you’re going to have to embrace automation in some form. Otherwise, you’re going to compete against many other businesses using automated platforms like Infusionsoft, Marketo, and so on.”

Jeff uses SocialOomph to automate his Twitter feed. “It’s pretty dated but it still does the job,” he said. To feed the beast with enough tweets each day, Jeff draws upon his entire blog archive, extracting the full value from evergreen content. “It’s a daily process of culling and adding, making sure each post is up to a standard I’m happy with. If a blog post still adds value to my community, then why not keep sharing it.”

SocialOomph sends a tweet from Jeff’s Twitter account every 15 minutes. This intensive schedule wasn’t an arbitrary decision, however. He read a 2014 report from Simply Measured that revealed tweeting every 15 minutes led to 31 percent more traffic and 89 percent more engagement than tweeting every 30 minutes.

Jeff uses Infusionsoft to automate the rest of his marketing, including email. When selecting the technologies for his business, Jeff didn’t look for the next big thing or shiny new toy but what was proven to work within his market. “Look at the tools that already have a wide take-up in your market and for your size. I chose Infusionsoft not because it’s the best technology in the marketplace – it’s a hard tool to use and very complicated – but because it’s very powerful and is used by a lot of bloggers that have critical mass globally.”

Jeff goes on to explain, “There are no guarantees for any platform that it’s not going to be a legacy system in five or 10 years. That’s the reality with any technology … so, you’ve got to pick a horse.”

Social media is no one’s bit of fluff

While Jeff understands the idealized, purist view, he doesn’t believe businesses can afford the luxury of what he calls “fluffy social media.”

He points the finger at agencies for championing the fluff. “In the past, agencies have hidden behind the very fluffy metrics they’ve sold – mass media metrics such as views or impressions. They could tell you 2 million people viewed your content, but they would never be able to tell you how many people bought on the back of that campaign. There was no EPC – earnings per click – happening.

“We need to move away from fluffy social media to the sharp end of social media marketing – less fluff and more metrics such as subscriber rates and earnings per click.

“There has to be a result at the end of the day. There has to be a lead, such as a new email subscriber. And then you have to convert that email subscriber from an engaged subscriber into a customer. We need to get much better at converting traffic and engagement into revenue.

“And that means the use of technology to help you achieve that across the whole marketing funnel.”

The plates of salad and bacon were gone. Only the dregs of mineral water and coffee remained. (Guess who is the healthier eater?) Lunch was over.

There is no denying automation works for Jeff. His global success is proof of that. And he continues to experiment with the various tools to find further improvements. There is no perfect marketing model, just constant optimization.

What works for Jeff won’t always work for the next business, but at least he knows it works for him.

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bi-monthly print magazine. Find more best practices and rules of engagement for working with today’s top social media platforms. Read our Content Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Survival: 50+ Tips.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).