Is it possible to be authentic on social media while also employing the use of scheduling tools?
To answer this question requires taking a step back to answer the broader question of, “What is authenticity in social media?”
To help get to the bottom of this conundrum, we asked some of our favorite social media experts to share their insights.
Here’s what we learned:
Can Planned Content Be Authentic?
Cheeky social media personalities like the Wendy’s Twitter account thrive on of-the-moment social interactions. Wendy’s sick burns roasting rival fast-food chains (and even their own customers) have their executives laughing all the way to the bank.
When the tweets are as broken as the ice cream machine. https://t.co/esdndK1iFm— Wendy's (@Wendys) November 24, 2017
It works for Wendy’s, but that doesn’t mean an of-the-moment strategy will work for everyone. After all, finding a social media manager with this much comedic talent is like hunting for a unicorn!
Says Anna Bredava, Social Media Marketing Specialist at Awario,
“If you're targeting Millennials and Gen Z, and you do an extremely informal strategy (Denny’s would be a great example), scheduling may indeed make you seem less authentic because, in this case, you're trying to post like a regular person on the Internet posts (and they typically don't use scheduling tools).
If you choose a serious tone of voice, share more educational content and don't try to pose as a trendy millennial, I think schedulers are fine. It all comes down to strategy and tone of voice.”
On the other hand, according to Jeromy Sonne, Managing Director, Moonshine Marketing,
“Don't get too clever. I see a lot of teams having very in-depth conversations and being overly nuanced with the posts they make. It's great to be mindful, but you can certainly plan "too much" and create content arcs that make sense when you're scheduling them out, but are confusing or incoherent when your audience actually sees them”.
So how do you build relationships and increase ROI on social media without depending solely on of-the-moment interactions?
According to Orbit Media CMO Andy Crestodina,
“You can schedule social posts and still be authentic, because scheduled posts and conversational posts are completely separate. According to the "social media rule of thirds" (and no, it's never actual thirds) there are three kinds of social posts:
(Image source: Orbit Media)
Creation: You sharing your own content.
These are self-promotional, traffic-driving posts and it's perfectly fine to schedule them, even months in advance. Why not?
Curation: You sharing industry news.
These are interesting things you found, things that mentioned your brand, or possibly you helping friends by promoting their work. They can be auto-scheduled to go out at different times later that day, but should be very authentic and timely. Use your voice. Add your commentary or gratitude.
Conversation: You talking to people.
This better be authentic! Because it's you saying hello and thank you. You're answering questions. You're talking in your own voice. And you can't schedule this… unless maybe it's a happy birthday message? Even that'd be kinda weird. Better to write it in the moment”.
Put simply, plan content — but be available for follow up.
According to Bridget Willard, Marketing Consultant:
"There is a big difference between scheduling and automation. Curating content and scheduling it is a way to be efficient. That said, if you're not around to monitor responses to that content, then you should not post at all".
Bridget brings up a great point and the reason why most companies are interested in a planned content strategy that involves scheduling tools: efficiency. To be sure, having to manually post evergreen content is a drag.
Furthermore, creating a strategy with planned posts also creates a baseline of consistency. Most social networks reward users who post with regularity in terms of better news feed placement versus those who post on a whim. This is reason enough to schedule at least some of your content ahead of time.
“But doesn’t using a scheduling platform also work against reach?” you ask.
Historically, this seems to have been the case. Even worse, popular social networks like Instagram have historically shamed users of scheduling tools, going as far as disabling their accounts if they were caught using tools to do this in breach of the platform’s terms of service.
But now, it seems as if the act of scheduling social posts has been more or less approved by Instagram’s parent company in light of Instagram scheduling now launching as a part of Facebook Creator Studio.
Talk about a complete 180° policy change!
It seems fair to assume that the rule-makers behind social networks like Instagram have realized that posting content in the moment is an unrealistic standard to hold everyone, all the time.
Truly, a large part of creating content means being thoughtful about copy and putting some effort into producing on-brand imagery.
Being able to think strategically doesn’t always happen in the moment. To win at social media marketing, you’ve got to capitalize when creativity strikes — even if that’s before you plan to post something.
All that said, scheduling social media content does not give you permission to spam everyone’s feeds.
According to Matt Jackson, Social Media Consultant, Trainer, & Speaker at Socially-M,
“Brands and businesses, despite the best advice, cannot be ‘always on’ and automation or scheduling has become a shortcut that many are willing to take. Unfortunately, when many experts tell us that we should flood social media with posts to get attention, many will simply use automated or scheduled posts to do so”.
To answer the question of “What is authenticity in social media?”, it seems fair to add another parameter: the existence of some basic strategy.
If you’re sharing something every hour, on the hour, with no thought as to the ideal amount of posts per day, per network, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t be tempted to just fill gaps with curated content for content’s sake.
One thing that almost all of our expert respondents were in agreement about is that while you can still be authentic when scheduling content, you shouldn’t automate engagement.
Brian Fanzo, creator of iSocialFanz.com says,
“Being strategic and having a plan doesn’t impact authenticity. It’s about increasing productivity and I believe planning content gives you more time to engage and reply, to watch your post, therefore increasing authenticity. Don’t automate engagement, rather, automate to have more time to engage”.
Pro tip: Automated Twitter direct messages never have worked and never will.
On a related note, don’t try to pretend like you’re not automating something when you are.
Says Matt Jackson, “Unfortunately, often the perfectly planned and scheduled posts are too perfect and therefore don’t resonate with the audience. If you have to schedule in advance, keep it simple, keep it honest, and don’t try to pretend that it’s not scheduled. It’s also imperative to respond to all comments or replies as soon as possible — nothing says inauthentic like being ignored”.
Finally, we were wondering — is it even fair to compare the act of scheduling content to being inauthentic?
Here’s another insight from Bridget Willard:
"Authentic means it's true to you. Whether the post is in real-time or is scheduled does not affect authenticity. What affects authenticity is cognitive dissonance. Your brand should post things that enhance your online presence and marketing message."
Adds Social Report ambassador (as well as Social Media Strategist and host of the Savvy Social Podcast) Andréa Jones,
“Scheduling my posts allows me more time to be authentic. Instead of my mind going blank at the time of scheduling, I can plan ahead and make sure all of the important elements of what I do are highlighted. “
To summarize, automation (as when using a scheduling tool) isn’t inevitably bad. BUT, it can cause a faux pas if not monitored or corrected for.
Absolutely no one converts based on a crappy, form response. It’s tacky.
Social Media Tips & Tools to Help You Be Your Most Authentic Brand
Knowing the importance of strategy for creating authenticity for your social media presence, it helps to use social media scheduling tools that can help back you up.
- Use a pause button (or create a related protocol): Says Matthew Coleman, Marketing Director, MyEmployees.com,
“Letting scheduled posts run in the wake of terror news or a global catastrophe can make a brand seem callous and unaffected. By pausing your posts, you can get off of auto and back into manual and be in the trending moment”.
- Use a tool with monitoring capabilities: Here’s another gem from Bridget Willard, “Highlight posts from your customers, fans, and colleagues. This is the best way to leverage your brand online. Always monitor your accounts on the native platform. That way, you don't lose touch with the culture and your audience. Always respond. Always. Your community is your responsibility.”
- On a related note, share user-generated content. It shows the reality of your brand from the customer’s point of view (which is a lot more effective than you tooting your own horn). Social Report’s Social Inbox feature is a great place to find customer testimonials while making sure to stay on top of social conversations.
- Set notifications when new social posts publish so you can remember to interact with people that engage. Social Report offers a handy content calendar for seeing planned content at-a-glance.
- Keep on top of industry news to contribute value to conversations. Says Samm Mammoser, Social Media Specialist at TriZetto Provider Solutions,
“Industry hashtags can help you stay relevant and know what people are talking about. Also, it’s super basic, but be active and read through your feed to see what is going on so you can have authenticity when you join the conversation”.
- On that note, on platforms like Twitter, use lists to create focus for conversations you want to keep up with across various stakeholders.
- Don’t use automation to schedule the exact same post across all your networks. At minimum, take the time to upload the correctly sized image, tweak the copy for the audience, add hashtags as necessary, and so on. According to Matt Jackson, “My biggest tip would be to resist the temptation to use third-party scheduling tools to share the same posts across all your channels. Throwing as much of the same out there and hoping something sticks is a flawed strategy. You have to remember that people follow or engage with you on different platforms for different reasons, give them what they want, not a blanket whitewash of what you want”.
- Create “stock” photography for your brand. Says Andréa Jones, “I like to use images of myself and stories from my podcast as a way to be authentic. I'm very upfront with my followers about taking my own "stock" photos. So while the photo isn't in the moment, the ideas are still relevant to what they're struggling with today”.
Final Thoughts: What is Authenticity in Social Media? We Asked the Experts
Using social scheduling tools doesn’t mean that you’re an inauthentic social media participant. The key to maintaining a good reputation is making sure that you leave some time and space for in-the-moment interactions to supplement a planned content strategy.
Over to you: what is authenticity in social media from your perspective? Any advice we’ve shared where you’d like to add a devil’s advocate opinion? Or a new tip to make this list more comprehensive?
Tweet your thoughts at @TheSocialReport and we’ll share our favorites!
Maddy Osman is an SEO Content Strategist who works with clients like AAA, Automatic, Kinsta, and BigCommerce. Her background in WordPress web design contributes to a well-rounded understanding of SEO and how to connect brands to relevant search prospects. Learn more about her process and experience on her website and read her latest articles on Twitter @MaddyOsman.