Scheduling Software

In a previous article Social Media Scheduling the usefulness of, if not to some extent the necessity for, a scheduling system was discussed. This article, that centres primarily upon the availability of third-party scheduling software, is a follow-up to that discussion.

As any internet search will reveal, there are a substantial number of companies offering scheduling software. Though there are a handful with free account options, most attract a monthly fee; some reasonable others appreciable. It is not the writer’s intention to consider all the available options.

As is usual with this website, the topic will be primarily considered from an independent (indie) author’s perspective. Nevertheless, the programmes and packages under consideration are also suitable for businesses of whatever size. (Should always be born in mind, if it is to be taken seriously, authoring is a business.)

In the interests of conciseness and relevance, only two providers (probably the most well known and popular) will be considered here: Hootsuite and Buffer. Both have free and paid alternatives. Because most indie authors have little in the way of resources, often nothing, this article will concentrate upon free options. Naturally, these have limitations but it will be seen they may still be useful to the average indie author.

There are differences between the services, however, a common requirement is for users to signup for an account and to link whichever of their social media sites they wish to access through the facility. These are fairly straightforward processes.

Note: This article is simply intended to provide a general overview. Each site has its own guidance and help materials which, in most cases, are easy to comprehend.

Hootsuite

Reminder: Only the free option will be considered.

If interested, readers may find information about paid plans within the site’s own very helpful guidance notes and education material.

Social Media Accounts Supported

Twitter: Profile.                                       Pinterest: Profile.
Facebook: Page/Group.                        Instagram: Profile/Business Profile.
Google Plus: Profile/Page.                  You Tube: Channel.
LinkedIn: Profile/Company Page.   WordPress: .com blog

The Free plan allows for one (1) user and three (3) social media accounts.

Compose

There is a simple to use compose panel where users:

  • Select which account(s) the tweet or post is intended for. (More than one account may be selected.);
  • Draft the text. (Bearing in mind any character limitations that may apply. If more than one account has been selected the text content will have to be limited to which ever has the lowest limitation e.g. If Google Plus and Twitter are chosen the text will have to be limited to 280 characters (Twitter’s maximum).);
  • Add visual content;
  • Insert a url. (To reduce the charter count and help with unsightly or lengthy urls there is the option to have the url shortened through Hootsuite’s own shortening system (ow.ly));
  • Select (schedule) when the tweet or post is to be published. (A drop down calendar and panels for selecting time are provided.) See ‘Schedule’ below for further information.;
  • Choose whether to save a copy to the drafts folder. (This has to be a positive action using the buttons at the bottom of the compose panel. If not selected the tweet or post will be deleted from the system once it has been sent.) (Users are permitted to save up to thirty drafts in the drafts folder. This is an inclusive figure encompassing drafts for all sites e.g. ten for Facebook; fifteen for Twitter; five for Google Plus; etc. Hootsuite is the only one of the two sites to offer this facility with the free plan.)
Schedule

As with all the systems under consideration, Hootsuite enables users to draft and schedule tweets and posts for future publication.

Note: To accord with recent policy changes (2018) Facebook no longer permits users to schedule posts to their Profile through third-party software. See ‘Algorithm and Rule Changes’ below. Nevertheless, users may continue to utilise the software to schedule posts to their Page and/or Group.

Up to thirty (30) posts and tweets may be scheduled at any one time. Again this is an inclusive figure. The user may select a defined date and time (within five minute time bands) for posting. Alternatively they may elect for Hootsuite to auto-schedule posting within a time period it considers most appropriate. Scheduled items may be viewed on a separate page where, if necessary, alterations may be made to text; time; visuals; links etc.

Users should be aware at times of high usage some scheduled tweets or posts may not succeed. Hootsuite will notify them, by e-mail, of the failure. If a draft of the tweet or post has been saved to the drafts folder it will not be lost even though the scheduled version did not succeed.

Monitor

Hootsuite (free plan option included) enables users to view, monitor and engage with posts and tweets. This includes a ‘streams’ facility which provide users with a clear idea of how their followers, fans, readers, customers, etc. are reacting to posts and tweets as well as seeing what they themselves are posting. This facility is a real advantage because users are able to engage directly with family, friends (real or online), followers, fans, customers etc. without having to open the individual social media site. Streams are presented in column style with the latest post/tweet at the top.

Each social media account may have up to ten streams. For example: In addition to ‘Home’, ‘Mentions’, ‘Likes’, each Twitter list may be added as an individual, separate, stream. These help users monitor what is happening with specific groups of people. The same principle applies to other social media accounts though users should be aware there may be limitations with some e.g. a Google Plus Profile does not enable the addition of streams for circles (these are only available with a Google Plus Page). From within each stream users may: respond; share; comment; like; retweet; etc. in the same manner they would if they were in the actual social media application. As with the scheduling, streams are a very useful timesaving facility which also help keep screens manageable by obviating the need to have multiple windows open simultaneously.

Analytics

Hootsuite’s free plan includes some analytics. These may be accessed through the lefthand menu column. The reports generated depend upon what activity there has been. Again a very useful tool helping users gauge how effect their activity has been.

Buffer

Remember: It is only the free plan to be considered.

Information about paid plans may be located within Buffer’s website.

Social Media Sites Served

Twitter: Profile. LinkedIn:             LinkedIn: Profile/Page.
Facebook: Page/Group.                    Pinterest: (Pro and Business plans only.)
Google Plus: Profile/Page.              Instagram: Profile.

The Free plan allows for one (1) user and three (3) social media accounts.

Queue (Compose)

Under the ‘Queue’ tab users:

  • Select which account(s) the tweet or post is intended for. (More than one account may be selected.);
  • Draft the text. (Where more than one account has been selected Buffer enables users to adjust the post for each individual site (an excellent facility). A ‘Customize for each network ->’ button is presented. When clicked a panel, ready populated with the text, will be displayed. Users may amend content to suit the site it is destined for e.g. if Twitter is one of the elected accounts the text has to be limited to 280 characters whereas most other accounts have no limit. Users may even select a different image for each post if they wish.);
  • Add visual content;
  • Insert a url. (Users may opt to have Buffer automatically shorten urls by using it’s buff.ly system. This is very useful as many urls are long (taking up valuable character space) and can be unsightly. If they wish users may, by selecting the preference under ‘Settings’, have the url left as entered.)
Posting Schedule

There are three options:

Note: The term ‘Posts’ includes tweets.

Add to queue: When an account is connected, the system automatically provides a set of pre-determined days and times for when posts are to be published. The ‘Posting Schedule’ option located under ‘Settings’, enables users to amend these. They may change day, frequency and time. In addition, it is permissible to have different posting times within each day and, if wished, to omit days altogether. Unless, the user has selected one of the other two posting options mentioned below, the post will be automatically published in the next available time slot. Where more than one post has been composed, they will be sent in order of composition. Queues are unique to each account (not shared) i.e the user has to set up a queue for EACH account.

Share Now: Self explanatory. Useful for in-the-minute news or to align with a current, active, conversation or topic.

Schedule Post: Where the post forms part of a campaign or marketing project requiring it be published at a specific time, users may use this option to override their existing queue by designating a specific date and time. However, it this becomes a regular practice it would probably be better to adjust their queue accordingly.

Waiting and Published

Buffer’s free plan does not include a saved drafts folder or a save for later option. (For anyone interested: some of their paid plans include these options.)

Under the ‘Posts’ tab users may view:

  • Posts waiting to be published: If required, users may amended every aspect here including posting time.
  • Previously published posts: (Within specified time spans for some accounts e.g. thirty days.) This only comprises the users own posts and is the closest the free plan comes to having any sort of monitoring system. If nothing else, it enables a busy user to see what they have already done. Naturally, because the post has been published no amendments can be made.
Analytics

Buffer’s free plan does not include any analytics.

Algorithm and Rule Changes

Though covered in previous articles, it is important users understand the limitations new regulations (2018) have imposed, especially the impact upon scheduling software usage.

Facebook:

Following the difficulties and issues Facebook management faced earlier this year (2018) they no longer permit Facebook Profiles to be accessed by third party software applications. This is intended to limit spamming and misuse and to facilitate, as outlined in Facebook – News Feed Changes, for the following to be given priority:

  • Posts by friends and family;
  • Posts that friends and family have interacted with;
  • Posts with higher levels of comments, shares and likes;
    Posts the user has commented on, shared or liked;
  • Posts that have generated substantive interaction.

In most instances, if the post is to meet the above criteria, the writing of them will occur in realtime.

Third party applications may continue to be utilised with Facebook Pages and Groups.

Twitter:

The following is an extract from the Twitter rules indicating what is not permitted:

  • ‘if you post duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account, or create duplicate or substantially similar accounts;
  • if you post multiple updates to a trending or popular topic with an intent to subvert or manipulate the topic to drive traffic or attention to unrelated accounts, products, services, or initiatives;’

Users should not be distracted or mislead by the mention of ‘multiple accounts’. Though some may have more than one account, most indie authors limit themselves to one and therefore, for them, it is the ‘multiple duplicate updates on one account’ that must be taken note of. In effect the change means users are not permitted to share the same, or similar, tweets multiple times whether it be through one or more accounts. The principle has been in existence for a long time but has not been regularly enforced in a draconian manner. However, primarily due to misuse, as has been widely publicised in recent times, Twitter will now enforce the rules. It is not clear at present whether the principle applies ad infinitum (whether it will be permitted to repeat a tweet within days, weeks or months or never).

Conclusion

Signing up for an account is straightforward. Users may use existing social media credentials or an e-mail address with a new dedicated password, to create their account.

Each site has its own advantages:

Hootsuite: The monitoring system is a real bonus for those on the free plan as also is the facility to hold drafts of posts and tweets for re-use (where permitted).

Buffer: The ability to amend for each site to be posted to is an excellent feature.

Users should not forget to take into account the recent (2018) changes introduced by Facebook and Twitter.

A subsequent article will consider how best to utilise scheduling software.

Disclaimer: Neither T. R. Robinson Publications nor T. R. Robinson have any affiliation, other than being users of the services, to any of the companies mentioned. Neither do either receive any rumination for referring to them.


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