July 24, 2014

Scheduling Social Media Updates While on Vacation: The Pros and Cons


leaving on vacation
Last week, I returned from a 10-day vacation, which I haven’t taken in several years. Although an avalanche of unread emails and deadlines and catch-up work had accumulated in my absence and I returned with an unwanted souvenir (a cold), I felt refreshed and grateful for the chance to get away. A change of scenery and time away from my computer inspired some new story ideas, too. One of the ideas I pondered during my eight hour flight was this post.

In anticipation of the big trip, I alerted my clients well in advance and tried to schedule deadlines before or after my trip.  But with the social media client, I’m responsible for posting daily tweets, Facebook status updates, and the like, so that got into messier territory.

I opted to schedule tweets and status updates to cover my vacation so our feed wouldn’t be dormant while I’m away. I also scheduled one tweet each weekday for my own Twitter feed–and surprisingly, my Klout score remained steady even though I wasn’t actively engaging while I was away. But in talking to other freelancers who have an active social media presence (either for themselves or their clients), I discovered some downsides to this approach. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of scheduling social media updates as well as some other options.

Pros:

  • No interruption to updates: Even if you run into spotty internet access while you’re away, you can be reasonably sure (see below) that your social media feed will remain active so you don’t lose momentum while you’re away.
  • Efficiency: Posting on social media several times per day eats up valuable time switching back and forth between tasks. Writing a batch social media updates at once but spacing them apart so you don’t overwhelm your followers is a more efficient use of time. I also found that scheduling 10 days worth of tweets made me think more big picture strategy instead of tweeting whatever caught my eye in that moment.
  • More control over timing: Scheduling updates in advance allows you to control when they appear in your feed. If you know that most of your followers check Twitter or Facebook first thing in the morning Eastern Standard Time, for instance, you can make sure you appear in their feeds at that time even if you’re not physically at your computer.

Cons:

  • Lack of timeliness: If you post about current events in your feed, scheduled tweets could feel stale by the time they actually appear in your feed. I tried to counter this concern by front-loading the feed with timely tweets at the beginning of my vacation and using more evergreen links towards the end. The other issue is that if something catastrophic happens while you’re away (think: Hurricane Sandy or the Sandy Hook massacre), you could look like a jerk for tweeting about fashion or luxury travel during a crisis. My plan was to find an internet cafe and disable scheduled tweets if something like that happened while I was away.
  • Lack of personal interaction: Personal interactions like @ mentions, DMs, or RTs go a long way towards building an online community. Not responding in real time could make you seem robotic or impersonal. One freelancer I spoke with schedules the majority of her tweets while she’s away and checks in periodically to make sure she’s also mixing in a few RTs or @ mentions.
  • Possible tech glitches: Sometimes scheduling software doesn’t work, and that can result in interruptions to your feed. If you’re not actively monitoring your accounts, you may not know about these issues until days later.

If you post on social media for clients, here are some alternatives to scheduling status updates during a vacation:

  • Subcontracting: If your client is cool with it, you may be able to subcontract social media responsibilities to a trusted colleague while you’re away. In my case, I knew that this client wouldn’t be keen on sharing account passwords and access with someone they hadn’t vetted. Of course, you can always reset the passwords once you return. The other issue is making sure that whoever is covering for you understands nuances of the client’s voice and any guidelines on what they should or shouldn’t tweet, because their mistakes could reflect poorly on you.
  • Having the client cover: Depending on how hands-on the client is, they may prefer to handle social media themselves while you’re away instead of handing off the reins to someone else. Of course, this probably means you’ll have to take a temporary pay cut if you’re on a monthly or weekly retainer. You could also send some suggested tweets in advance and have them post at their discretion to avoid the issue of context mentioned above.
  • Posting while away: Some people don’t mind spending a little time each or every other day of a vacation checking social media, especially if they could easily do it from a smartphone or tablet. The downsides of this are, of course, you still have to think about work while you’re away and make sure you have reliable internet access. I didn’t have consistent wifi access and my iPhone didn’t work, so if I’d planned to tweet, it would have created a lot of unnecessary stress. If you’re traveling to a different time zone, you’d either need to factor in the time change as you’re posting or reconcile yourself to the fact that your updates may not appear at the most optimal time for your followers (for instance, if you usually post at 9am ET most mornings and you’re traveling to the West Coast, you’d either have to get up at 6am PT to tweet to your East Coast followers or post later in the day). In my case, I felt it was important to completely unplug to avoid burnout and because I’d be in a foreign country, I wanted to avoid roaming charges or lugging around unnecessary stuff.

Your turn! Do you schedule social media updates while you’re on vacation? How would you handle this situation? Do tell!

Flickr photo courtesy of Helga Weber

Mark Luckie’s Twitter Tips for Journalists

Twitter is now part of the modern journalist’s toolkit, but not all of us use it as effectively as we could be. Last month, the National Press Foundation hosted a series of webinars with Mark S. Luckie (@marksluckie), manager of journalism and news at Twitter and former social media editor at the Washington Post (for further reading, check out this interview I did with Mark and four other journalists for Ebyline).

I live-tweeted all three webinars and picked up several useful tips in the process. Some of the strategies are more geared towards newsrooms than freelancers but much of the information is also applicable to us.

Here’s a recap of what I learned from each webinar along with the video replay: [UPDATE: YouTube's embed code was acting up for these first two videos so I've removed the embedded videos for those and linked to them instead. Click the titles if you'd like to watch the videos. I left the third video as is.] 

October 9: Reporting with Twitter

  • The goal for journalists should be to be part of conversation and to use Twitter to amplify news that’s happening, especially voices that aren’t typically heard in newsrooms
  • Find local sources or search by geography by entering “near:zipcode” or “near:city” in the search bar (Note: Mark intended this for the Twitter search bar, but I discovered it also works on Google!)
  • Find Twitter’s advanced search options here: https://twitter.com/i/#!/search-advanced
  • Tweet your beat by sharing news and commentary on the topics you cover. Journalists see a spike in follower growth and engagement when they do this.

October 16: Engaging with Twitter users

  • The first step to engagement is asking questions and responding to those who answer. For instance,  “Know anyone who __?” or “How would you __?”
  • Hit reply to tweets to keep the conversation semi-private (direct messages or DMs are even more private). If you want others to see your tweet, include characters before the Twitter handle. For instance, “.@Urbanmusewriter” or “Hi @UrbanMuseWriter” instead of “@Urbanmusewriter.”
  • Build anticipation for stories by posting video clips, behind the scenes tidbits, or archival coverage while putting together newer articles (Note: if you’re a freelancer, find out how your editors feel about this first).
  • When hosting a Twitter chat, choose a hashtag that’s short and memorable, set a time that works for most people (factoring in time zone issues), promote the chat on your website and other places (not just Twitter) and filter questions as the chat is unfolding.
  • Create online engagement offline by using tweets in TV broadcasts, in print, or on the radio.
  • Use a tool like TweetDeck to help you track your freelance articles, including the news organization, your name, and the name of the article & its URL.
  • It’s OK to schedule tweets but reschedule your tweet if there’s breaking news so that your scheduled tweet won’t get buried or seem out of touch.

October 23: Using Twitter safely and legally

  • The first step in using Twitter legally is to share who you are. Add your full name to your profile so people know who you are.
  • Having a private Twitter profile isn’t a license to say or do inflammatory things. Journalists should have a public profile.
  • When users tweet to a proprietary hashtag used by a newsroom, their approval for using tweets is implicit. Otherwise, contact Twitter users if you plan to include their Twitter tweets in your story.
  • Link to the tweet when quoting it online. Depending on the content management system you’re using, you might also embed the tweet.
  • If you wouldn’t want your mother to see it, you probably shouldn’t tweet it.
  • If you manage multiple accounts, make sure you’re tweeting from the correct account (yup, I’ve made this mistake myself).
  • Proofread tweets, test the link, verify and run facts by editor (if applicable) before tweeting.
  • File a ticket at support.twitter.com if your account has been hacked, you’re being subjected to harassment or impersonation, your personal information has been stolen, or you have a copyright complaint.
  • One way to measure the quality of a Twitter account is to look at the number of lists the user is included in. Follower numbers don’t tell the whole story on quality.

Guest Post: Using Social Media to Grow your Freelance Writing Business

By Virginia Cunningham

Speed is the essence of social media, yet most freelance writers don’t capitalize on the opportunities that speed offers. Instead, they fall into a predictable pattern of constantly promoting the offers or information they want others to hear about.

This will never get writers the attention they want; in fact, it’s backwards!

Once you have your Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts, there are some tactics you’ll need to learn so you can really become part of the conversation. If you don’t, you’ll be one more face on the feed shouting “look at me!” Once users realize that they don’t know you, you’ll lose them. Instead, use these strategies to build real social media clout.

  1. Respond to Others — Immediately
    Sending direct messages to others when they add you is now considered tacky and rude, especially since most of these are automated. Instead, look at the questions and concerns people have and respond to them immediately on your blog or website. Then direct people to that new post. The faster, the better!
  2. Add Users Who Follow Others Like You
    Too many freelance writers use scattershot tactics to build their social media lists. If you are using Twitter, you should be watching users like yourself — freelance writers and entrepreneurs — and looking for prospects who follow them. That way, you are speaking to an audience interested in what you offer.
  3. Use Rich Media to Drive the Conversation
    Studies have shown that mobile users and internet viewers in general are more likely to respond to videos than to other forms of media. Don’t just tweet — learn to offer complete responses in your own voice through a YouTube channel. When you post, link people to your video to grab their attention.
  4. Interlink All of Your Social Media Profiles
    A centralized solution is the best way to make the most of social media. Use a social media management software like TweetDeck to handle all of your accounts in a streamlined way. This will ensure that all of your channels are regularly updated and that users always get your message. It’s ideal to manually post to each of the main social media sites so you can customize your message. But realistically, few of us have the time so auto-posting can save you time and make sure your message is being disseminated through all of your active social media channels.
  5. Search for Prospects using Social Media Sites
    Go to search.twitter.com. You’ll find a search box, where you can type in a search such as “I need a writer”. The search will return a list of people who are looking for a writer. You can then send them a personalized direct message, or respond by tweet. Facebook can also work to find new prospects. Use the search bar and type the same query, “I need a writer.” Make sure you select “public post” on the left-hand menu. Then contact those people directly sending the mto your personal site with examples of your work.

The social media landscape is crowded. Most messages go by in a blur. To stand apart from all that noise, build relationships by listening more than you speak — and when you speak, provide real answers. That’s what transforms you into a confidant, not just another freelancer yelling over the crowd.

Virginia Cunningham is an experienced internet marketer with 12 years of experience writing for businesses. In her spare time she loves to read books, work on her garden, and learn more about social media.

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.