Are you active on social media? What am I talking about, of course you are. Even my mom is on Facebook now (Hi mom!). If you own a website, and I assume you do, there is no way around it.

However, is it just me or does it often feel like social media is running your life rather than the other way around? I mean, it takes a lot of time and effort, doesn’t it? At least, if you want to do it right (which I assume you do).

Having a meaningful presence on social media means that you actually have to be present. Attention spans are constantly shrinking and you don’t want your followers to forget about you.

However, who honestly has time to sit down three (or more) times a day just to post something funny/useful/witty/cat-related on Twitter, Facebook, or whichever platform you are active on? Nobody, that’s who. Some social media automation would really come in handy here.

The problem with social media

For individuals such as bloggers, small business owners, and people who run a website, social media marketing can pose a real challenge for the following reasons.

1. It’s time consuming

Sourcing, processing, formatting, and publishing material on social media can be tedious. Plus, besides the actual time spent on these tasks, there are opportunity costs for interrupting your high-profile activities only to log on to Twitter and shoot out 140 characters.

2. The need to be consistent

Of course, you can do less and only tweet once in a while. However, social media marketing requires that you listen to Master Yoda: Do or don’t do, there is no try. If you can’t do it right, you might as well not do it at all. The competition is just too great.

3. Managing multiple accounts

Running one social presence can be challenging enough. However, these days very few of us are limited to only one account. Not only are we most often present on several platforms for just one of our ventures, but we also entertain social presences for other businesses or websites. This can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare.

4. Finding and publishing useful content

There are many tools to syndicate content these days. Apps like Feedly and Pocket allow users to keep everything important in one place. Yet, getting this content into your feed is an activity that often still involves a lot of copy and paste.

5. Tracking and analyzing

For many people, social media marketing is like playing the lottery or dating: A lot of guesswork and reliance on luck, and they are not always sure they really know what they are doing. Approaching it in an analytical manner is therefore helpful for making results visible.

Given this situation, what is one to do if one doesn’t have the budget to hire a full-time social media manager? Give up? Settle for social media oblivion? Thankfully no, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Meet Buffer, your social media autopilot

A while back, I found a service that revolutionized the way I manage my social accounts. It has reduced my time expenditure to about an hour every two weeks, plus a few minutes per day to answer incoming questions and interactions.

By now, it has become one of my favorite pieces of software and I can’t remember how I ever lived without it. The service I’m talking about is Buffer.

Social updates on schedule

The Buffer app is basically a storage for social updates with automatic scheduling. You can fill it up with useful content, set a schedule, and Buffer will publish it at set times throughout the day. You don’t have to do anything.

Here’s what that looks like:

social-media-automation-tool-buffer-dashboard

In the screenshot above, I have content in my Twitter account for the next two weeks. Yes, two weeks! You can imagine all the time this saves me. Being able to “set it and forget it” makes marketing easier and less time consuming. Social media automation at its best.

Post to all social networks from one app

What’s even better is that you can hook up several accounts to Buffer at the same time (the number depending on your plan). The service works with many different social platforms and types of profiles:

  • Facebook profiles
  • Facebook pages
  • Facebook groups
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn profiles
  • LinkedIn company pages
  • Google+ pages
  • App.net profiles

You can manage all your social accounts from one place and, with one glance, see if they are running out of material. Much better than jumping from account to account, right?

Add content from anywhere

“Alright,” you may be thinking, “but is this really revolutionary? The concept of social media scheduling isn’t that new, is it? I mean, Hootsuite has been doing that for a long time.”

Right you are, and I welcome the skepticism.

One of Buffer’s biggest strengths is that you can schedule social updates from literally anywhere. Installing the handy browser extension, gives you a host of scheduling options in all your favorite online places.

In the screenshot below, you’ll notice there is a new button in your browser that lets you share the page you are on with just two clicks.

Buffer-browser-extension

Buffer-browser-extension-schedule-post

The extension will also add Buffer buttons within social feeds. See a tweet you like? Buffer it. Want to share that cat post on Facebook? Buffer it. Found something interesting on Google+? Buffer it!

Buffer-button-on-TwitterBuffer-button-on-Facebook

You can even directly share text from anywhere on the web: just highlight it, right click, and select “Buffer selected text.”

Buffer-selected-text

Does it get easier than that?

Why, yes it does. Not only does Buffer work with many other applications, but you can also connect the app to your favorite RSS streams and share content directly from the backend.

Track your results with social analytics

As mentioned earlier, part of social media is also figuring out what your audience is really interested in. Which content works best? What receives the most retweets, likes, and attention?

There are plenty of tools for that and most social platforms come with their own analytics suite (even Twitter, as of lately). With Buffer, however, you can get analytics in the same place where you schedule all your updates:

Buffer-social-analytics

Keep in mind that the screenshot above is from the Awesome plan, which comes with limited capabilities in the analytics department. Business accounts offer even more options, such as tracking your follower growth, and can be integrated with Google Analytics to get better insights into the efficacy of your campaigns.

In all cases Buffer provides automatic link shortening via a number of services (if so wished) including their own buff.ly shortlink for easy tracking.

Buffer-link-shortening

Make social media marketing a team effort

With Buffer, social marketing can be a collaborative effort. Invite friends or coworkers to help manage your social media accounts and keep buffer filled up.

Don’t worry, you can configure it in a way that others suggest content but you get the final say in what actually makes it into the funnel.

Relish in the easy-to-use interface

Despite its feature richness, Buffer is very user friendly. Its makers try to keep everything as simple and intuitive as possible. There isn’t anything on screen that is not necessary.

A testament to the user interface is the fact that until writing this article, I had never read the Buffer manual. Everything is so easy to set up, connect, and manage that those who have used any type of app before should have no problem getting started.

Easy on the wallet

Buffer is very affordable; in fact, you can get much of its functionality for free.

The Individual Plan lets you connect up to four different accounts (one per each social network), and add up to 10 posts for each profile—all without paying a dime.

The Awesome Plan, at $10 per month, is affordable even for the most bootstrapping entrepreneur out there. Here you can connect up to 12 profiles, fill each of them with a maximum of 200 posts (which I have never managed to do), set varied posting schedules, and invite two people to help you. You also get up to 15 RSS feeds inside your profile for easy content adding.

The Business Plans start at $50 per month and going all the way up to $250 per month. These are generally more suitable for agencies and social media managers. The biggest advantage of the higher plans are the rich analytics that come with them. Apart from that, there’s higher amount of social accounts, team members, and bufferable updates.

I have been using the Awesome Plan for quite a while now and have always been completely satisfied.

A great company behind a great product

Not only is Buffer a great product, but another reason why I am a raging fan (which should have become obvious by now) is that the company behind it is amazing.

They provide exceptional customer support (which, sadly, cannot be said for all companies), and they care about helping their users get ahead. The Buffer blog is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in social media, online marketing, and more.

Plus, they have a an awesome company culture, which is embodied in their values:

Combine Buffer with other apps and services

One of Buffer’s best features, as mentioned earlier, is that it integrates well with a host of other applications for a streamlined workflow. A few of them shall be mentioned here, others can be found in this list.

Followerwonk – One question that easily comes up with Buffer is “what publishing schedule to use for maximum interaction?” Fortunately, the Twitter analytics suite by Moz can help take the guesswork out of that.

Go to followerwonk.com/analyze, type in your Twitter handle, and select “analyze their followers” to see when your audience is most active. You can even have Followerwonk create a custom schedule for your Buffer account.

Bulkbuffer and Bulkpublish –  Buffer doesn’t allow you to add items in bulk.  Apparently I am not the only one who thought so. Some people, with better coding skills, have set out to create solutions for this shortcoming. While Bulkpublish is a more comprehensive app, Bulkbuffer is completely free.

WP to Buffer – There is, of course, a way to make Buffer work with WordPress. The plugin in question will automatically send new or updated posts, pages, or custom posts to your list. One less thing to take care of.

Features I’d like to see in the future

Buffer, despite being one of my favorite tools, is not perfect. There are a few things I would like to see added to the service.

1. A warning email prior to running out of material

Currently, Buffer will send you an email when it has published the last item in any of your lists. If you don’t have time, at that moment, to add content to Buffer, your publishing schedule will temporarily come to a halt. It would make more sense to receive a warning before running out of material.

2. Ability to add stuff in bulk

Having a native solution to schedule items in bulk would be a helpful addition to Buffer. While third party solutions serve their purpose, I think many people would prefer being able to do this from the same place as they do the rest of their social media management.

3. Automatic reposting

Publishing the same content multiple times has many advantages. Yet, doing it manually (even with Buffer) is time consuming. Therefore, an option to automatically repost content a set number of times would be add to the user experience.

Buffer, your social media automation tool

A social media presence is a must for anyone in web publishing. Yet, running one or several accounts is a real time drain. Curating relevant and interesting content and adhering to a publishing schedule can be challenging for those who don’t do it as a full-time job.

With Buffer, anyone can set their social media on autopilot. Decide on a schedule, fill your buffer to the brim, and forget about it. The only thing that’s left to do is to monitor interactions and perform maintenance tasks.

Social media should work for you, not the other way around. The time saved from not having to be present all day long can then be invested into high-leverage tasks.

Are you automating parts of your social media marketing? Which tools do you use? Have you tested Buffer or an alternative? Tell us about it in the comments.

Nick Schäferhoff

Nick Schäferhoff is an entrepreneur, online marketer, and professional blogger from Germany. He found WordPress when he needed a website for his first business venture and instantly fell in love. When not building websites, creating content or helping his clients improve their online business, he can most often be found at the gym, the dojo or traveling to other countries with his fiancé. If you want to get in touch he would love to hear from you through his website.

The post Buffer, the only social media automation tool you need appeared first on Torque.

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