A Guide on What To Automate In Your Content Marketing (Step-by-Step Tool List Included)

Bill Gates was certainly right when he noted that content is king, back in 1996.

Today, it’s easy for anyone to be an online publisher.

But it’s a pretty daunting prospect.

Thanks to an entire tool lineup of smart new tools, it’s also never been easier to create, promote, share, and market your stuff.

However, there’s a trade-off between ease and effectiveness.

For the true content marketer, who really wants to make a difference with their content, it comes to this balance: easy does not always equal effective.

Yet, we live in a time when it is essential for brands to be communicating 24/7. Those that have a powerful online presence and engage their audience are the ones that aren’t afraid to experiment with the tools of content automation – but know how to strike the right balance and stay engaged, relevant, and consistent in original creation.

What tools can you use to automate your content marketing… and where do you draw that line in creation vs. automation?

I’m here with an intensive step-by-step list, based on what’s worked for me after a lot of trial and error. Keep reading!

Inset image

4 Key Tools to Use In Automating Your Content Marketing, & What to Avoid

How can you successfully balance time-saving automation with the necessities of creative, original creation? Here are the top four tools I recommend.

Some come with a warning label, so tread carefully.

Tool #1: Buffer

I love Buffer. For all-around social media post scheduling, it can’t be beat. Their dashboard is easy, customizable, and so clean. I’ve tried Hootsuite and Buffer, and like this tool the most. There’s just more features, cleanliness, and organization here.

buffer screenshot

Buffer, of course, requires manual work, unlike tools like Edgar that do the repurposing for you: but I honestly don’t like letting go of scheduling out my tweets myself.

I share my login with our social media manager, Rachel, who helps schedule out our blogs as well. In Buffer, you can upload visuals and videos to your posts as well as schedule them out. As you can see on the left in the screenshot, we have a ton of accounts hooked up to our one Buffer Pro account.

I also love that Buffer removed their “automation” feature–better known as the Suggestions area. They took away a huge crutch for the automation-happy users, and I applaud them for it.

There is no “bad,” or “don’t use,” in Buffer’s features.

Good work, @Buffer!

Tool #2: Commun.it

Approach this tool cautiously.

Do not, do NOT utilize this tool to it’s fullest.

This tool offers some serious social automation. It has good and bad points.

If you’re considering this tool, here’s something you need to know about Commun.it right now. Don’t even go to their site and check them out: read this first.

If you sign up for this tool, you’ll need to immediately go to the Schedule tab (this used to be called Campaigns)…

commun.it header

and turn OFF all the scariness of automated tweets, DMs, etc., that are “ON,” in this list (click Edit > Pause OR Delete):

commun.it

I don’t have a screenshot of when I turned on my account, but I wish I did. There were 20+ automated things on. 

All the auto “tweets” you’ll find turned on I do not suggest even trying. (More on that in the do’s vs. don’ts list below.)

@commun_it – if you’re listening, turn OFF these automation features for all new users! The automation ON is very, very dangerous… a new user could spam the heck out of everyone they know without even realizing.

Now that we’ve clarified the bad and how to avoid it…

There are some good features to this tool.

I’ve hooked up about 6 accounts to my Commun.it and paid for a year of Business Pro, starting in January 2016.

Here’s what my main dashboard looks like when logging in:

commun.it dashboard

After four months of using the program (only a few hours a week if that), the biggest benefits I’ve noticed are in the suggested “consider to follow,” and “consider to unfollow” lists.

I’ve never been able to build such a targeted amount of Twitter followers before—with any tool. I can also “retweet” top tweets straight from here, to get the eye of an influencer, see all my notifications across the board (who interacted with me and said what), and more. My favorite area to go to every time I open the tool is the Community section:

commun.it

It’s very easy to just click through the tabs here and start engaging–real engagement, with some real users that align with your interests.

Commun.it’s algorithm on who to follow is decently, but not always, helpful. Be sure to keep an eye on it, don’t just click-click-click and repeat: sometimes you’ll see an occasional follower not suited to your interests or audience type. Or, a 100% spam account will sneak in.

DO use these features of Commun.it:

  • Community-building feature
  • Follow the “consider to follow” list, unfollow the suggested to unfollow, while keeping an eye on it as you do it
  • “Leads” section to find strangers related to your interest and start building new connections
  • Use the “monitoring” for brand mentions, hashtag mentions for reputation management/engagement building
  • Set up your own well-written, reoccurring customized tweets or DMs to publicize your stuff – for example, a podcast you have, or a blog (no auto tweeting of their automated tweets – see below)

DO NOT use these main two features:

#1. Too much or non-personalized auto-DM’ing.

Confession: I do have a few auto-DMs going.

Here’s what I think about auto-DMs:

  • Never do them with a free software. “Automated” or “by X tool,” inserted by the tool as the last line in the message, turns people off more than anything
  • With my paid version, I can insert their name and a day of the week – this is ideal for personalization
  • I check back and write replies, etc, when people answer them

DM’s done in that way can be done well.

I’ve been redoing them every month, but haven’t achieved any “clicks” – although I’ve seen replies from real people thanking me for the DM they received, and no negative feedback. Here’s what the most recent one I created for Express Writers looks like:

commun.it

#2. Absolutely NEVER auto-enable Commun.it’s auto-tweets in any form (all of which are accessible in Schedule).

The formulas are way off for who is your “top engaged user,” etc. One person might tweet you one time in an entire month, and you might engage with someone else 20x in one tweet hour – and Commun.it will pick up the person you talked to once in a month as a “top engager.” Yeah, don’t try it. You’ll be laughed at. (Case study talking here.)

I’ve turned off all automated “tweets.”

Also, Commun.it seems to let spam through their algorithm, so if you enabled something like “thank top followers,” you’ll enable very spammy-looking tweets with people you really haven’t engaged. I wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole.

No. No. No. And you have to be very very careful, because as soon as you opt into Commun.it and set up your Twitter, a lot of these are automatically turned on. 

You can set up manual auto-tweets, like a #FollowFriday to consistently showcase your favorite people, but don’t touch any of the others.

Tool #3: IFTTT

If This, Then That will change your life if you haven’t discovered it already. It’s a little like the playground of automation.

ifttt

With IFTTT, you can actually do things like:

  • Have an email sent to you when the president passes a new law
  • Have your phone volume turned up by texting it when you lose it
  • Wish your friends happy birthday on Facebook without lifting a finger—ever
  • Cross post social media posts to other accounts, set for life
  • Sync up your profile picture EVERYWHERE if you change it on just one account

This tool basically works on “recipes” that you can enable, or turn on, that then start working. How? Peter Pan fairy dust, if you ask me! These are codes that people have built accessible to anyone who signs up to IFTTT.

Yes—it’s free!

Now, once again, remember the balance of automation and creation we spoke of. You’ll really have to avoid temptation here—because you can basically schedule out your social life and have it running without doing anything. But you don’t want to do that. You’re not a robot. Your fans deserve better. Still, there are many things you can use on IFTTT that will improve your life.

Here’s how I use it to my benefit:

#1. A few (not too many) ongoing weekly tweets, scheduled eternally, audited consistently

I have daily tweets going out to promote my blog and podcast that I could choose to never type again—set for life. (It’s a bit scary to think about too much. :P)

However, I still login and change the wording 1x/month. Just because you don’t want to automate and set for life like that. What’s relevant today could not be as fresh tomorrow, especially in our industry.

They’re simple stuff, like “Following the Write Podcast? Grow your presence as a marketer, learn new content strategies, and much more. Hosted by yours truly: expresswriters.com/write-podcast.” That type of promotional tweet is scheduled to go out 3x weekly, every week. (I do login and change the wording of it once a month—I just don’t like to be automated for life like that.)

I recently started hooking up @ExpWriters to a few weekly tweets in IFTTT.

First, my staff and I collaborated and wrote 7-8 unique tweet versions in Google Docs:

ifttt tweets

I chose the Weekly/Daily Tweet (you can pick as many/little days of the week you want, and at one time), and recreated that recipe x 7.

Here’s what one of the automated tweets looks like on Twitter:

ifttt tweet

Here’s what the recipe log looks like in the backend of my IFTTT:

ifttt log

Another automated tweet, see below, is a Saturday tweet promoting our ABC Content Strategy freebie (which I dearly love, so not hard to create an automated tweet for).ifttt express writersSo far, we’ve had people from our Twitter chat (#ContentWritingChat) and other real members of our Twitter community favorite and retweet a few of the IFTTT scheduled tweets, just like they have our normal tweets.

So far, so good! A tweet a day to promote our business, scheduled out for infinity (and don’t worry, I plan to audit them once a month).

#2. Auto-syncing of my Twitter chat community, #ContentWritingChat, to a Twitter list

The Twitter list is called #ContentWritingChat Club. People have already thanked me for adding them to “the club.” (Of course, I don’t tell them it was IFTTT. Unless they’re reading this. I’m sorry. I still love you.)

iftttThis is a great way to build up your Twitter chat community without all the automated work on your end. Anytime someone tweets using my hashtag for the first time, they’re added to the club.

Tool #4: Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo is an incredible tool for finding the content that is socially trending in your space. It’s brilliant for content idea generation, research and even finding your best-fit influencers to reach out to.

First, you can find content that is being shared the most on social media on your own site.

Just enter your domain in the Content Research tab:

buzzsumo

Here are some practical ways I use BuzzSumo effectively.

1. Find Content Ideas (Instantly)

Trying to come up with great content ideas can be pretty hard, frustrating and time consuming. And once you do sit down to write it, it can be hit and miss. What if there was a way to be inspired by instantly searching up the hottest topics on the web in your niche?

There is–it’s called Buzzsumo. 😉

Using Buzzsumo’s “Most Shared,” and typing in my favorite keywords (copywriting, content marketing, etc), generates amazing finds I can take inspiration from:

buzzsumo topics

Look at this particularly amazing piece with 8.3k shares:

copywriting article

If I want to find something interesting to share with my followers on, say, Facebook or Twitter, and particularly popular content, I play around with my topics, typing in what’s relatable to my audience; then sort the list based on which topics have had the most Facebook shares, and pull that piece to share in my own accounts.

buffer screenshot

(Buffer for the win!)

It’s as easy as that!

2. Building Influencers You Can Reach Out To

Buzzsumo is ideal for finding the people who are sharing your content and then following them, too. Once you have created original, high quality content, you need to start promoting it. While social media is obviously a great way to do this, you need to reach out to the right people.

If you discover content that’s fairly similar to what you have created, the tool will show you the most influential people on Twitter who shared that content.

So the premise is that if they shared similar content, it’s absolutely worth reaching out to tell them about your own content.

3 Reminders About Great Content Creation (& Content Automation)

Now that you have a great tool list and a knowledge of what to turn on (or off), let’s discuss a few reminders about creation itself.

Fact 1: Content Creation Requires Humans, Not Robots

Content creation is a highly powerful blend of technique and technology. Marketers are beginning to realize that the days of being the loudest and the first are over. Shortcuts that will harm the quality of the content.

But, all in all, you must remember that content creation is a craft.

The more creative and engaging the content, the better the piece, and the more you’ll receive from it. In a nutshell, that is why we cannot allow robots to replace writers: no matter how much a brand wants to find a shortcut.

Fact 2: Automation Can Kill the Craft

That’s a strong statement, but I believe in it. You can’t rip out the human component to content and then automate the core – the art of telling stories.

There is another side to the argument, though: can technology and good processes help us to scale content beyond what we are doing today? Absolutely! We’re seeing more companies and resources emerge that are successfully helping with the physical side of content creation. (I’m about to discuss which ones I use, and how I use them, below.)

However, without the right mentality, content marketers tend to think that scaling their content marketing means more volume and more shortcuts. This is where quality can and will suffer.

Fact 3: Dangers Lie in Content Automation

Remember that you cannot forget that your target audience is comprised of human beings, and as humans we’ll never automate our own behavior. Even the most expertly timed and brilliantly crafted automated messages cannot replace the comfort of real human interaction.

After all, it’s that personal touch that will lead to the buying process and in turn loyal and repeat customers. Marketing automation exists to make the obligatory hard work and day-to-day interactions with your audiences a little easier to fulfill.

Don’t, ever, sell your soul to full automation; staying original and creating high quality content that personally targets to your audience just cannot be beat. 

Conclusion: The Growth of Content Automation  

A word of advice.

Focus on great content creation, and use the process of automation to build on that.

See how I automated original tweets that my staff and I wrote?

And how I found inspiration to create new content of my own, from BuzzSumo?

And…most importantly…I turned off the ugly automation features in Commun.it immediately after getting the app.

While automation has its place and can make content marketing and social media growth so much easier, there is no substitute for fresh, original, high quality content.

What are your thoughts on automation? Have YOU come across any dangers, or like other tools I haven’t mentioned? Share in the comments!

Need great copywriting? We can help! We don’t automate this part–100% human. 😉 

11 replies
  1. Guillaume Decugis
    Guillaume Decugis says:

    Great topic Julia! And (even though I’m an engineer by training 😉 ) totally with you on the danger of too much automation. As this post (http://sco.lt/6WXJVB) I wrote for CMI highlights, I believe the key is to use automation to be smarter and not just faster. I see a lot of people try to take shortcuts and implement automation as a way to do that. But content marketing is about building relationship and trust with your target audience so that they feel educated (not sold) on the topics that will potentially lead them to consider your products. The building relationship and trust part is not something a machine can do – and over-automating can be counter-productive.

    Having said that, content marketing is tough and time-consuming so it’s definitely a must to automate repeatable tasks such as social media distribution for instance.

    But beyond that, technology that helps us be smarter is really the next step:

    – research tools such as Buzzsumo that you mentioned and that helps understand what content to create,

    – bots such as GrowBots, developed by HubSpot’s CTO: http://growthbot.org/ that answers questions, kind of like a Siri for marketers.

    – predictive insight technology such as the one we launched in the v2 of our own Scoop.it Content Director (see http://sco.lt/83CfYn) and that provides actionable recommendations on how to get more results with the content you’ve already produced.

    Overall the future of tech for content marketing should be to help you getting more from content – and not just more content.

    Reply
    • Julia McCoy
      Julia McCoy says:

      Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving your thoughts, Guillaume!

      Great points, and great pieces you shared. I didn’t know about GrowthBot but now looking into it I’m already loving it. And yes – your own Scoop.it has some amazing technology and tools. Getting more out of content, and not just more content – you said it perfectly!!

      Reply
  2. Bonnie Porter
    Bonnie Porter says:

    Awesome list! Thanks so much for including Buffer, Julia! We’re big Express Writers fans, love chatting with y’all in #bufferchat! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Katrina Chua
    Katrina Chua says:

    They’re right. When automation are used appropriately, it can bring more efficiencies, a tactical benefit. However, I prefer to emphasize that when used strategically with human touch, automation helps content marketers work smarter to develop and implement a more successful content marketing program! Content creation is an art, a craft that humans can add value and add story to make the content more appealing and valuable to the readers. Thanks for sharing this insight Julia! 🙂

    Reply
    • Julia McCoy
      Julia McCoy says:

      Very true, Katrina! I love that – use automation with a human touch. It can’t be fully engaging or profitable if completely left to itself, but with the addition of a human touch, it will work very well. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *