I don’t have enough time to tweet.
In one form or another – and at least once in these exact words – this is a statement I’ve heard every now and then from students for a number of years. Setting aside the question of whether or not this is a valid claim by anyone who has chosen to study digital media, the sentiment does underline the importance of evaluating one’s online activity on an ongoing basis. As I emphasised in my last blog, many people stand to benefit from reframing the question of how much time we spend on social media to how we might spend better time on it. A large part of my own strategy to achieve this recently has been social media scheduling, which amidst the
typical universal busy-ness of life that everyone faces, has enabled me on many occasions to be there but not there…
This is not going to be a how-to blog; there are more than enough of those out there for whatever scheduling tool suits your fancy. What I thought I’d do here rather than spell out the technical specificities is to reflect on my initial foray into social media scheduling with some general observations about the benefits and potential limitations. As with the majority of endeavours in the online world, scheduling is mostly a matter of learning-by-doing anyway (as I was reminded when Buffer wasn’t initially publishing my tweets when I expected due to the timezone being set to Los Angeles time by default).
Lately I’ve been hearing from more and more students and recent graduates who are doing internships or paid work in social media that they are immediately thrust into the world of scheduling. For those who aren’t quite in the workplace yet, there’s nothing wrong with starting now – there is a lot of value to be found in this activity even for students just starting to get active online.
Scheduling is Handy
The obvious key benefit of scheduling social media posts is that, as Buffer itself notes, ‘we’ll make sure your posts are sent out even when you’re asleep!’ When looking into scheduling tools, you’ve unsurprisingly got a vast array of options (I’ll only mention a few here) – and all of them will fulfil this promise well enough. I don’t tend to use the dashboard application TweetDeck much these days (though it’s proven very handy for others, so check it out if you haven’t heard of it!), and I’ve never scheduled a single tweet on TweetDeck despite the capacity it offers for doing so. For the past few months, I’ve instead dabbled in both Buffer and Hootsuite to get a feel for them. I should also note that I’m only using the free versions, which – for the moment at least – are proving more than adequate for my needs.
Both Buffer and Hootsuite allow users to schedule social media posts with ease (the free versions allow this to be done for up to three accounts). The analytics they display – only available via the paid upgrade – can help you think strategically about when is the best time for you to post. I’m currently using Buffer to post tweets to students via my @LearninByDoing account, usually setting up one or sometimes two posts per day. I’ve also linked several non-teaching accounts to Hootsuite. While using multiple scheduling tools won’t be everyone’s preference, for the moment this gives me the extra benefit of separating out my thinking about engaging with different audiences.
Buffer has a slightly cleaner interface, whereas Hootsuite offers more depth. The free version of Buffer only allows a maximum of 10 scheduled posts at a time, which is fine for my current teaching purposes, but Hootsuite’s capacity for more than this (it was initially a lot more, but is now set to a maximum of 30 since I first wrote this blog) may be attractive to many. On the other hand, Buffer’s auto-resizing feature for images larger than the 3mb limit, and its email notification of when a list of scheduled posts has expired, are handy features – and both things that Hootsuite doesn’t seem offer. You’ll find that scheduling tweets on either application has some predictable limitations, such as the inability to create polls, embed GIFs, or use the same quoting function that Twitter offers.
As a bit of a 2019 update to this blog, I’m now using the paid Hootsuite Professional plan, which lets me connect to 10 accounts, schedule up to 100 posts at a time, and allows access to greater analytics. Hootsuite also now provides access to GIFs when scheduling (though not as efficiently as using Twitter in real time). My use of Hootsuite has expanded as a result, mostly scheduling to Twitter still but also to Instagram accounts and Facebook pages.
There are no doubt other new or departed features I’ve missed here, which is exactly why it’s always a matter of learning by doing and staying on top of these platforms as time goes by. My advice: have a go of both Hootsuite and Buffer (and even Tweetdeck) and see what you think suits you best.
Scheduling isn’t Everything
A major reason why I’ve shifted to scheduling at least some of my tweets, usually up to a week in advance, is to make my current administrative role as ‘Unit Chair’ more manageable, as I’m not supposed to be involved with any teaching-related activities. With my usually persistent presence on Twitter needing to take somewhat of a backseat, scheduling some posts in advance has proven a great addition to my digital activities. No doubt it won’t be long before I also expand my scheduling of posts onto Instagram, Facebook, and perhaps other platforms. (As noted above, I’ve already started to do this). That said, social media scheduling is not a substitute for what you would – or should – otherwise be doing.
Continuing to monitor your social media accounts, interact with others, explore what they are making and sharing, and – of course – post more yourself, is of crucial importance. I guess there is a risk that people will let a scheduling tool do ‘all the work’ for them, but I have a strong sense that such posts would be relatively uninspired (I actually see this a fair bit in others’ scheduled tweets) and of little value on their own. I also doubt that many people who start doing this would remain motivated enough to keep spending time scheduling posts for long anyway. The gratification of using social media simply isn’t going to hang around if you discard the ‘social’ part of it!
I still check Twitter multiple times a day, though being able to schedule a batch of posts – particularly important announcements and advice for students – seems to have allowed me greater flexibility in when I check Twitter and how long I spend doing so. Perhaps one of the most valuable things I’ve discovered is the benefit of focusing one’s thinking about what to post and when to do it into specified periods; rather than tweeting ‘on the run,’ you can delegate blocks of time to get into that headspace and develop more of a strategy. Scheduling also helps oversee the balance between self-promotion, sharing others’ content, and that spattering of more informal, hopefully humorous, and possibly embarassing posts that make your mother wonder what the hell you are getting paid for…
To sum it all up, it’s not difficult to see why scheduling is a mainstay of social media marketing. Here I’ve been more interested in scheduling posts on a smaller scale, particularly in a teaching and learning context, but if you want to get more into the nitty-gritty of the larger organisational context and access an overview of many more scheduling tools, there are plenty of helpful resources out there.
Social media already offers immense flexibility, particularly in the context of authentic real-world learning. Now we (teachers and students alike) can literally schedule in time for it amidst the busy-ness of our everyday lives. The only thing that happens to the excuse ‘I don’t have time to tweet’ is that it becomes even more of an excuse. For those who need to build and maintain an active online presence, scheduling tools will only increase in their importance. Most importantly, scheduling means that I can still be present, even when I can’t be.
Maybe rather than calling this blog ‘There But Not There’, I should have actually called it ‘Not There But Still Here’?