Let’s face it: we’ve all got a lot going on.

But factor in the responsibility of running your own business, and the chances are that you’re rushed off your feet. The last thing you want to think about is marketing your small business online, but it’s essential that you do.

With 80% of consumers expecting their favourite brands to be on social media, it’s important that you have an active presence on social media so that you can keep customers on your side. And managing your social media doesn’t have to be a chore – you can use scheduling and automation tools to do the hard work for you so that you can sit back and relax.

On ‘traditional’ social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it’s entirely possible to automate your entire social media strategy. You can use RSS feeds to publish content that’s related to your industry, scheduling tools to prepare tweets months in advance in bulk, and tools like Meet Edgar and dlvr.it allow you to automate your channels entirely.

Why you should automate on social media

Automating your social media has a wide range of benefits. Not only can you save a shed load of time and keep your channels up to date, but social media becomes easy – you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to post about next, and you can go weeks without checking out your channels and responding to customers.

Automation also means that you can optimise posting times so that you’re always posting at the right times on social media, and you can be consistent and have content pumping out of your channels every day of the week – even when you’re busy at work or jetting off on a well-earned summer holiday.

With social media automation, you can attract even more customers, as a 12-hour time difference really isn’t a big deal. Running an e-commerce store and want to find customers in New York and Newcastle? Schedule your tweets throughout different time zones, and you’re guaranteed to reach more customers. It makes managing your channels easy.

Downsides to automating your social media

Managing your social media channels using tools is great, but there are, of course, some downsides to doing so.

First of all, it’s easy to sound robotic, or like you don’t have a face behind your brand, and it can also be obvious who’s posting the content.

On Facebook and some Twitter clients like TweetBot, for example, posts clearly state that they were posted by a scheduler (posted one hour ago via Buffer, for example).

Of course, most people don’t care how you posted the content, but for those who do, it can make all the difference when they learn that it’s a robot they’re responding to, rather than an actual human being.

Automating your social media channels can also make your brand look lazy.

If there’s been a big story in your industry, or you’re running an event and want to promote it, scheduled tweets can get in the way and make your channels look neglected.

You don’t want to damage the reputation of your brand because of a post published at an inappropriate time.

How to automate on social media

Now that we’ve discussed the benefits and the drawbacks of social media automation, it’s time to delve deeper.

It’s obvious that most small business owners don’t have the time to spend their entire working day on Twitter and Facebook, so how can they enjoy the benefits of automating their social media channels without making them look robotic or neglected?

Turn off auto-posting

Have you connected your profiles to a scheduling tool like IFTTT or dlvr.it that automatically tweets out news and blog posts that are relevant to your industry? This technique can be incredibly effective for ‘news’ accounts, but for small businesses, it’s a bad idea.

It’s essential that you read and sign off on every piece of content that you publish – if you’re tweeting out any and every news report willy-nilly, who’s to say that you’re not going to be promoting a competitor, or that a piece of published content offends your demographic?

Auto-posting on business accounts never works. If you want to be a news source for your industry, vet every article that you publish and schedule them yourself, or better yet, invest in content marketing and produce a weekly round-up of the biggest stories in your industry, like WPMU DEV does with its weekly WordPress round-up newsletter.

Turn on notifications

If you want to improve the service that you’re delivering to your customers, then turn on notifications for tweets, direct messages and Facebook messages.

New reports suggest that 72% of consumers expecting brands to respond to them within an hour, so if you’re alerted every time a customer sends in a question or a complaint, you’ll be more likely to meet that one-hour target.

Oh, and don’t turn on notifications on your own phone – invest in a phone or tablet for your office or store, and train your entire team to respond to messages during work hours only.

You should never take home extra work on an evening, as you’ll never be able to switch off and will be more likely to suffer burnout. State on your social media channels when you’re in the office, and when they can expect customer services responses.

If you’re dealing with a client or a news outlet and want to be in the know as soon as they tweet, you can turn on notifications for a specific user. Here’s how.

Don’t schedule months in advance

In today’s always-on world, nothing stays still for long. If something major happens in your industry – like a breaking news story or a scandal – and you’re still tweeting special offers and promotional content, you’ll appear out of touch and unprofessional.

Just look at Tesco – days after the horsemeat scandal that rocked the UK, they tweeted that they were “hitting the hay” for the night.

Avoid these faux pas by scheduling only for the week ahead, and keep track of the posts that are in your scheduled queue so that you don’t tweet or publish anything inappropriate.

HootSuite and Buffer both offer easy-to-read queues that can be tweaked with a moment’s notice, and both have smartphone apps so that you can manage last-minute changes to your social media schedule on the go.

And don’t think that every tweet you post needs to be about your business. Check out our Instagram, for example, where we regularly post ‘human’ content that has no correlation to the services we offer.

Log in and interact

Scheduling social media posts can take you away from the platforms and to the scheduling tools, meaning that you don’t even need to visit the social networks to keep them up to date.

To avoid looking like a robot, make sure that you log in to your accounts on a regular basis and interact with your followers.

Thank people for sharing your posts, get involved in Twitter hours and respond to comments and questions as soon as you can.

The more you physically interact with your social media channels and the less you automate, the more likely you are to appear natural and improve the overall feel of your social media ‘face’.

Share original content

In an effort to ensure there’s always something new on your social media channels, many people publish anything that they think is remotely relevant – and forget about the fact that their number one job on social is to promote their own businesses.

Share original content, like blog posts, updates on a new store, photographs of team days out, live blogging at the scene of a new product launch or industry expo, or even your thoughts on a new TV show or movie.

Original content takes away the corporate nature of business accounts on social media, and is one of the best ways to show that there really are humans behind the scenes working at the company.

And, if you’re offering customer service on social media, add your initials to show that you’re listening and to add accountability and personality to your service.

Wrapping up

Social media is one of the most effective forms of marketing your small business online, but if you’re automating every aspect of your channels, customers wont want to interact with you.

Tear down the barriers, and inject personality into your social media campaigns. That way, you’ll be guaranteed to find new customers and keep them following you online.

Oh, and don’t discount automation entirely. When used effectively, it can free up hours of time so that you can work on other projects, like marketing your business through content marketing and SEO.

Just learn to balance your scheduled content with fresh, just-posted content so that your customers know you’re really there. Good luck.