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When Jack Dorsey, Co-Founder of Twitter, typed out the first ever tweet (‘just setting up my twttr’) in 2006, he published it in real time. But by the late 2000s, social media marketing software like Hootsuite allowed users to schedule posts to Facebook and Twitter (and at the time, to MySpace and Google+) weeks or months in advance. Through this, social media automation quickly became a core part of many brands’ digital marketing strategies.

But automation is easy to do poorly. Too many brands adopt social media scheduling tools only to “set it and forget it.” Over time, over-automation and a lack of authentic community interaction causes their engagement to dry up.

Fortunately, there’s another way. In this guide, I’ll explore the different types of software, how to choose the right tool for you, and how to navigate automation risks—all while keeping your brand authentic and growing your social presence.

Why Social Media Automation Is Crucial

Social media automation is crucial for brands aiming to streamline their marketing operations. It's one of my best social media marketing tips for small businesses and enterprises alike. Here’s why:

Time-saving benefits

Plaid, a financial services SaaS, saves 20 hours per month using social media automation according to Matthew McConnell, the company’s social media lead. The greater efficiency of automation also helped Plaid grow its LinkedIn audience by 60% in one year.

How does social media automation save so much time? Jumping back and forth between multiple social media channels—each with its own scheduling quirks and optimal publishing times—can eat up hours. And posting in the moment, rather than scheduling in advance, means you’re constantly jumping between content creation, posting, and engagement. Rinse and repeat.

By contrast, social media automation boosts your efficiency because you can batch tasks and schedule content ahead of time, so you’ll never find yourself scrambling for something to post. Social media management software also make it easy to fill your queues by repurposing past high-performing content.

Consistency in posting

Another major benefit of social media automation: consistency.

“We know that our content will go out, without our really even having to think about it,” says Aaron Beashel, a marketing executive for Campaign Monitor. The social media marketing team at Campaign Monitor uses Buffer to schedule posts 15-20 times per day on X (formerly Twitter), and two times per day on LinkedIn and Facebook.

There’s a time and place for unscheduled posts to your social accounts, especially if you’re aiming to ride trends. But relying too much on manual posts makes consistency tough. By automating your social media accounts, you’re able to stay top of mind without worrying about your accounts going silent.

Enhanced analytics

These days, most social networks offer basic analytics to see how your posts are performing. But insights from built-in analytics tools can be limiting, and it’s hard to compare performance across social channels.

By using social media marketing automation tools, you can compare performance on Instagram versus TikTok to see where your followers are the most engaged. Using the deeper reporting of advanced tools like Keyhole, you can automate your social media campaign reporting—and even use machine learning to predict your campaign’s future performance based on real-time data.

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Types Of Social Media Automation Tools

With so many automation options available, it helps to list them by capability:

Scheduling Tools

Scheduling posts is the backbone of most social media automation tools. Here are a few of of the leading social media scheduling tools compared:

ToolKey FeaturesGreat For
Adobe Express- Free social media scheduler
- Bulk scheduling on multiple channels
Free users, small businesses
MeetEdgar- Evergreen content management
- Social media analytics
- Automations
Content curation
Brandwatch- Multi-channel scheduling
- Unified content calendar
- Performance tracking
Large enterprises

With these tools and most others, you can create unique social media schedules for each network: your LinkedIn posts might not have the same frequency or time of day as your Facebook posts. And you’ll also be able to plan posts weeks and months in advance by adding them to a social media publishing queue.

Here’s what that process looks like using Buffer:

screenshot of buffer
Image from Buffer

This is all exceptionally simple if you’re a team of one. For social media teams with multiple people, you’ll want to look for team collaboration features, collaborative design tools, and post approval workflows. Consider whether you’d benefit from evergreen content management features; MeetEdgar, for example, maintains a database of everything you’ve ever posted, making it easy to repurpose content.

Analytics Tools

Social media analytics software helps you analyze performance data, see engagement rates, review follower demographics, and more.

Leading social media analytics tools include:

ToolKey FeaturesGreat For
Keyhole- Real-time metrics
- Hashtag tracking
- Social listening
Real-time tracking and analytics
Brand24- Discussion volume chart
- Influence score
- Sentiment analysis
Social listening
Agorapulse- Excellent ROI reporting
- Measure sales from social
- Social inbox
Measuring ROI

Advanced analytics tools consolidate data from all of your social media accounts, save your analytics history so you can see trends over time, and integrate with external data sources like Google Analytics, email software, and your CRM. Many also have social listening features to gauge customer sentiment. The result? Your data and insights are on an entirely different level than your social media accounts’ built-in analytics.

It’s key for analytics tools to use data visualization and good UX practices to present all this data in an easy-to-understand way. For example, here’s what reports look like in Sprout:

screenshot of sprout
Image from Sprout Social

The social media team at Rover, an online pet-sitting marketplace, relies on social media analytics tools to create reports comparing data across date ranges. Bret Neuman, Rover’s head of social, says:

“[Without a tool like Sprout], if you wanted to look at a couple of years’ worth of data, you’d end up having to put together five different spreadsheets and try to remember where you left off with cutting and pasting numbers.”

Customer Service Automation

Social media is increasingly consumers’ first stop for customer service: around 20% of Gen Z, Millennial, and Gen X social media users have DM’d a brand on social media within the past 90 days. To manage this increasing volume, many brands are turning to automation, which can help by auto-responding to common questions and routing issues to the right teams.

Here are a few of the leading customer service automation tools:

ToolKey FeaturesGreat For
Manychat- Auto-reply to Instagram DMs, Whatsapp messages, and more
- Capture email addresses and phone numbers of leads
Easy-to-use chatbot, affordable pricing
Intercom- Advanced AI chatbot
- Integrated help desk and self-service
AI chatbots and omnichannel customer service
Salesforce Marketing Cloud- Advanced automation and AI
- Drag-and-drop interface for automating personalized customer experiences
Enterprise customer service

Key functions of customer service automation tools include unified inboxes, auto-replies, AI chatbots, integrated help desks, and advanced workflows to route customers to the right support staff.

When used to their full potential, these automation features can boost your KPIs dramatically: Grammarly, a writing tool, used Hootsuite’s customer service automation capabilities to reduce its average response time by 80%. Meanwhile, Marketo, a marketing automation tool, used social media automation to boost its customer satisfaction to 93%.

Here’s what Hootsuite’s unified inbox looks like from the social media manager’s end:

hootsuite image
Image from Hootsuite

How To Choose The Right Automation Tools

So—with all of these tools at your disposal, how do you choose the tool that’s right for you? Use this step-by-step checklist to narrow down your options:

Step 1: Assess your needs

Start by auditing your existing social media workflow:

  • Review your posting schedule and consistency.
  • Determine how much time you’re spending on manual activities.
  • Look at your social media reporting needs.
  • Consider whether you’re lacking data-driven insights.
  • Gauge the volume of customer service inquiries coming through social channels.

Step 2: Review integration capabilities

At a minimum, you’ll want a Google Analytics integration to measure how social media affects your website traffic and conversions. You may also want to look for additional integrations with tools like:

  • CRMs.
  • Email marketing software.
  • Design tools like Adobe Creative Cloud or Canva.
  • Ad platforms like Google Ads.
  • Project management software.
  • Third-party integration tools like Zapier.

Select tools that work with your existing tech stack for efficient data sharing.

Step 3: Consider your budget

The great thing about social media automation software? There’s a tool for every budget. From free starter plans to enterprise licensing, automation costs vary widely.

To determine what makes sense for you, figure out what’s a “must-have feature” and what’s a “nice-to-have” upgrade. Many tools, like Buffer, Hootsuite, and Adobe Express, offer free plans to help you get started.

Keep in mind that budget-friendly tools may lack the advanced analytics of software like Keyhole, Brand24, and Agorapulse. But even most enterprise-oriented tools like Sprout have a free trial, so you’ll be able to gauge whether the added features are worth it before shelling out big bucks.

Implementing Automation Without Losing Authenticity

As with anything, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do social media automation. Some brands schedule their social media posts months ahead of time, and feel like they’re “done” with social media after that. The result? Poor engagement.

56% of consumers feel like brands need to be more relatable on social media, and engaging with your audience in real time is a key part of this. You’ll also want to review your scheduled content regularly to make sure it’s not getting stale. If you’re “phoning it in” just to fill your publishing queue, your audience will spot it from a mile away.

As a broad rule, use automation to free up your social media team to focus less on repetitive tasks—posting, reporting, analytics—and more on creative content and community engagement. Remember that the driving force behind social media engagement is human-to-human interaction.

Measuring The ROI Of Social Media Automation

Salesforce’s social media team saved 12,000 hours in their first year using social media automation. And a 2021 study by Nucleus Research found that marketing automation has a 5.4x ROI.

While statistics like these should give you confidence that social media automation is worth the investment, it can be a complicated process to determine your return on investment. Fortunately, social media software can help.

For example, Agorapulse can automatically detect which social posts are driving the most leads, sales, and website traffic.

image of agorapulse
Image from Agorapulse

Even if you don’t use social media ROI-tracking tools, you can use tools like Google Analytics to gauge the impact of the social media traffic you receive by measuring:

  • Website traffic
  • Conversions, leads, and sales
  • Customer acquisition cost

Using this method, you’ll have a harder time getting post and campaign-specific performance data (although UTM tracking links can help). But even this basic method of ROI-tracking can help you determine your social media customer acquisition cost and compare your social media performance to other traffic channels.

Risks And How To Mitigate Them

While powerful, social media automation does have potential downsides:

Over-automation

Here’s what Dawson Whitfield, the CEO of a brand-building SaaS called Looka, says about the downsides of over-automation:

"Over-automating your social media puts your brand at risk of two main things: missing out on relevant conversations and accidentally participating in the wrong conversations."

To avoid this, a good rule of thumb is the classic 80/20 rule: automate most of your social media content to create a consistent schedule, but leave room for the occasional unscheduled post. And never use automation to engage with your community—you’ll come across as robotic and salesy.

Security concerns

In April 2023, Airbus, an airplane manufacturer, briefly had its X (formerly Twitter) account taken over by an unknown person who posted an odd, off-brand message.

Security breaches like this are a reminder that giving broad access to your brand’s accounts via social media management tools comes with risk. Grant access carefully, change passwords regularly, and establish clear operating procedures to ensure every post is reviewed before being published.

Compliance with social media policies

Each social platform has its own policies for harassment, intellectual property, and advertising disclosures. And different platforms have their own unofficial “vibe” to adhere to, as well.

Falling on the wrong side of official policies or channel-specific norms of conduct can quickly create the kind of PR you don’t want.

AI is already having a massive impact on social media automation. And it’s not just from brands using AI to create content: Hootsuite’s 2024 social media trends report found a 318% increase in the number of brands using AI for customer support activities.

As the use of AI proliferates, customers are learning to spot it—and they’re getting more discerning. 62% of consumers are less likely to engage with content if they know it was created using an AI-powered tool. Moving forward, maintaining authenticity while using automation and AI will be more important than ever.

Predictive analytics and predictive scheduling are also on the rise. Machine learning technology enables social media automation tools to predict the future performance of certain posts and campaigns. Savvy social media teams can use this data to optimize campaigns and improve click-through-rates.

Maximizing Growth With Automation

Here’s how Erika Goldwater, the Director of Global Communications at inRiver, sums up social automation strategy:

"Automation is amazing. No social media team can do without the ability to schedule and automate posts to deliver key messages and content. However, automation can't account for real-time engagement, responses to issues (good or bad), and appropriate empathy or emotion."

By leveraging what automation does well—data-crunching, scheduling, and other time-consuming social media tasks—you’ll free up your team to be more creative, engage more with your audience in real time, and grow your business like never before.

Ready for more deep dives into social media strategy? Check out our comprehensive guide to social media content management. And while you’re at it, make sure to subscribe to the CMO newsletter to keep a steady flow of marketing insights coming your way.

By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane has been researching, writing about and improving customer experiences for much of his career and in a wide variety of B2B and B2C contexts, from tech startups and agencies to a manufacturer for Fortune 500 clients.