How much time do you spend on your social media marketing each day? Each week? I’m betting if you stop to add it up, it’s more than you thought. Deciding on what content to post, then in some cases creating it, and then doing the actual posting and keeping track of the metrics—it’s a lot to handle.
Fortunately, there are now several good tools available to help make this process more efficient, and this week I’m going to tell you about the one I’ve been using recently: Buffer.
If you need a free solution for streamlining your social media management, read on and see what Buffer can do for you!
Why Use Buffer?
If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of social media accounts to run, and you know that’s a time consuming process. A service like Buffer allows you to handle multiple social media platforms all in one place, in one easy-to-use dashboard.
As you can see in the screenshot below, you have a tabbed layout which separates out the posting, analytics, scheduling, and settings. I currently have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram connected to my Buffer account, and I’ll cover each.
The system I’ve found works best for me is to scan through my RSS feeds 2–3 times per week, picking out relevant articles that I think my audience will find beneficial. Because I’m still using the free individual plan, I can only schedule up to 10 items at once per queue—I’ll get into the plan differences later.
I believe the Twitter schedule I’m using is the default one it came with: 10:18 a.m., 12:59 p.m., 4:20 p.m., and 7:43 p.m. You can change it to whatever you like, but as it happens this seems to work just fine. (Minor point of interest: I experimented with different posting times for a few days, using statistics on Twitter’s most active times of day, and actually found that my engagement decreased. Maybe it’s just tougher to stand out in the crowd when it’s at its busiest!)
Once I’ve curated my list of articles to share, I start scheduling them through the Buffer dashboard. I use goo.gl to create trackable short links so that I can see which pieces of content were best received. You can’t always tell just by looking at the Twitter engagement—for instance:
My Buffer analytics show that the only engagement for this particular tweet is one retweet, but no clicks or likes. But you can see above that the link itself has 13 clicks, meaning that my original post received no clicks—but the person who retweeted it got 13 people to click. Not surprising, since that person apparently has over 11,000 followers.
Since I’m posting four times per day, a full queue will last me into Wednesday afternoon, at which point I start the process over. I also throw in my own content occasionally, like blog posts or a motivational quote. [If you’re a Twitter person, check out #ThinkBIGSundayWithMarsha. I find that choosing a quote for the week and reading some from others gets my Sunday/Monday started off on the right foot.]
Posting to your Facebook page works the same as posting to your Twitter account. I haven’t yet made a final decision on whether to use Buffer for my Facebook posts—since Facebook has built-in scheduling functionality, it hasn’t seemed necessary. But I may decide in the future that I’d prefer to have all my social media stats in one place—and, understandably, Buffer only displays results on posts made via Buffer.
Instagram (arguably my favorite feature)
My process for posting to Instagram was, I’ll be honest, convoluted and annoying. Most of the images I post are edited on my computer with Photoshop, even if it was a picture taken by my phone, for two simple reasons:
My pre-Buffer Instagram process involved creating the images, uploading them to my Google Photos account, accessing my Google Photos on my phone (sorry, I’m an Android girl), and downloading them to my device. Only then could I open up Instagram, choose my image, and post.
Besides being needlessly complicated, the inability to schedule posts in advance was a major inconvenience. Without that feature, you just have to post when you remember to post or set up a calendar reminder—yet another irritating step.
Instagram emphasizes sharing in the moment—that’s why they don’t have desktop posting or scheduling available. And I can see their point; not having those features actually keeps them more on brand. Unfortunately, for those of us using Instagram for marketing purposes (which is a lot of us), it makes the entire posting process more difficult.
So, how does Buffer help with that? You use their dashboard to upload your image and write your caption, same as with other platforms. Then you can choose to “Share Now,” “Add to Queue,” or “Schedule.” I only post to Instagram once or twice a day at specific times, so I always use “Schedule.” All you have to do is pick the day and time.
When that time comes around, you’ll receive a push notification on your phone from the Buffer app telling you that it’s time to post, and it will show you what you have scheduled. From there, just hit “Open in Instagram,” and the caption you’ve pre-written is copied to your clipboard and the Instagram app opens with your image already selected. Then you press and hold to “Paste” your caption (with or without tags, that’s up to you), and… done! Post.
It takes me a lot less time now to set up a post, since I don’t have to worry about uploading from one place, downloading to another, and uploading again. And the scheduling is really invaluable—I can set up an entire week’s worth of posts at one time and be done with it, aside from receiving the post reminders. Doing the actual posting at the scheduled time takes only a few minutes because you’ve done all the work ahead of time.
There’s a free, “individual” plan to get started, which is a good way to test it out and see if the service is a good fit for you. Depending on how many accounts you manage and how often you post, you may not even need to upgrade.
Having one account per platform has been enough for me so far. Like I mentioned earlier, I do fill up my Twitter queue regularly, but 10 posts gives me some breathing room to work on other things without having to worry about running out of social media content at any moment.
That being said, they make an excellent case for upgrading to the “Awesome” plan, which is the next step up and very reasonably priced. You get access to a couple extra features, which—while not strictly necessary—would undoubtedly be useful, plus you gain the ability to post to Pinterest and to set up more than one social account per platform.
There are three additional upper-tier plans geared for larger businesses, but unless you have a dedicated social marketing team, none of those would be right for you.
Buffer has definitely improved and simplified my social media process, and I’m still using the free version (for now). I started just a little over a month ago, and I’ve already seen both my engagement and follower count go up. Being able to post on a schedule really helps with that, and the analytics allow you to see what types of content and what times of day are getting the best response. Good data = better content planning.
Have you used a different service for your social media? I’d love to hear your experience with it!
Catherine has a degree in English literature and a passion for all things marketing. As Digital Specialist, her focus is on web design, search engine optimization, social media, online presence management, and project coordination.