You can schedule tweets. Here’s when and how.

Playbook calendar

I’ve always resisted the idea of scheduling tweets. I’ve always believed that tweets are meant to happen when you’re on Twitter and you can respond quickly. Doing so is the best way to use the platform in a genuine, authentic way. I still do.

But I recently tweeted: “I just scheduled my first tweets. Should I feel dirty?” So what gives? And should I feel dirty?

Why I started scheduling tweets

I’m not usually working on my computer on Sunday mornings. I do look at Twitter but usually through my Blackberry or Playbook. But it’s not a time when I’m sharing posts from this blog. Partly because it’s intended to be non-work time and partly because I prefer posting from my blog from my laptop which I’m not using because it’s a non-work period spent with my family, taking care of my home responsibilities and being out in my community.

On Sunday April 22, I was on my laptop. I saw a tweet that I wanted to respond to with a post I had written so I did. In fact, I was so motivated by the topic that I wrote and posted a brand new post that elaborated on what I was trying to say.

I had a record breaking month on my blog last month but Sunday, April 22 was my second busiest day when normally Sunday has one of the slowest day of the week. That got me to thinking that people were interested in reading the content that I share here on Sundays. In fact, I expect for some its part of their Sunday routine.

I should note that Twitter is my greatest source of referrals to my blog. What if I was missing readers who could be potential clients because I wasn’t sharing my content when they were open to seeing it through Twitter?

So I decided to schedule four tweets the next Sunday morning to see what happened. I used SocialBro and CrowdBooster to determine the best time to send my tweets and the latter to schedule my tweets.

The result? I definitely had people read my posts that would not have otherwise. I also benefited by having my tweets retweeted.  I had more page views than my daily average for the month and a noticeable increase over my normal Sunday numbers or the Saturday of the same weekend.

I tried again this past Sunday with just 2 scheduled tweets. Again I got views Sunday morning I wouldn’t have received otherwise and a retweet. My views were double what they were on Saturday and what they normally would have been on a Sunday.

I was never opposed to scheduling tweets. I thought there were reasons why they were valid but I didn’t think they applied to me.

Now I know that I can benefit from scheduling tweets and I’ll continue to do it.

But can you schedule most or all of your tweets? Definitely not if you want to be social and receive the greatest benefits from Twitter.

When is it ok to schedule tweets?

Generally, the people who want to schedule tweets and need to are tweeting for their business or organization. Here are some examples of when I think it’s ok to schedule tweets:

  • When you aren’t on Twitter when you normally would be. Ex. A holiday your office marks when others are working. Ex. “We’re celebrating family day, talk to you tommorrow!” or “I’m home with my family. Be back tomorrow. Here’s a link to our special activities for your family.”
  • When your work day does not match when your target audience is on Twitter. For me that’s Sunday mornings, maybe Saturday and evenings too.
  • When you can anticipate information is going to be desired when you normally wouldn’t be tweeting or can’t tweet. Maybe for example to send out a news release after a media event while you are still at the event assisting the media.

How do you schedule tweets and remain authentic?

When I asked if I should feel dirty, a tweep who I respect suggested I couldn’t and be authentic. I disagreed.

Here’s how.

  • Share content where the desired action isn’t a response on Twitter. Share content that desires that people read or do something online (or maybe offline). For me it was sending them to a blog post.
  • Keep the tone of your tweet consistent with your normal style. My scheduled tweets were written the way nearly all of my tweets about blog posts are written. From the other end, there was no difference in the user experience if they did what I desire.
  • Be available to respond or thank people for retweeting. My scheduled tweets have been at times when I could respond immediately or reasonably quickly on my mobile devices. So I get to send a tweet about a post in a way I normally would but at a time when I normally wouldn’t sent it–and still be able to be present.

How not to schedule tweets

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to stop spontaneously tweeting and to schedule your tweets.

Here’s what I would suggest you avoid doing:

  • You can’t set it and forget it. You can’t just sit down and schedule a day or week’s worth of tweets and come back when it’s time to schedule more. Otherwise, you are advertising which is push, push, push and you never have the conversations that distinguish social media from an ad.
  • You need to be present on Twitter. People should see tweets that are definitely real time especially replies and retweets.
  • The vast majority of you tweets should be unscheduled. I still think that it’s best to be live on Twitter. If you schedule tweets, they should be the exception or a small percentage of your overall tweets. I’m sure I had as many or more tweets from my business Twitter account on those Sundays as I scheduled and certainly 99.5% of my tweets are still directly from me. I expect that 90% or more of my tweets will continue to be entered live.
  • Don’t schedule tweets when people know you’re not sending it live. If you’re giving a speech at a conference, people shouldn’t see a tweet from you in their stream especially if it has nothing to do with the speech or conference. It’d be ok though if it is relevant somehow.

Danny Brown’s view on automation

Interestingly, on the same day that I scheduled my first tweets, Danny Brown blogged about the same topic. His position is clear from the post’s title: Dear Social Media Purists – There is Nothing Wrong with Automation

A conversation with Unmarketing

I also discussed this topic on Twitter with Scott Stratten.

11 comments
Ferg Devins (@MolsonFerg)
Ferg Devins (@MolsonFerg)

Thanks for the provocation James. It is really a great position to take. I'm with you on the always authentic, real, human (ok perhaps you didn't say it quite like that) real time approach. I'm not one to schedule tweets but I do have a feed from our community blog that automatically tweets when a blog is posted. I just find that practical to share our community blog news. It is obvious to me that there is an opportunity to share tweets more broadly with more people by integrating some scheduling in...and I think I'm comfortable with that. I do like you suggestion that balance is the preferred approach. Thanks for the post. Cheers @MolsonFerg

Sarah Janczak
Sarah Janczak

Great post, James! I think you hit the nail on the head recognizing the importance of striking a balance between scheduled content and real-time responses. At NTEN, we schedule some promotional tweets, or warnings that we'll be live-tweeting a webinar - generally updates that are bound by time. I still keep Twitter open throughout the day to respond and retweet. This way I don't have to be "watching the clock" as Emma said, but instead can check on Twitter during the natural flow of my work day.

WLU Press (@wlupress)
WLU Press (@wlupress)

James, good post. I just had lunch with a very successful author who used CrowdBooster and TweetAdder to help him manage his accounts so that he can have big chunks of time for writing but still stay in touch. He got me thinking that I should also try and manage my social media time better so I've just started experimenting with scheduling some tweets. I'll still check in regularly but I also have some leeway (and some metrics to know how it's working). Clare

Tierney Smith
Tierney Smith

Hi James, Very interesting post. It's interesting to see how you've found a way to balance scheduling with authenticity on Twitter. I like to think that I've done the same myself, but with a bit of a different approach. Personally, I do schedule tweets quite a lot. I started doing this because I spend a chunk of time in the morning reading blogs, which I want to share on Twitter. However, I know it annoys me a bit when someone I follow takes over my entire stream by sending tweet upon tweet with various links, even if they're all very interesting. So I decided it would be better to spread them out throughout the day so as to not overwhelm my followers. However if I tried to actually send out these tweets at different times thoughout the day, it would potentially be very disruptive to my day. I would constantly have to be thinking about when to go back on twitter and tweet, what I had/hadn't shared yet, etc. So instead, my approach is to schedule them all in the morning to be shared throughout the day. As you mentioned though, I do try to keep the same tone as if I was tweeting in the moment. You also made a good point about the authenticity of being responsive on Twitter. The way I try to do this is by checking Twitter regularly througout the day (which is much more manageable for me than tweeting througout the day). I'll check for messages to me and respond, and scan my stream for interesting content to read/retweet. I'll also tweet some spontaneous things as they come up. I completely agree that you can't just set a week's worth of tweets, forget about it and come back a week later. Certainly that is all about pushing info out and not about building relationships, which is key on Twitter. What do you think? Does my approach still feel icky to you? :) I had never thought of scheduling tweets as a "dirty" thing as you were describing initially; then again it would never occur to me not to check regularly and respond to someone who sent me a message. So I'd be curious to hear your perspective.

James Howe
James Howe

Emma Jenkin, BA, MA, MBA, Grad. Dipl.commented on LinkedIn: I've found scheduling so useful for online giveaways at work. Preset a few to let the community know the contest is coming up, set one to go out exactly when you said it would, and set a "time's up!" at the deadline. That way I can be working on other things instead of watching the clock to manually tweet each of those things.

James Howe
James Howe

Great to hear that I gave you something to think about Ferg! It's really a question of mindset and remembering to keep the social in social media.

James Howe
James Howe

Thanks for the feedback Sarah! I definitely want to keep social being social but at the same time there is room for some level of automation. Your own experience that you share demonstrates that you can use Twitter in a genuine way and still use a limited number of scheduled tweets.

James Howe
James Howe

Thanks Clare for sharing what you learned and your decision about a new approach. Please do share what you learn. As with much of life there seems to be a happy balance on this issue and if you keep that in mind and err on the side of being actively engaged then there is room for some automation.

James Howe
James Howe

Thanks for sharing your approach Tierney! Purists like those Danny Brown mentions would disagree with your approach. But I've heard in conversations on this topic of other people who do the same thing for the same reason. I personally don't worry about sending a lot of tweets or retweets in a short period and have rarely had complaints. I think most active people follow enough active people that it's not often a problem. Of course, I don't send tweets to 3, 5 or 10 blog posts within a minute or two. I'd more likely read a post and tweet/retweet and then start again building some space between tweets with links. I think your approach works if you're checking into Twitter regularly especially if you try to do so shortly after you schedule tweets. The most important tweets to be present for are when you might spark a conversation. You might consider treating Twitter like your e-mail. I have Tweetdeck on all the time that my computer is on just like is common fore-mail. But I have it set to only notify me when I am mentioned or I get a DM. You might like to read my post on how I weave twitter into how I live:

Tierney Smith
Tierney Smith

I do think of Twitter kind of like email... but just like checking email every 5 minutes would be very distracting, I think the same is true for Twitter. I think this sums it up well: "The most important tweets to be present for are when you might spark a conversation." After all, it's all about the conversations & connections :)

James Howe
James Howe

I think that's a good way of looking at it Tierney. However you handle checking your email is a good way to stay connected to Twitter. And yes, I agree that it's all about the conversations and connections and we can never lose sight of that.