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Twitter: To Schedule or Not To Schedule?

This post is part of a series called Twitter for Freelancers.
What Should Freelancers Tweet About?
How to Grow Your Twitter Following

To paraphrase Shakespeare to the point of mangling:

To schedule, or not to schedule, that is the question:
Whether 'tis better to always be present
In person when you tweet,
Or to prepare tweets in advance,
Ever ready for what you will say next.

Whether or not to schedule Twitter updates is a topic of hot debate in the social media community. Numerous tools - including BufferApp and Tweetdeck - allow you to set up Tweets in advance, helping you save time while boosting your Twitter presence. On the other hand, opponents of scheduling argue that pre-scheduled tweets are lazy, and show a disrespect for your audience.

In this article, I look at the cons and pros of scheduling. Admittedly, I favor a mix of scheduled and live tweets. For me, scheduling a tweet is similar to scheduling a blog post. It's convenient for you, as it saves you time, and it's convenient for your audience, as it spreads your tweets across the day.

I'll be as objective as I can, but bear in mind I'm biased towards scheduling.

What's Wrong With Scheduling?

The most prominent anti-scheduling Twitter user is Scott Stratten of Unmarketing. A couple year's back, he famously wrote:

Sending out pre-scheduled tweets is like sending a mannequin of you to a networking event with a post-it note attached.

In other words, it makes you look like an arrogant, disinterested dork.

Another problem Stratten identifies is that scheduled tweets can leave you with egg on your face, particularly if you're tweeting about live events. Stratten uses the example of an events promotions company who sent out a scheduled tweet during a Radiohead gig, asking fans to tweet pictures live from the event. The only problem was, the concert had been canceled because the stage collapsed during set-up, leaving at least one person dead.

Stratten's advice?

Stop scheduling tweets. They aren’t 60,000 word books, it’s 140 characters. If you can’t take the time to type them (10 seconds) and be there when they send, don’t send them at all.

(Fantasy wildlife lovers should also beware. Stratten has warned that "Every time you schedule a tweet, a unicorn dies.")

Other arguments against scheduling on Twitter claim that pre-scheduling tweets takes the excitement and adventure out of Twitter. For those who make this argument, Twitter is about living in the present moment, following your instincts, and improvising on what you find. Scheduling, therefore, is boring.

While I respect the choice of some Twitter users not to pre-schedule any tweets, I think the reasons for doing this are misguided.

First, it's true that Twitter is like a networking event. You get to meet cool new people and engage in conversation. However, in other ways it's also very different from an in-person event. Unlike most events, it has no defined beginning or ending. It's a 24/7 cocktail party, and even the most energetic party animals burn out if they party nonstop, which means you have to find a way to manage your time on Twitter while continuing to connect with your audience.

Second, even though tweets aren't a 60,000 word book, they rarely take me 10 seconds to write. As personal branding expert Allison Graham explained in a recent Fast Company blog post:

It’s not that I don’t have the 10 seconds to type a tweet; it’s that in the midst of all of the other responsibilities of running a company, my brain [doesn't] shift gears to think, 'Oh, I’d better share something clever with my social media followers.'

What's more, procrastination research shows it can take up to 25 minutes to get back into the flow of a task after an interruption, and writing a tweet, even if it only takes 10 seconds, is a big interruption.

Third, I disagree that scheduling takes the excitement out of Twitter. Twitter is not a live, real-time chat forum. It's a publishing platform. People can go back, see what you've written, and engage with it at anytime.

On top of that, the more tweets you schedule, the more replies you'll receive, so you'll increase engagement overall.

Schedule, Don't Automate

Before we look at what's good about scheduling, I'd like to clear up the difference between scheduled and automated tweets. I'm strongly in favor of scheduling tweets, but automating Tweets is almost always a bad idea.

Scheduled tweets are created by you, and scheduled to be shared at a specific time in the future.

Automated tweets are created and scheduled by a web app. You ask the web app to scan the web (or Twitter, or other websites) looking for particular keywords, and then automatically share articles and websites containing those keywords. Other aspects of Twitter can be automated, too. For example, you can use a web app to send out a direct message to the inbox of every new Twitter follower, or to automatically follow everyone who follows you.

Though some respected Twitter users employ automation as part of their Twitter strategy, my advice is to avoid it at all costs. Automation is essentially sophisticated spam. By sharing content you haven't read, you're putting your reputation in the hands of a robot. When it's your business on the line, that's not worth the risk.

Do You Like Jazz?

I see tweeting as similar to a jazz band.

Scheduling tweets ensures you send out tweets reliably as often as you want to: every day, or every hour. It allows you to tweet at the times of day your target clients are most likely to be online, even if you're not online then. Scheduling saves you from getting distracted by Twitter each time you want to send out a Tweet. Instead, you set aside a time when you create several tweets at once. If a new idea for a tweet springs to mind at other times, you simply slot it into your scheduler, avoiding the temptation to procrastinate on Twitter.

Scheduling is the band part of the jazz band. It provides a steady backing rhythm to your Twitter presence, and makes sure you regularly show up in the Twitter feeds of your followers.

This is particularly handy when you find articles, videos or other content you'd like to share. By the very nature of web browsing, I often find several articles I'd like to share one after the other, because I've clicked through from one article to another. Rather than flooding my Twitter account with these articles as I find them, I schedule them to go out in a steady rhythm.

Because of this steady rhythm of tweets created by scheduling tools, businesses who schedule tweets better engage their followers, and as such they find more prospects. Research by Hubspot found businesses who schedule tweets generate three times more leads from Twitter compared to those who never schedule.

Scheduling is the band part of the jazz band. It provides a steady backing rhythm to your Twitter presence, and makes sure you regularly show up in the Twitter feeds of your followers.

Jazz bands also have a star act, the soloist who improvises the melody.

When you log into Twitter and engage in conversation, reading the Tweets of others, and replying to any messages you've been sent, that's your chance to improvise and shine. In this spontaneous tweeting, your followers get to see you at your best.

That's why Twitter is like a jazz band, and that's why I prefer a mix of scheduled tweets and live tweets. Scheduled tweets are the backing track, the 12-bar blues. Live tweets are the improvised melody.

Scheduling Tools

Web apps for scheduling Tweets - both paid and free - abound. For freelancers who use Twitter as their core marketing tool, paid apps provide extra functionality and analytics that can give you the edge you need. For most freelancers, for whom Twitter is one cog in their marketing wheel, free scheduling tools are sufficient. Here are three of the best, all of which provide free options:

  • BufferApp is my favorite scheduling app. It's free to schedule up to ten tweets at once, and it integrates nicely with your web browser. In addition, it provides basic analytics so you can see which of your tweets perform the best. What I like most about BufferApp is how easy it is to set up scheduling. Unlike most scheduling tools, you only need set scheduling times once, and it does the rest of the work.
  • Tweetdeck is a good free choice, particularly if you already use it as your Twitter dashboard. You can integrate your scheduled tweets with bit.ly for analytics. It's free to download for Windows, OS X or as a Chrome app.
  • Hootsuite has a steeper learning curve than BufferApp or Tweetdeck. However, its advanced analytics and multi-account dashboard make it ideal for freelancers who want to take their Twitter marketing to the next level. Like BufferApp, it's free for basic use. A full account costs around $10 per month.

What Do You Think?

The main reason I schedule is because I find it a big interruption to head over to Twitter every time I have something to share. I also think it's better for my followers if I spread my Tweets across the day, rather than posting a glut of them at once.

What do you think? To schedule or not to schedule? Are you a scheduler, an improviser, or a mix of both?

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