Without the proper timing, our ideas are nothing. We can have the greatest idea for our business or website, but if it doesn’t come along at the right time it won’t do us any good. That thought ran through my mind as I read Gift Scoop’s guest post on social media semi-automation. It sounds like a great idea: an easy way to maintain a social media presence without investing too much time. It can certainly works — if the timing is right. If the timing isn’t right, it could be a disaster.
When the timing is right
This isn’t to say that it’s a bad idea. Far from it. In fact, many sites would benefit from having a steady social media presence, even if it is automated. My company is actually one of them, though that wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, as we hooked up one of our main sites, BBGeeks, to the Twitter realm, we decided to forego the automated method. That is, everything that came from the @BBGeeks account would come from the staffer we selected to run the account. That included posts, responses, retweets — the whole nine yards.
To say the experiment worked well is an understatement. We started it in 2009, just as we’d crossed the 10,000 follower count. In three months we increased our followers by 90 percent. We also saw a huge increase in direct referrals from Twitter. Some of that was attributed to the follower growth, but it mattered little. We found a way to entice more people to click our links and visit our site. Our staffer replied to everyone who asked a question, even if it was “I don’t know.” Those were sometimes the best, though, because he’d retweet the question to our followers. The asker typically got her answer quickly that way.
This simply wouldn’t have been possible had we automated our social media presence. We couldn’t have helped our followers find answers to their questions. We wouldn’t have interacted with hundreds upon hundreds of our readers. We certainly wouldn’t have referred as many people to the content on BBGeeks.com. That is to say, we wouldn’t have taken full advantage of the Twitter platform. It wasn’t our service. It wasn’t hosted in our own data centers. Much of the effort we put into it helped Twitter far more than it helped us. Yet we managed to leverage it for greater overall gain.
When the time isn’t right
At the time that was a great strategy. It helped us grow amid fierce competition, and has kept us growing. We now have 35,000 followers — not quite as many as you might expect considering our huge four-month growth period, but still a very good follower count. We also see our Twitter referrals clicking through the site, so we’ve created something of a culture. But we don’t do the same thing we did before. The timing just isn’t right any more.
A single person can handle only so much. After a few months of spending several hours per week on the Twitter account, our staffer had had enough. It was hard to blame him. That’s a lot of work for little discernible benefit. That is, he didn’t necessarily benefit from the increased interaction and activity on BBGeeks. At that point, the timing was no longer right for our experiment. We had conducted it and realized success. It was time to move on.
Perhaps then something like Roost would have come in handy. At first it clearly wasn’t the answer. We had some followers, but that was almost solely the result of being a semi-popular website. We didn’t tweet much, and we interacted less. As with most blog Twitter accounts, we automatically tweeted our posts. Adding something like Roost might have maintained the status quo, but the status quo didn’t require much maintenance. At the time, our experiment was the right idea.
Now? We’ve been dark for a few months. We could probably use a service like Roost to actually tweet for us once in a while. At a different time, it would have been pointless idea. Now? It’s much more feasible, given the timing.
Recognizing the timing
Recognizing when an idea will work and when it won’t is usually pretty simple. It’s a matter of just a little critical thinking. Sticking with our current example, the question of whether to a automate social media presence directly relates to the user’s social media standing. A small site that doesn’t tweet much to begin with probably doesn’t need it. But a site that has been heavily active for months might need it for a bit of a break.
Timing is a concept central to any business, whether on the web or offline. Master it, and you’ll find that you’re not only doing the right things, but doing them when they matter the most. At the same time, you’ll stop doing things at the moment they stop working. Ideas are important, of course, but timing makes the whole difference.
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