I started using the free version of Hootsuite about 6-8 months ago was immediately convinced that the Hootsuite Pro features would be worth the money. I've just been waiting to have the money to pay for it every month. It's not a lot, six bucks a month, but I wanted to have a book out and let the writing pay for its own tools. I only need to sell one book a month to pay for Hootsuite Pro and I've already sold significantly more than that in the first week after releasing my first SciFi Thriller, so I'm ready!
Today I'll talk about doing the thing Indie Authors seem to want most on Twitter: bulk-scheduling of days upon days worth of tweets to be sent out automatically while we are off doing more important things. You know, like writing another book--or at least another blog? Click through the jump-break to get started.
Time Keeps on Slipping....
my Twitter Series last year. I don't advise scheduling tweets every ten minutes but in theory, you could. Most Indie Authors seem to think one promo tweet an hour is good. I think that's still a bit obnoxious and a less pervasive schedule of one promo tweet every 90 minutes is where I'll start out. Just trying to be considerate of my readers!
You can try out the scheduling feature free by manually scheduling tweets in the free version of Hootsuite. Theoretically, you could schedule days upon days worth of tweets, but you'd have to do it one tweet at a time. It's very tedious but not at all hard to do that way. I did try it out once myself, just to see what it would be like to manually enter 3 days of tweets and have them sent for me while I worked the day job. It was awesome to be "Twitter responsibility free" for 3 days and only took me about 2 hrs of focused effort to compose them. It was an awesome sense of freedom for those 3 days. I can't wait to get that sense of freedom all the time now that I've upgraded!
Read over my earlier discussion on Scheduling Tweets in Hootsuite's (free) Publisher by clicking here. Listen to the Steve Miller Band's a propos song while you do by clicking here. You're welcome! Life ain't worth livin' without music.
Try Before You Buy
Once you see how easy it is to set up--and how marvelous it is to go away and have your Twitterstream remain active--you'll want to do this on a larger scale. Lucky for you, Hootsuite was designed to scale up. You do have to pay for the freedom to schedule large numbers of tweets at a time (to bulk schedule) but at $5.99 a month, this one feature pays the fee itself!
If the fee were significantly higher, the Pro version would probably not have been worth it to me even with Bulk Scheduling. Many of the Pro features are designed for corporations with large numbers of people in their marketing departments. I'm just me, webbiegrrl, one Indie Author. Okay, I'm me, two Indie Authors and an Indie Publishing company, but still, I'm just not using Teams and other enterprise-level features that would make a higher subscription fee worthwhile.
For 30 days, I get to explore the features, free, and I'll be reporting to you what I find, but I can already say, the Pro version unlocks some usability functionality of existing features in the free version that I hadn't imagined were there. It's just so nice--and should be advertised--that the Pro version doesn't just have "more" of the same features; it has "better" features. Today We're talking about Bulk Scheduling.
In the basic (individual) for-pay version of Hootsuite Pro, you can automate the scheduling of large numbers of tweets (up to 50 at a time) "in bulk." Hence, Bulk Scheduling.
You're still behind the tweets, composing and arranging and hashing away--but you'll feel like you have a little droid tweeting on your behalf once it starts going. It's so kewel! You're gonna love this.
The Hootsuite team has prepared a video on how to set it up, replete with screen captures, which you can view here if you prefer to watch pictures rather than reading the bazillion words I have here in this blog. For the rest of you, read on.
Bulk Scheduling in Hootsuite has limits. You can only schedule up to 50 messages at a time from a CSV file (I'll talk more about what that is in a minute) but you can upload 50 messages at a time, up to four (4) times in a row to get a total of 200 tweets uploaded--in just minutes. That means, even if you schedule one tweet an hour (Dont do it!) you'll have days worth of tweets done in minutes.
There's one catch: each of those 200 tweets you upload must be unique. Yep, no repeats! That's harder than it sounds, trust me! Before I get into the tech talk on how to format and upload the source CSV file, since I'm speaking to writers, let me give you a writing tip on how to handle the composition of your 200 unique tweets.
Above all, I strongly advise against using bot-generated text so consider the following points as you hand-craft each and every little gem you plan to tweet to your adoring fans.
1) Don't write from scratch.
If you're an Indie Author and have been on Twitter more than five minutes, chances are, you've already written some promo tweets. You probably wrote more promo tweets your first day on Twitter than you managed to share any kind of real content or even RT others' material. Go back through your own Twitterstream and retrieve all of those tweets now. Collect them in an Excel spreadsheet. Put the text into say, Column C of your Sheet. You'll have other stuff for Cols A and B later. You may even want to make more than 3 columns in this master Excel sheet!2) Don't reinvent the wheel 200 times
If you come up with some really nicely-worded tweet directing readers to, say, your #Kindle page, chances are you'll be tempted to use the same tweet again. Do it. Change the #Kindle hashtag to something else like #Kobo or #Nook and of course, point to that page instead of the Amzn.to link. Voila, you now have another unique tweet. You can do this for every eTailer outlet that sells your book. Hopefully, you're using a distributor like Smashwords, so your book is available to buy from them all.
3) Don't reinvent the wheel even once!
If you're really lost and don't know how to successfully write a promo tweet, do not despair. You can copy what others are doing. Emulate those who have sales rankings on Amazon in the Top 100, Top 50, top 20 or especially those in the Top 10. We're all watching the Amazon ranks, admit it. So do a little research. Click through those top sellers' Twitterstreams for their promo tweets. Observe the way they compose their promo tweets and use that structure as a guide to compose your own.
I said as a guide, not as a source to copy. I urge you not to just copy and paste someone else's tweets again and again. For one thing, if you just have one format and never vary the tweet composition at all, you might as well tweet one thing again and again, non-stop on an endless loop. Don't do that either, by the way, just in case you thought I was advising it--no, I'm against (totally against) doing that (I know you some of you are thinking, Darn, I was gonna do that! Don't think it. Even if Hootsuite would let you (it won't), don't do it). Your tweets represent you and your brand. Are you really a monotone writer? Yawn! That's definitely not how to sell books.
People, you are writers. You can write novels. You can write these, too. Besides, Hootsuite Scheduler will reject tweets that repeat the same information (even hours apart) as identical tweets. It's a bot, so it will check and it won't care that you tried really, really hard. Do it right. Make each message unique and special.
3) Do be creative in writing your tweets, but also be focused.
Remember that you are writing sales copy here, ad copy, and headline news. Your text will have succeeded if you get a Tweep to click on the link and view your book page. That's it. You're not selling the book from the tweet. You're promoting it. Subtle but distinct difference there! If you need tips on writing headline news, click through Copyblogger's articles on the subject for inspiration. They are truly artists at this.
Also, you should be branding your tweets--or at least the promo tweets you automate. You aren't just tweeting out Buy my book! Buy my book! (go watch @MelissaConway1's famous Indie Lament video again to laugh for a second; you'll feel better about this monumentally boring writing assignment in front of you).
The purpose of tweeting isn't just to provide a link, but rather, to Position yourself, your Indie Author brand (and your books), in the reader's mind. Promotion is a form of marketing, not merely filling your Twitterstream with links.
In a future Tuesday TIp, I'll have to spend a little time focused on just this topic ((grin)) I do promise to talk about composing tweets, do's and don't's. Okay, onto how to get started after you have some tweets composed.
The Nuts & Bolts (or Excel, Unleashed)
I'm assuming you have a copy of Microsoft Excel or a similar spread sheet program. If you want to use Lotus or even better, some Linux version of Excel (OpenOffice is OpenSource and totally free and definitely has an excellent clone of Excel--more stable, in fact), just don't get caught up on names of things (e.g., "Sheet" might be called something else but it's still the place where the cells are laid out in a tabulated, sortable fashion since that is what makes it a "spread sheet").
Really, when you get down to it, you could practically do this in a plain text editor or on a piece of paper with a pencil--but you'll want a spread sheet, I promise you.
The CSV File
Click here to read their explanation. Basically, it's a plain text file with data on each line of the file. The lines are divided into lists of data points that are each separated by commas. Each line has a single carriage-return at the end. Each piece of data is called a value. Since the values are separated by commas, it's called a "Comma Separated Value" file. Mystery solved! You now know what a CSV file is ^)^
As I said, it's just text and you can create one in a text editor (Notepad or TextEdit) but it's going to be a heck of a lot easier if you use something like Excel because of how you can copy/paste, auto-fill and even use formulas to manipulate your content. A sample line in a CSV file might look like this:
Value1, Value2, Value3, Value4, Value 5, Value6 [carriage return]
The values separated by commas correspond to what's in the columns of your Excel sheet. For Hootsuite Publisher, they have to follow a specific pattern so that Publisher can understand what to do with each data point, but it's just a line of text. Do no fear the magic. Ignore the wizard at the top of this page ((ggg))
The format Hootsuite Publisher ultimately wants to see is as follows:
If you look closely, you'll see there are only 3 data "values" there, separated by commas. In fact, to insure you can't claim not to see it, I've color-coded it for you. (Yay for color-coding, eh, @beccataylor?)
The first datum (in red) is the date/time stamp. This tells Publisher when to publish the tweet identified by this line of the CSV file.
The second datum (in blue) is a string of text and it will be the message Publisher tweets for you. It must be surrounded by quote marks so that Scheduler will know it's a text string, not some special programming code.
The third datum (in green) is a link, also surrounded by quotes so it will be read by Publisher's bot as just plain text and of course, this discussion assumes you want to include one in your tweet. You don't have to include a link. You could just leave that spot blank and Publisher will assume it has what's called a "null value" or "nothing goes here." It will literally insert "nothing" or maybe a blank space to represent the "nothing." Scheduler requires 3 values so you might as well put a #hashtag here if you don't have a link. Just put #RT if you can't think of anything else. If you don't understand how #hashes work, please review my beginner-level discussion in the Twitter Series here. I wrote 2 additional discussions on the subject as well.
Digging into the CSV
If you want to get sophisticated with how to construct your 3-value lines, there's a gal over at Hewlett-Packard (HP) named Becca Taylor (@beccataylor) who wrote an amazing little tutorial on how to create a masterpiece Excel sheet (check out her tips here if you're tech-savvy and daring). If you'll notice the comments on her article, however, Hootsuite advises against using Excel to generate the CSV.
I'm going against the Hootsuite guys on this. Excel's ability to help you auto-generate the data for this massive collection of tweets is just too valueable a time-saving tool not to use it. You can use formulas to calculate the number of characters, to combine your date and time, to auto-fill the date/time stamp, to insert or concatenate hashtags with your text. The possibilities are vast and Becca uses many of them to illustrate my point. If you know how to use Excel, you will not be willing to give it up.
NOTE: I've come back to edit this post because I'm going to do a followup post on using Excel and a free tool designed to help you "clean up" the CSV export.
When To Schedule Tweets
Becca has some additional links at the bottom of her tutorial that are also extremely handy. One relates to picking the best time(s) to schedule your tweets. You'll recall I reposted a Mashable study on the Webbiegrrl Facebook Page about when is the best time throughout the week to tweet or post to Facebook and get the most shares or RTs out of it. The study found that Wednesday morning at 9am is the single-hottest time for all of Facebook and that just 5 minutes before or after the top of the hour is the best time throughout the day, on any given day. Your specific "best time" might be different.
Becca pointed us to a tool called TweetWhen which I tried for @webbiegrrl and it told me I get the most RTs on Tuesday evenings about 8pm. Interesting, given my Monday Marketing and Tuesday Tip are both out at 8-10 am on their respective days. Around that time on Tuesday nights, I'm usually just saying good bye for two days, cya Friday.
It's also interesting to note is that my SciFi self (@phoenicianbooks) peaks on RTs at 2pm on Fridays. Haha. See? I really am two different people! Try your own Twitter name in the TweetWhen tool and tell me when's your highest RT hour. Don't forget the reason you want to find out is to exploit it as you setup your Excel sheet to feed into Publisher. Don't get too distrac--oooh, shiny!
Becca's spreadsheet is) so here's some basic info you need to know to get a working Excel Sheet (and as noted above, I'll come back and discuss a free tool to do a lot of this stuff for you).
Value 1 - Date/Time Stamp
All dates/times are relative to currently selected time zone and must be in the 24-hour (or military) format. Please use this Civilian/Military Clock Converter tool for those of you who are stymied by the 24-hr clock. I know it confuses a lot of Americans. The date is in the reverse of what we, Americans, are used to--that is DAY comes before month.
Tips to make the date/time stamp work:
- Schedule messages at least 10 minutes from the upload time
- Only schedule one message per time slot
- Assign times that end in either a 5 or a 0, i.e. 10:45 or 10:50
- Duplicate messages are not allowed so don't try to "fake" it out (it'll crash your whole upload)
Value 2 - Tweet Message
Today I'm only discussing automation of tweets - that is, posts on Twitter. You can use Hootsuite's Publisher to Bulk Schedule statuses to Facebook or Linked In or any other social network you set up, but today, I'm talking Twitter and only Twitter.
For Twitter, you have 140 characters total and your URL will get ow.ly shortened but that's rarely less than 10 or 15 characters so keep the total as short as possible. Aim for 100 character pitches. Less is more, remember, the headline is the story. If you don't know how to write headline adcopy, again, I urge you to click through some of the linked articles there because Copyblogger's team are all truly expert at this art form--and it is an art form.
You can harvest content out of your own stream for the tweet messages, model after the proven successful authors out there or you can just compose some fresh tweets that really "sound" like your brand now that you know what that is. You do know who you are or want to be, right? Please read some of my marketing series to refocus your thinking before you start tweeting Buy my book! Buy my book! tweets.
Value 3 - URL
You must provide a correctly-formed URL or link. That is, it must contain the "http://" part to be valid.
Here's where you might want to be smart. If you're a member of KDP Select, you're SOL because you only have one link (http://amzn.to/yourbook) but if you've published via Smashwords, your book's being distributed far and wide. You can replace the URL for each different store's book page and, coupled with one Tweet Message text, you can now recycle the "same message" more than once.
If you use hashtags like #Kindle and #Nook and #Kobo and #Apple or #iPad then voila, you have now made multiple versions of ONE tweet. Hootsuite won't see a duplicate. Just be careful not to do this for the entire 200 tweets you upload. Hootsuite might not care but your tweeps will get bored reading the same tweet again and again and you will have inadvertently branded yourself a monotone writer. Again, I say, Yawn. Maybe salt those repeated variants around the list so they don't show up just an hour apart? (Again, I note, I'll come back with a great little free tool to help you do this in one click).
I know half of you are sitting there groaning at the thought of writing hundreds of tweets. It's hard enough to compose anything meaningful in 140 characters once but to do it in 100 characters, 200 times? It's not hard, just tedious, and you only have to do it once or twice. Then you can reuse the assortment, resorted (or randomized, see free tool in next week's Tuesday Tip) again and again and it will hopefully not be too noticeable that you're recycling tweets.
Exporting and Uploading
Assuming you've done everything right (big assumption but let's run with it) then you are ready to export your Excel Worksheet to the CSV format and upload it to the Hootsuite Publisher.
Super easy, this one! Go to the "File" menu and instead of "Save" just use "Save As..." Browse to the location on your hard disk where you want to save the CSV file and type in the file name. Directly under the file name is "Save as file type." Pull down that list and select CSV. Save. Done.
Also pretty easy. Seen the video yet? If not, don't worry. In the Hootsuite Dashboard, go to Publisher. When it loads that screen, there's a big button that says "Schedule in Bulk." Click it :) So easy! The first field is wher you "Browse" to your hard disk location and select the CSV file you just saved. Be sure to select which account you want to be the originator of the tweet (your Twitter ID).
Once you've selected the CSV file and account, you just click "Submit" and Hootsuite's bot does the rest. If you have any errors, Hootsuite will let you know. Be sure your CSV file is formatted correctly. This is important enough to say twice. Don't just double click the icon. Don't open the CSV file in Excel. Open it in a text editor like Notepad or TextEdit and look at it.
Do not double-click it. Do not open the CSV file in Excel. Use Notepad or TextEdit.
- Do you see 3 fields of correctly-formed values on each line?
- Is there just one string per line?
- No extra lines? No extra characters?
- Is your link (URL) malformed? Did you forget the "http://" part?
If you need additional troubleshooting help, visit the Hootsuite Help Pages and if you don't find what you need there, ask the Hootsuite community. They're pretty awesome! You'll get the help you need. Just remember, they're just people like you, and they're helping out for free in many cases so be polite and be patient.
I shall revisit this topic as I begin using it and, through use, uncover hidden pitfalls, advantages or other "lessons learned" I can share with you. Next Tuesday will definitely be another Hootsuite Tip discussing a fabulous free tool I discovered (see the comments below for a preview if you're too eager to wati!) Until then, I'm off to the day job for a few days ((sad face))
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