Social Media Management with Airtable

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In 2017, I built a social media monitoring system utilizing Slack, which I documented and posted about two years ago. That system has proven quite effective even as we’ve re-considered commercial options. In the time since, I’ve also taken this DIY mentality to our social media scheduling and planning system.

I will caveat this: if you are just starting out with your social media program, or you’re just managing 2 or 3 social networks, it is VERY likely that implementing this system is going to be overkill. For well over 2 years, I ran a very successful multi-platform social media program using a spreadsheet and very inexpensive subscription to a social media scheduling system. Here’s a version of that spreadsheet for you to start with. You should never use a home-built program like this unless you:

  • Have a solid understanding of your system requirements. What do you want the system to do? What do you NEED it to do?
  • Know what kind of reporting out you need from the system.
  • Have researched commercial options that are professionally supported and decided they’re not for you. Seriously, home-built systems require consistent management and tweaking, and the time investment is real.
  • Or if you’re someone who enjoys martech and DIY-ing and are willing to tinker.

My system requirements

Despite searching, there were a few things I considered requirements that no other system made easily manageable.

  • Tracking the tags of our partners. Social media should be just that – social. We have over 1,000 other organizations that we tag in our posts in just one year. Researching what Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc user accounts for every one of these networks was taking a LOT of time.
  • Sending reminders to team members who are out in the field, asking them to send content to the social media crew.
  • Making our social media plans public enough that our Compliance department could review them, while still keeping thing comparatively locked down.
  • Have a form to allow any one of our 600+ employees to suggest something that they think we should post.

Your TL;DR Summary

Set up an Airtable base that has separate, interconnected tables for your editorial calendar, social media schedule, and tag database. Use Zapier to send posts you’re done writing to where they need to go.

Tools & Initial Setup

There’s two tools you will need to make this basic setup work:

  • Airtable, to act as your central hub.
  • Zapier, to automagically send things where they need to go.
  • You can also add on some kind of social media scheduling tool – we use Buffer – as a double check system.

Airtable

I built the system on Airtable’s Pro plan ($20 per user per month), but it may well be possible to do this without the pro plan, depending on how complex you’d like the system to be. To follow this recipe, you will need to be somewhat familiar with the basic functioning of Airtable.

Set up the base with three tabs:

  • Content: This is the home of your editorial calendar. We use it to list all of the events, campaigns, and messaging that we’ll be pushing out via social media. The fields in this tab include:
    • Name of the message / event – text field
    • Messaging category (we use this to report out for each category) – select field
    • Start and end dates of the event – date fields
    • Notes, for event details
    • Link to the team database, for event lead
    • Link to the tag database, for any organization we should tag in the post
    • Link to the social schedule database
  • Social Schedule: This is where your individual social media posts will live. Fields in this tab include:
    • Text of social media post
    • Media, for the photo, video, or image to be included in the post.
    • Select field for network of post, with separate listings for Instagram, Instagram stories, “dark” posts, etc.
    • Date and time for the post to go live
    • Date and time for a reminder, if the post requires photography or content from an in-the-field team member.
    • Lookup field for the team lead name and phone number from the team database.
    • Lookup field for the tags from the tag database.
    • Status select field with options such as draft, ready for review, edits needed, send to scheduling, day-of reminder, manual schedule, etc.
  • Tag Database: This lists all of the organizations or other social accounts you tag in your posts.
    • Name of the organization
    • Two fields each for each network you will tag them on.
    • Hashtags the organization utilizes
  • Team Database: This database stores information so your social team knows who to contact about an event.
    • Name
    • Cell phone number
    • Email address

There’s a number of views you’ll also need to set up in the social media schedule tab, discussed below. Each of these views independently manage various zaps.

Zapier

As with the Slack system for monitoring, Zapier helps run this whole setup. I have three basic categories of zaps that run this system. All of them are triggered when a post is moved to a new status via a select field in Airtable.

  • Send for approval: When a post is set for review, an email that contains the post, event notes, and included images or video is automatically sent to our reviewer / compliance department for approval.
  • Send to scheduling: This set of zaps takes new records in a view (usually a locked table in the “social scheduling” tab that has been filtered) and adds it to the social media scheduling system you’ve chosen. You could also use a Delay by Zapier step and send directly to a social network, if you prefer.
  • Manually schedule / send reminder: This set of zaps sends a text message to a selected phone number with all relevant information, at a selected time.
    • For example, if I’m scheduling an Instagram story, this action sends a text or email to our social media on-call phone with all of the Instagram images and any notes needed to post from the phone.
    • Another use case is that the system will send a reminder to someone at an offsite event, when they’re at the event, that says “reminder: send photos to the social phone at 555-555-5555. Look for opportunities to take photos of the CEO interacting with kids.”

‘But what should I post?’ : Owning your awesome

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Driving home from what, to me, was a usual Friday evening of live broadcasting $5,000 being handed out to local nonprofits, listening to NPR. The story of Owura Kwadwo Hottish came on, discussing the worldwide attention he is receiving for teaching technology in his rural Ghana classroom by drawing a computer screen on the blackboard for every class.

What especially struck me was this:

Did your students laugh at you when you first tried teaching them computers on the chalkboard?

No. That’s the normal way and they’re used to it. They were OK since they don’t have an option, not having computers at the school.

So you’re not the first to teach computers on a blackboard!

Yeah, that’s normal in the rural community.

It reminded me, in one short exchange, of a lesson I’ve been trying to truly embrace for years. The lesson? What is “normal” or “easy” or “makes sense” to you is often what’s shocking or surprising to others. We all have a normal — the things we do every day, that we think about constantly, or that we just absorb from our everyday life. It’s when something becomes “normal” to you that you likely know a lot more about it than at least 50% of the people out there.

Owning what makes you awesome

One of the most common questions I get asked when I’m talking with people about social media is “but what do I post?”

The answer is, more often than not, to post what seems normal to you. A big part of sharing our stories isn’t sharing the Big Lessons or the Huge Ideas that we have to think about and work to perfect. Often times, if the only thing you’re posting about is the Huge Ideas, it feels… fake. It feels like someone putting on a front and inauthentic. It’s no fun to follow in the long term, because it’s the digital equivalent of watching a 24/7 highlight reel. And that’s exhausting for everyone. There’s a reason that hours-long live videos of things like fish tanks and commuter train views are so popular.

The “secret” to owning your expertise, to mastering your personal brand, to being a good citizen online, is letting people see, authentically, into your everyday. The everyday that you’re habituated to and barely see unless you’re looking for it.

What’s awesome? Probably what is ‘normal’ to you.

It’s a scary proposition, too. Letting others in to your everyday as a person or as a brand, means sometimes you’re being a bit silly, uncertain, or unpolished. Sometimes it means that you are sharing what feels just ridiculously basic. But that, right there, is where the magic happens.

I can’t tell you how many times I have, in the past, had a conversation that’s gone something like this:
“So I am hosting Thansgiving again this year, but I’m at a bit of a loss, because there’s only 8 people coming. The pies…”
“Wait, 8 people? That must be stressful!”
“It is. I would really prefer about twice that, minimum.”
*incredulous staring*

When what I really wanted to talk about was the pie issue, this person who dosn’t know that I grew up in a catering business, owned a personal chef buiness, and love feeding a crowd is stuck back on what, to me, is barely worth mentioning.

Your life is a math problem. And unless you share the basic arithmatic, then nobody is going to understand the algebra. It’s going to fly right over their heads.

You are habituated to yourself

I have a friend who owns a business repairing pagers. Yes, those devices from the 1980s that you thought nobody carried any more? They know them inside and out, from the systems that make pagers work to the components in individual pagers. It’s “normal” to them, but it’s fascinating to those of us who don’t know them in detail.

Another friend of mine is an incredible artist, who “doodles” these hand-drawn mandalas that are mind-blowingly beautiful. When she’s not doing that, she processes bones, creates jewlery, and hand-inlays bone runes with stone. And that’s while she’s also home-schooling her two kids, making beautiful bread, and more. Her “everyday” is incredible, an she’s got expertise in dozens of areas that would take the rest of us years of Googling to begin to approach.

Both of them have to be reminded occasionally that any of these things would be great to share.

Habituation is powerful, and makes it easy to forget that the things that are “normal” for us are fascinating to others. Embracing your expertise starts with sharing your everyday, and recognizing it for just how awesome it is.

Social Monitoring With Slack

Last updated on: Published by: Andrea 0

Since February 2018 when this post was originally written, it’s accounted for a full 34% of the traffic to my website. First of all, welcome! I’ve heard from well over 100 people who have successfully implemented the recipe below, and I’m excited that it’s been successful for so many of you! 

I do consulting on setting up your marketing tech stack, or am happy to provide short-term consulting support on this recipe if you want some one-on-one help. Just head over to contact me and drop me a note. 

Updated February 2020 to reflect changes in several APIs. These changes are reflected with a > at the beginning of the line.

My day-to-day job, career, and constant passion is creating truly great experiences and spaces for people. For the last several years, I’ve done this through managing social media at STCU, a credit union based in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.

I’ve also managed social media for a variety of organizations, groups, and personally for well over a decade. I consider a strong social monitoring system or process to be one of the most important things for both great service — and the sanity of your social media manager.

Why I decided to home-brew

There are a number of truly excellent social media monitoring tools of various types out there. There’s the “big guys” – Sprout, Hootsuite, Falcon, Nuvi. There’s also online review and location management systems such as SweetIQ, ReviewPush, Yext, and more.

There are two big challenges with these programs, however. One is the obvious one: cost. Not-for-profit institutions and small or medium businesses may or may not have the resources to invest in the tools that would cover everything needed.

The other is a bit more of a self-created issue: I have yet to find a social media management or monitoring tool that handles 60% or more of the social networks that I would like to monitor.

Blame Jay Baer’s Hug Your Haters… or my own Millennial sensibilities. Or perhaps years of trying to tweet at organizations that don’t respond. I may not be actively managing and engaging on a particular network, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see the comments and questions that are out there to help out if I can.

The end result of this, though, is that actually keeping an eye on everything could quickly become a Sisyphean task. About a year ago, I decided to try something other than relying on only notifications and searching. I thoroughly researched well over a dozen social media management tools. None that I could find:

  1. Fit within our budget
  2. Provided the functionality or extensiblity to monitor or at least record input — automatically or manually — from networks that the tool didn’t support out-of-the-box.
  3. Was easily understood by team members who didn’t spend all day, every day in the social media world

Thanks to just enough knowledge of APIs to be dangerous, I had threatened more than once to try and build my own system when discussing my frustration with my family. Eventually, threats turned to pondering turned to taking a few days to see if I could make it work.

Your TL;DR summary

Use Slack as your home base and Zapier to tie in anything that there isn’t a standalone Slack App for. Even if Zapier doesn’t have an app, email notifications make it work.

We spend less than $100 per month, and it can be done for free, with some limitations.

The Recipe: Building a Social Tool With Slack

I’d only kind of heard about Slack before this, but had heard wonderful things about it from the Offbeat Empire. One of the few things I had heard was it was extraordinarily extensible. A few days of heavy Googling, a few more days dedicated to building this crazy system, and an occasional true-up or bug-smashing day combined make for a system that not only works, but helps keep me (and our Accounting department) sane.

Ingredients

The basis: Slack
Cost: Free, or $6.67 per user per month
If you haven’t used Slack yet, then you’re in for a treat. You can use the free system, or pay for an upgrade. To meet the record retention requirements and to make things a bit easier, we went with the paid version, but this could likely work without it, depending on what you want to do.

Plugin: MailClark
> Cost: $5 per user, per month
MailClark ties a number of systems in to Slack, including Facebook and Twitter private messages, email groups, Google groups, and email. The Facebook and Twitter private messages was especially attractive, since this was one of the few programs I could find that did this well.

> After two years of using MailClark, it is still my preferred tool for this. They continue to make updates, and there are a few things I’m hoping to see in the way of improvements. I’m also investigating if Integromat is an option for at least Facebook Pages messages. 

Plugin: Reactji Channeler
Cost: Free
This is built by Slack, and posts messages to a second (or third, or fourth) channel on the basis of a reaction emoji added to a message.

Plugin: Zapier
Cost: Free or $20 per month
Again, you can do this with the free version of Zapier. The paid version gets the zaps working more quickly and gives you access to three-step systems. Zapier is essentially a GUI (graphical user interface) for API programming interfaces. This is really the “secret sauce” that makes everything else work in this system.

Plugin: RSS
Cost: Free
If anything has an RSS feed, this gets it in to Slack for you.

Structuring Slack

One #incoming channel where everything – and I do mean everything – comes in. From there, reactji are use to copy messages in to a number of different channels that have various purposes. These include #complaints #kudos #inforequests #fraud  and the like.

There are two drivers for this:

  1. The kudos, complaints, and info requests correlate with the qualitative data I share in our weekly social media report.
  2. The channels such as #fraud correlate to other team members who do something with those posts — either follow up with members or do further research. As our team grows, I expect to make even heavier use of these channels to coordinate who is responding to a particular question or member.

I also heavily make use of the “star” function to create to-do lists, and /remind and other commands to keep myself organized.

The threading function also makes leaving status notes for other team members especially easy.

Going network-by-network

So, here’s how the system works out, broken down by what the heck I’m trying to integrate.

Facebook Page Notifications
Facebook is, to put it mildly, the problem child of this whole setup. Even Facebook’s native apps are rather terrible at reliably sending notifications about every review, every comment, every tag, every interaction. So – I kind of go overboard here. This does result in a few duplicate notifications, but I’d rather see two of something than nothing at all.

> Zapier offers several types of Facebook notification tie-ins, and setting up each of these will help get most notifications into the system. This includes recommendations (Facebook’s new reviews system), posts to page, and comments.

> You’ll also want to set Facebook to email all notifications to you. If you are willing to do a little bit more manual work, have those notifications automatically forwarded to Zapier’s parser, and then cut out a lot of the duplicate information. Otherwise, have those emails automatically forwarded to Slack’s email parser. 

> This will also take some significant management on Facebook itself. For posts that get a lot of comments we won’t need to check, you can make the decision (though it needs to be a measured risk) to turn off notifications on particular posts to keep from flooding your notifications. You can also turn on notifications for any post you want to keep an eye on, be it yours or someone else’s. 

Facebook Private Messenger
MailClark handles this beautifully — private messages notify me in Slack, and I can respond, categorize with Reacji Channler, and add notes as necessary.

> Note that you’ll need to make use of Mailclark’s function to assign conversations and mark them as complete / done. Otherwise Slack may not notify you of new messages that are a part of an ongoing conversation.

Twitter
I’ve got a number of Twitter search functions set up through Zapier, all that post a message to the #incoming channel. These include:

  • Search mentions of our name (which has the impact of also posting all the tweets we send – a good double-check of our scheduling system). I’ve also added a second step in Zapier of filtering for English language tweets.
  • Search+Geo mentions : When someone with locations turned on tweets something about “credit union” or “bank” within a certain radius of our branch, I get a notification
  • Tweet in list: I have a Twitter list set up of accounts we follow and want to keep a close eye on for various reasons.

Twitter DMs
Again, MailClark handles these beautifully and simply.

Instagram

> Zapier used to offer an integration for Instagram searches, but this API was taken offline. While Facebook has integrated Instagram messages and comments to the pages message center, it doesn’t appear that the API is fully integrated. For now, this is the weak point of the system.   

Google My Business
Google is great at emailing you when you get a new review. There are two options here — have those emails automatically forwarded (using your email program) to Slack’s paid service that gives you an email. Or use Zapier to search your Gmail for the Google reviews and send it to your Slack. You can also use Zapier’s parser to clean up these messages. 

YouTube
Two integrations make this work. One is having YouTube email any comments or notifications, and then having Zapier search for and forward those to Slack. The other is Zapier’s tool that searches YouTube for any mentions of our brand, which pulls up videos where the text description or title contain our name.

Yelp
There are a few Slack tools that will search Yelp, but for now, we have Yelp email all reviews to us, and then those emails are forwarded to either Slack or Zapier-to-Slack creating a notification.

Reddit
This is another double-tool system. Reddit’s own search isn’t great, but Zapier’s API search for new posts or comments mentioning a search string is great, and sends a Slack notification. I also have Reddit set to send a message for every reply to one of our posts, and emailing us for all messages. That email then forwards to Slack via email or Zapier.

Google Alerts
This is pretty much a generic catch-all for mentions of your organization or group — I have this set up for a number of keywords. When you’re setting it up, just choose “RSS feed” as the delivery option and have that come in to Slack. This has notified me of reviews on Ripoff Report, DepositAccounts, and the Better Business Bureau.

Google Questions
Google’s “ask a question” on My Business listings sends emails to gmail. Use Zapier’s parser to manage these. 

Glassdoor & Indeed
Both of these services will email you when there is a new review. Have those emails come in to Slack, or Zapier and then Slack.

Tumblr
We aren’t active on Tumblr, so I’ve got this set up to just look for posts tagged with our name through Zapier. There’s no search option yet.

Things that don’t yet integrate

LinkedIn
To my knowledge, LinkedIn doesn’t send company notifications to any API or even email notification. These I manually paste the URL in to Slack.

Pinterest
Currently, Pinterest doesn’t offer an API hook for searches — you can’t use anything but Pinterest to search Pinterest reliably.

Google Allo / Business Chat
> If you do decide to turn on Google My Business Live Chat, messages will be sent to you via text. There are several tools, such as Twilio, that will allow you to integrate these with Slack via either built-in APIs or Zapier. 

Planned Updates

Right now, our app reviews are also handled by another department, but I am working on getting those tied in, for visibility if nothing else.

I’m also starting to play with the fact that Slack ties in to a number of project management tools. I’m currently experimenting in creating and managing to-do items for social media in our departmental project management tools.

Finally, I want to get statistics — from bit.ly, Google Analytics, and our social media into our Slack, but I haven’t yet decided on which app to make that happen.

Would it work for posting, too?

Theoretically, yes. Most of the networks that tie in for notifications do either have a Slack or Zapier action of posting. And there’s also social media scheduling tools like Yala that will schedule for you. I haven’t personally built this, but I’ve thought about it, and will likely play with it for my podcast before taking it to my professional work.

> I’ve since built a system that manages social media scheduling, planning, and posting via Airtable and Zapier. I’m working on documenting that. 

Is it perfect?

Heck no! It’s got lots of quirks and little things that take some getting used to. BUT – it’s a system that works on desktop and mobile, is easily understood, meets all of the records retention requirements, and keeps nearly all of the notifications I want to see in one place, rather than in 20 different apps. It’s not perfect for everyone, but it works great for me. Have questions or want to share how you’re handling social management? Contact me!

The psychological alchemy of questions

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There’s an alchemy in questions. Somehow that combination of words, tone, and curiosity blend to create conversation, emotional response, and social connection.Asking a question creates a shared framework for communication, and opens us up to possibility. It’s part of why I believe asking questions is one of the most respectful things you can do.

How? Stick with me here, my research nerd is about to show.

Uptalk, or how I learned to quit worrying and love the high-rising terminal.

There’s a linguistic quirk in English that I reference in my TEDx talk. In that speech, I called it “uptalk” or “high rising terminal.” In short, it’s that lift at the end of a sentence that generally indicates that the sentence ends with a question mark.

It’s important to note two things. One – uptalk and high rising terminal aren’t the exact same thing. As Mark Liberman points out in a 2006 Language Log post, there is a difference.

I believe that the “high rising” idea came out of a contested 1990s theory of intonational meaning, which posited a qualitative distinction between high rises and low rises, and assigned uptalk to the category of “high rise” for theory-internal rather than empirical reasons. It’s also possible that some geographical variants of uptalk are really high rising in general, though I haven’t seen any careful studies that support this conclusion.

Second, the term “uptalk” was coined in a 1993 New York Times On Language column to describe using a rising tone at the end of a declarative sentence — when you don’t intend to ask a question. And that article kicked off a veritable flurry of debate and discussion over this so-called “Valley Girl” talk, called everything from a linguistic disease to a complete scourge on our language. It’s a surprisingly similar debate to the one about vocal fry, right down to the fact that it’s nearly entirely female speakers that become the focus of the discussion.

Keeping all of that in mind, in general, lifting your tone at the end of a sentence is a fairly reliable way to indicate that you are asking a question. 

So – what does that mean? I think figuring that out means taking a very close look at how our brains process superstition. Yes, superstition, and how we try and avoid nebulous threats or perceived risks.

Physically pushing away the psychological threat

In a 2013 article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Jane L. Risen, associate professor of behavioral science, Yan Zhang of the National University of Singapore, and Booth PhD student Christine Hosey published an article that looked at the rituals performed with the intention of warding off bad luck.

These are rituals that will probably sound familiar to many. Knocking on a wooden table, throwing salt over our shoulders, or spitting. All of these are actions that are generally taken to protect one’s self from a perceived jinx – a nebulous psychological threat.

Over the course of five experiments, the researchers determined that these physical rituals did, in fact, tend to make people think that they had protected themselves. Their theory is that these superstitions tended to work because of the physical act of pushing something away — called an “avoidant action.” Nearly every superstition about pushing away bad luck includes physically pushing something away from yourself. That act has the subconscious impact of feeling like we’ve pushed what isn’t physically in front of us away as well.

When you ask someone to reverse that action, however — knock up on a wooden table, for example, everything switches. After taking actions that were NOT avoidant, the research subjects felt that they hadn’t protected themselves at all.

In short, pushing things away physically means pushing what you’re thinking about away psychologically. Taking action that welcomed things towards you meant your brain believes that you are welcoming in what you’re thinking about.

How questions open us up to possibility

So – what does that mean for how we ask questions? I’d make the argument that our physical intonation of words has a similar impact as our physical actions. When we have a flat tone at the end of a sentence, we are declaring. That flat tone is the same physical impact as neither pushing something away or pulling it towards you.

We are marking our ground and taking a stand, verbally. When we are feeling like we need to push someone away, make a threat, or otherwise appear like the conversation may be over, we drop our tone. We take an avoidant verbal action, pushing away the perceived threat.

When we ask a question, we lift our tone. By lifting our tone, we’re taking a physical action similar to knocking UP on a table, instead of down. We’re opening ourselves up to the possibility, and welcoming in what we’re thinking about. It’s a physical action that psychologically welcomes in the shared context and indicate our willingness to listen. We subconsciously welcome in the possibility of conversation. It’s a vulnerable place to be. It’s kind of scary. And that is part of what makes it so beautifully powerful.

So, I’m curious…

what framework are you creating?