Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Business of Writing: Using Hootsuite Pro's bulk message scheduler #ASMSG #MFRWOrg

Please bear with me while I wax technical today on The Maze to offer you tips and tricks for using Hootsuite's bulk message scheduler.

A Chaco Owl, Bodafon Farm Park, Llandudno (Wales)
13 July 2016, (c) by Couiros22
via Wikimedia Commons.
Hootsuite is a software tool that allows you to manage multiple social media accounts across numerous platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and many others.

Since most of my social media marketing occurs via Twitter, I have been using the free version of Hootsuite to manually schedule up to 24 tweets per day, every day, at a rate of about one per hour (my rule, not Hootsuite's, since I don't want to overwhelm my followers with a constant stream of "Buy my book" pleas—and, you're welcome :).

With ten books in print, not counting the translated editions, my collection of reusable tweets now numbers in the hundreds. The chore of cycling through them, month after month, has become more time consuming. When Hootsuite recently offered me the chance for a 60-day trial of Hootsuite Pro—the only means of accessing the bulk message scheduler—I jumped at it.

The bulk message scheduler allows you to upload a comma-separated values (CSV) file that includes up to 350 messages of three components each: the date and time stamp, the message, and the link.

The 350-Message Limit.
As a software engineer, the 350 value seems rather random to me, so if you're wondering why the Hootsuite designers pulled that number out of their little backsides, ask them!

The reason that your CSV file can contain "up to 350 messages" is that the maximum number the bulk scheduler will allow you to upload is 350 minus the number of messages already scheduled (either manually or in bulk) in your outgoing list. I believe the fine print also adds up all messages across all platforms, but since I only schedule messages to my Twitter account, I didn't pay close attention to that bit. The scheduler allows you to select the social media platform at time of upload.

The 350-message limit does not apply to any messages that you schedule manually.

My advice: Start small by creating a CSV file that holds a day's or a week's worth of tweets, and work up to larger bulk-scheduling sessions as you become more comfortable with the procedure.

Working with the CSV file.
Hootsuite's recommendation is to NOT use Microsoft Excel, but to work in a simple text editor. The reason is that the Hootsuite bulk message scheduler expects the UTF-8 encoding format and Excel won't allow that option. I cannot speak to the truth of that from experience, since I now use the open-source LibreOffice suite of programs instead of Microsoft Office.

My advice: Download & install LibreOffice, and use LibreCalc to work with your CSV file. LibreCalc WILL permit UTF-8 encoding for CSV files, but you need to remember to "Edit filter settings" each time you export a block of messages for bulk upload in Hootsuite.

CSV Field 1, the Date and Time Stamp.
When you activate the bulk scheduling option, you have the choice to specify date/time stamps in only one of two ways:

mm/dd/yyyy hh:mm
dd/mm/yyyy hh:mm

Note 1: hh for the hour field is based on the 24-hour clock.
For example,  01=1 a.m. and 13=1 p.m.

Note 2: mm for the minutes field must end in 5 or 0.
For example, 00:00 will be accepted (12 midnight) but 00:12 will be rejected (12 minutes past midnight) by the bulk message scheduler.

If your date/time stamp field does not match the expected format, all of your uploads will fail.

My advice: In the master spreadsheet file you use for your messages to schedule, configure the date/time field to display the values in the way Hootsuite expects. For example, the cell might contain the value 09/01/2016 00:00:00, but it will be displayed as 09/01/2016 00:00 (because the seconds field is not recognized by Hootsuite, and including seconds in your date/time stamp will cause your uploaded messages to fail).

Note 3: As with the manual scheduling of messages via Hootsuite, all of your date/time stamps must be at least 15 minutes in the future, counted from the time of upload, or else the upload attempt will fail for any messages not meeting this criterion.

My advice: Play it safe by scheduling all messages at least one day in advance.

CSV Field 2, the Message.
Regardless of the social media platform for which you are using Hootsuite Pro to bulk schedule your messages, the maximum number of characters in this field is tied to Twitter's requirement to reserve 23 characters for a hyperlink, and Hootsuite's requirement to reserve one character for the blank space between the end of the message and the beginning of the link, or 140 – 24 = 116 characters.

Note 4: If you are copying message text from another source (for example, messages you have stored in Hootsuite's Drafts area, or messages from a master spreadsheet), make sure they are not punctuated with commas. This will cause extra columns to form in your exported CSV file (recall that the initials stand for comma-separated values), which will royally screw up your upload attempt.

My advice: I have applied a number of tricks to get around the limitation of not being able to use commas in bulk-scheduled messages, including:
  • deleting the commas,
  • replacing commas with the ellipses (…) character, and
  • rewording the message altogether.
LibreCalc does permit a CSV file to be created using a different separator character, but for simplicity's sake I have not yet tried this option. If I were to try it, I would probably specify a carat (^) or vertical bar (|) since I don't use those in my tweets.

Note 5: Duplicate messages in your CSV file are not allowed. If you're running a campaign that repeats the same message several times per day, those messages must be scheduled manually. This isn't as bad as it seems, however, because the 350-message limit does not apply to the number of manually scheduled messages.

My advice: Bulk-schedule all your unique tweets for your selected time period (week or month or whatever), and then fill in the rest of the slots with manually scheduled messages.

Another "gotcha" I ran into is that within any message that contains a forced line break, that character is stripped out upon converting to CSV format.

My advice: Edit your CSV file to make sure all your messages read as you intended prior to running it through the bulk message scheduler.

CSV Field 3, the Link.
Twitter reserves 23 characters for each hyperlink regardless of its length, so this field contains no character-count limitations. The Hootsuite bulk message scheduler does automatically shorten all links as part of the upload process.

My advice: If you're scheduling multiple messages that include the same link, copy and paste the link field within your CSV file as many times as necessary, make the contents of each date/time stamp cell unique, following the guidelines mentioned above, and just change the message field for each line.

For more information and tips visit:

Note 6: In the above article, it's reported that the inclusion of "Smart" (i.e., curly) quotes in your messages will cause upload failure. I tried it with curly quotation marks as well as apostrophes, and all of those messages scheduled successfully.

My advice: I believe the key lies in correctly applying the UTF-8 encoding to your CSV file. When in doubt, however, use straight quotes and apostrophes.

When you believe you have the CSV file in good order:
  • Log in to Hootsuite and navigate to your list of scheduled tweets on the Publisher menu option.
  • Verify that however many messages you intend to bulk upload will not put your scheduled messages over the 350 limit. This may be accomplished fairly easily via Hootsuite Pro's option to view a month-by-month summary of scheduled messages.
  • Under Content Sources, click on Bulk Message Upload. The Bulk Schedule Updates popup window will appear.
  • Click Browse to locate your CSV file, and select it.
  • Verify that you have selected the correct date/time stamp format option.
  • Select the desired social media account from the drop-down list.
  • Click on the SUBMIT button, and hope for the best. :) You will either see a report stating the number of messages scheduled, or a list of failures, in which case you can modify your CSV file accordingly and try again.
  • When finished, exit the Bulk Schedule Updates popup window.
  • Refresh your list of scheduled tweets to verify that your messages did get scheduled as planned.

Good luck, and happy bulk scheduling!


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  1. Tks Kim. I've used Hootsuite in the past. Need to get back into it.

    1. It can be a time sink if you let it, just as all social media is! Thanks for visiting, Cheryl, and have a lovely remainder of the week. :)


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