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Social media tools that can save you time

MIT social media strategist Stephanie Hatch Leishman highlights applications and resources that can streamline your workflow: Feedly, Flickr, Hootsuite, and IFTTT.
CPS Photo Library

If you handle social media for your department, staying on top of multiple tasks on several channels may be running you ragged. Well, take a deep breath. There are free tools that can help you manage these tasks more effectively.

MIT’s social media strategist, Stephanie Hatch Leishman, recently discussed some applications that can streamline your social media workflow. This article highlights a few of them: Feedly, Flickr (including the CPS Photo Library), Hootsuite, and IFTTT.


Along the lines of Google Reader (which is no more), Feedly is a news aggregator. It lets you view news about topics of interest in your web browser or on your mobile device.

Feedly can pull in any RSS feed, headlines from news websites like the The New York Times, blog posts, and the latest videos from YouTube accounts. You can also find content using keyword searches. You can even create a Google news search equivalent to a Google alert. A dashboard on the left displays everything that you follow.

Feedly is customizable in a couple of ways. For instance, you can create folders based of topics of interest. Here are two examples with an information technology slant:

  • an MIT folder with feeds from the Center for Civic Media, CSAIL News, EdX Blog, EECS, Media Lab Events and Highlights, OCW, and Technology Review; and
  • a "tech" folder with feeds from CNET News, Engadget, Gizmodo, Mashable, TechCrunch, and Wired.

It’s just as easy to create folders about cooking, video games, or the World Cup — whatever interests you.

You can also customize the look of Feedly, choosing a magazine view with thumbnail images, a compact “cards” view, or a title-only view. When you select an article, you can read either a preview or the full article; click the “Visit Website” link to go to the original website or save the article to read later.

Leishman notes that Feedly “is great for managing your time. You don’t spend it all over the place, going from one site to another.”

Feedly also provides a row of icons for easy sharing. The free version of Feedly lets you share on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Buffer; send a headline and link in Gmail; and save to Pocket.

If your social media responsibilities are extensive, you may want to upgrade to Feedly Pro for $45 a year. Feedly Pro lets you share via LinkedIn and HootSuite, and save to Evernote, OneNote, and Readability. Feedly Pro also lets you use a custom URL and provides a power search and a speed boost in displaying recent articles.

The CPS Photo Library and Flickr

Social media specialists are often on the hunt for visual content, another potential drain on time. Leishman points to two great sources for MIT photos that can save you from having to go out and take the photos yourself:

  • the self-same Flickr, a well-known image-hosting website.

In the CPS Photo Library, you’ll find images of students, MIT buildings, the dome, campus life, and more. New content is added on a regular basis. These photos are reserved for MIT use. Downloading is disabled until you create a Flickr account for your department and CPS confirms your MIT affiliation.

As for Flickr, says Leishman, “If you search on the keyword 'MIT,' you’ll see tons of images. People are fascinated by MIT.” Her main caveat is to pay attention when it comes to permissions. Usage rights are usually displayed beneath each photo. Photos with an "all rights reserved" designation require permission from the photographer before sharing. Some photographers may specify free usage with credit, while others don’t want you to crop or otherwise alter their photos. Flickr provides some basic advice on requesting permission to use a photo.

To learn more about Flickr, watch the course "Flickr Essential Training."


Finding content for your social media channels depends in part on monitoring activity that’s relevant to you and your department, lab, or center (DLC). Hootsuite, a social media management dashboard, is Leishman’s tool of choice both for managing tweets and monitoring hashtags, mentions, and more. In Hootsuite, you can set up many columns to track all of your social media channels in one place.

For starters, when you compose tweets, Hootsuite shortens the links using their proprietary URL and then shows you the analytics for those links. You can easily view your sent and scheduled tweets. You can add your social network profiles, which lets you easily scan your home feeds for social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. 

In another column, you can follow mentions of your Twitter account or the Twitter feeds of other people or organizations of interest. You might, for example, want to follow your department equivalent at peer institutions. You can also create columns that follow topics relevant to you or your DLC.

To illustrate how this works, Leishman describes her Hootsuite workflow as the social media manager for the Future of MIT Education Task Force:

  • She’s on the lookout for social media mentions of Rafael Reif and Anant Agarwal using Hootsuite’s keyword search. For example, she’ll see tweets about Reif or Agarwal discussing EdX or MITx or OCW at a conference. She can then retweet noteworthy posts.
  • She follows hashtags like #edfuture and #highered.
  • She made, and monitors, Twitter lists for the School of Engineering and the School of Science — lists that follow the Twitter accounts of all of the departments in those schools.
  • She’s created a Google+ circle called "MIT Faculty" that she’s pulled into Hootsuite. This lets her see everything MIT faculty are posting on Google+; she can share these posts on Google+ or any other social media channel.

If all of these functions seem like too much of a good thing, the Hootsuite Help Desk has created a Quick Start Guide to help you sort through the various options. You may also want to explore Hootsuite’s Resources page.

Like Feedly, Hootsuite is free, but if your social media role is significant, you may want to opt for a Hootsuite Pro plan. These start at $8.99 a month; Hootsuite offers a free 30-day trial.  


IFTTT stands for “If this, then that.” This free service lets you automate a process between two channels using conditional statements known as recipes. As outlined on the service’s About IFTTT page:

  • Channels are the basic building blocks of IFTTT. Examples include Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox, email, and LinkedIn. (IFTTT has 112 channels and this number is growing.) Each channel has its own triggers and actions.
  • Triggers are the "this" part of a recipe. An example of a trigger is “I post a photo on Instagram.”
  • Actions are the "that" part of a recipe, such as: “Save the photo to the Dropbox folder on my desktop.”

Essentially, an IFTTT recipe uses a piece of logic to make two channels work together. In the example above, whenever you post photos on Instagram, IFTTT will save them to your Dropbox folder. From there, you can easily access them for other purposes – to use in a blog post or add to Pinterest.

As in real-life recipes, IFTTT recipes have ingredients. These ingredients provide a way to customize how your recipe works. For example, you can have IFTTT add the date of the Instagram photo to the Dropbox filename.

You can search the IFTTT website for existing recipes (of which there are thousands) or create your own. And you can turn a recipe on or off, as needed.

Leishman offers these examples as ways to use IFTTT to manage social media.

  • In Feedly, the “save for later” command can trigger moving a news item to Buffer, a Facebook and LinkedIn scheduler. (Note: Hootsuite doesn’t have a channel on IFTTT.)
  • You can use IFTTT to post your Instagram photos as native pictures in your Twitter feed, ensuring that they won’t show up only as links.
  • Every time you post a tweet, IFTTT can save it to your spreadsheet in Google Drive, automating the process of archiving your tweets.

To get a handle on recipes, ingredients, triggers, and actions, watch the course "Up and Running with IFTTT."

As you can see, there’s a lot to try out in your quest to manage social media more effectively. Breathe mindfully as you contemplate this advice from Guru Leishman: “Automate what can be automated so you can spend more time on things that matter.”

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