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The gist: Any kind of recurring content series can get tricky to manage. But with user-generated content, you have to worry about managing other people in addition to the content itself. Here’s how one of my best students has used automation to turn the whole thing into a streamlined and automated process that’s been running for multiple years!


How to Organize and Automate the Chaos of User-Generated Content

Note from Brittany: Hi everyone! Today I’m really excited to share with you a case study from a Build Your Own VA student and fellow book nerd, Terri!

She uses some awesome automations to run a recurring feature on her blog, In the Spotlight, that uses content submitted by featured authors. We all know that publishing any consistent content is hard (I run a whole other blog about that 😉).

But it’s even more complicated when you’re publishing user-generated content and you have to rely on other people to get you the information you need in time. Even if you’re all organized and together, you can’t guarantee they will be. It’s like the “real-world” version of group project. 😝

Here’s how she uses apps and automation to collect all the information from the authors she features and communicate with them once it’s live! Over to Terri…

The History of “In the Spotlight”

Back in April 2015, I unexpectedly launched In the Spotlight, a feature for authors promote themselves and their writing. I wanted a slow rollout, but it took off like wildfire after one mention on Facebook.

Over the last two years I have featured over 90 authors via interviews, guest posts, and book release announcements. Working with authors can be tricky and stressful and since blogging is a hobby, I’ve sought out ways to make managing In the Spotlight a bit easier and automation has been the key to keeping my sanity.

Automating a Blog Feature: How “In the Spotlight” Comes Together

My toolbox: YouCanBook.Me, Zapier, MailerLite, and G Suite (Google Calendar, Docs, Forms & Sheets)

Booking Authors On the Editorial Calendar

In the Spotlight posts on Fridays, so first I make sure my Google Calendar is appropriately updated to block out any holidays and known vacations. YouCanBook.Me integrates with my Google Calendar, preventing an author from booking a feature when I’m not available.

Then authors can visit my appointment scheduler to schedule a date for their blog feature as you would schedule a meeting or Skype call online.

Once the feature is booked, YouCanBook.Me sends a customized email to the author and myself. I have 3 zaps that fire at that time.

  • Zap #1: A Google Drive folder is created containing the date and the first and last name of the author.
  • Zap #2: A draft email is created containing pertinent information about the feature.
  • Zap #3: The author is added to my In the Spotlight mailing list in MailerLite.

Google Drive Zapier Zap

I use a Google Sheet to have a macro view of my blogging schedule. There’s a formula in there attached to my blog post dates that calculates 60 days before the post date. This is the due date I put in the draft email that eventually gets sent to the author, as well as in their to-do list.

I also have a template directory in my Google Drive that contains all the documents I need to personalize for each feature. I copy the necessary documents and move them to the Google Drive folder created by Zap #1. I then update the documents based on the type of feature the author requested.

Next, I grab the sharing link for the directory (making sure the permissions to edit are enabled) and copy and paste that into the draft email created by Zap #2. I also copy that link into the author’s profile in MailerLite.

Automating Back-and-Forth Emails

Instead of emailing back and forth with authors asking for everything, I use an email marketing tool to send them everything they need. I just recently switched to MailerLite and am attempting to use their Automation feature. That’s why I copy the sharing URL into the author’s record.

I set up an email to automatically send 65 days before the feature date with a reminder to check to make sure they submitted all the items on their To Do List.

This SHOULD end up being 5 days before the actual due date in my Google Sheet. (Note: I’m still testing this automation so I’m excited to learn if it actually works in a real application, and not just in testing.)

The next part is a waiting game of answering emails (not everyone is tech savvy), writing, and coding (thank goodness for templates and scheduling the feature).

Promoting Published Blog Features

I use CoSchedule to schedule social media promotion for up to one month via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Because readers often leave comments for the authors, I also use Comment Mail to manage subscriptions to posts.

Once the post goes live, I have set up another automation within MailerLite to alert the author that their feature is live and invite them to complete a satisfaction survey.

Once the survey is completed, a final Zap comes into play. This updates key information on the author’s record, including whether or not they would like to be featured again and their level of satisfaction. I also have a larger text box on the survey to capture testimonials.

I use these three key pieces of information in the following ways.

  1. When the feature was 1 year old, I reached out to authors who had a high level of satisfaction with their feature experience and asked them to sponsor a giveaway.
  2. I’ve used positive testimonials on my In the Spotlight page.
  3. While I have not had a problem filling all the available In the Spotlight features since its inception, if I ever did have a problem, I would reach out to those authors who indicated they wanted to be featured again to offer them spots.

What’s Next?

It’s taken me two full years to reach this level of automation with the In the Spotlight feature. Brittany, her inspiring posts, and my love to learn new technology are largely responsible for In the Spotlight surviving for two years.

I’ve largely been able to manage the feature without needing to pay much beyond the tools (domain, hosting, and CoSchedule) I am using to manage Second Run Reviews. However, as software companies evolve, change, and start charging for integrations, I have begun surveying my featured authors regarding how much they would be willing to pay for an In the Spotlight feature.

So far the response to paying has been positive! So I’ve started exploring payment integrations available via YouCanBook.Me and other scheduling services, including the cut those services may take for processing payments. That way if I decide to charge, I am at least covering my costs.

Is my goal to make money from In the Spotlight? Not necessarily. 

My goal has always been to connect readers and authors. However, since blogging for me at this point is a hobby, I need to make sure that I’m making the most of my time and providing a top notch service for the authors I work with and I realize that, in the future, that may require charging a small fee for the feature.

The Final Word

Managing a weekly feature can be difficult and time consuming. Looking for repetitive tasks and finding tools like Zapier anding utilizing automation features within services like MailerLite have made all the difference and directly contribute to the success of In the Spotlight. I’m excited to see the evolution of the services I use and discover new services that will make managing In the Spotlight easier.

It’s also important to evaluate the tools used to manage features and determine what the next step might be in taking the feature to the next level, may it be switching to a different piece of software or charging for the feature. I look forward to the next evolution of In the Spotlight and learning more from Brittany and her followers.

So let me know in comments if you manage a feature like In the Spotlight and what tools you use to make managing it easier!

About Terri0094 042316Mini by RP

Terri M. LeBlanc is a master planner and a self professed book dragon. Working in higher education and marketing for over 10 years, Terri successfully planned and launched hundreds of calling and email marketing campaigns to students around the world. On computers since 1983, Terri loves seeking out and learning new technology and sharing her knowledge with others. She is currently employed at Author Accelerator as their Launch and Operations Specialist working to automate the course launch process.

In her spare time, Terri enjoys reading and reviewing books for her blog, Second Run Reviews and The Cedar Rapids Gazette. She volunteers for ICON, Iowa’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention and is one of the lead organizers for Imagine Other Worlds with Authors, a multi-genre author signing event. When not absorbed in the world of books, Terri can be found riding horse, shooting pictures and spending time watching movies with her husband while cuddling her two cats.

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