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Marketing automation is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, marketing automation can be a life-saver for busy marketers. The power to schedule blogs, social media posts and other material helps you get ahead of the curve and avoid the last-minute scramble that often leads to sub-par content.

I’ve used a number of great marketing automation systems on behalf of clients, and I’m definitely not alone in my choice.

With your content cued up and ready to go, you can focus on other priorities—right? Yes … but only to a point. With content schedulers, there’s a risk that the pendulum can swing too far the other way.

Schedulers enable marketers to not only map out their plan, but also pre-program their content far in advance. I’ve actually seen companies scheduling pre-written content a year or more ahead—and they were surprised at my dismayed reaction.

Where’s the danger? Think of it this way: if you’re scheduling your content months in advance, you’re not being topical. You’re not responding to current conversations. You’re only broadcasting.

Quality is critical to today’s content marketing, and creating quality content means being part of the conversation. This requires tracking what your competitors are publishing, and ensuring that your content covers new ground or examines different angles of familiar subjects. Good content also requires you to be open to feedback from your audience and to respond to that feedback through additional materials. With only pre-programmed content, you reduce or lose your ability to engage with your audience, the market and the actions of competing brands.

What’s the solution?

The key is finding the right balance. For many organizations, planning and pre-programming your content up to a month in advance is usually a good choice. This allows you the security of knowing your have content cued up with the flexibility to change and modify things in coming weeks.

Next, make sure you’re tracking the conversation. Connect with your audience, pay attention to the wider market, and keep an eye on what your competitors are doing. Then evaluate: is what you’re producing still relevant? Is your plan for the coming months going to help differentiate your content or will you need to shift focus?

There’s no problem with having a content calendar that outlines your plan for the coming weeks, months or even the year ahead—so long as you still allow yourself flexibility. It’s best to wait until a couple of months prior to actually produce the content you have planned. Don’t be afraid to tweak content to better fit the conversation as the publication date approaches, and always use your judgment on the best time to post each piece.

Marketing automation can be a powerful tool for any marketer—as long as you remain nimble, responsive and part of the wider conversation.