Automatically Publishing to Social Networks

An article looking at your options for automatically publishing your website content updates to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Introduction

If you run a website, you want your readers to be able to be notified about new content as soon as you publish it. Rather than coming back to visit your site periodically to see if there is any new content, people are more inclined to consume these updates via an automated feed mechanism.

Traditionally this has been an RSS or Atom feed. You readers add your feed to their favourite RSS reader, and when they refresh their feeds you newly published content will appear in summary form along with a link back to the original content on your site for the reader to click through to. This is still a very important mechanism for any site.

However many people are not using RSS feed readers, but instead:

  1. Look at news aggregation sites like Digg and Technorati.
  2. Follow people on Twitter.
  3. Connect to people on Facebook and LinkedIn, or become fans of pages on Facebook.

In this article, I will show you how you can use your existing RSS/Atom site feed to auto-publish to these services, to publish your updates into the social network as widely as possible. While the list of services we will publish to will not be exhaustive, it will cover most of the big networks out there presently:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Digg
  • Technorati

Publishing to Facebook with RSS Graffiti

Graffiti is writing on walls. RSS Graffiti allows you to write on Facebook walls. It is a plug-in for Facebook that consumes RSS feeds and publishes them to targeted walls, be they personal profile walls or Facebook page walls.

The basic flow is as follows:

  1. You publish new content on your site, which is included in your RSS/Atom feed.
  2. RSS Graffiti inspects your feed on a periodic basis (you can configure this once you install RSS Graffiti on your Facebook account).
  3. RSS Graffiti then publishes the new content to you wall, with a link back to the original content on your site.
  4. All of your Facebook friends (or Facebook page fans) are notified in their Facebook news feeds of your new content.

You can install this plug-in for Facebook from here:

RSS Graffiti

Publishing to Twitter with Twitter Feed

In many ways, Twitter is becoming the natural successor to RSS. Many have started to argue that it will replace it (see for example Rest in Peace, RSS). People follow you on Twitter, then when they load up their favourite Twitter client (a huge amount of which are running on handset devices), they are notified of your latest content via a "tweet". There are limitations however:

  1. Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet.
  2. Twitter will not read from an RSS feed directly.

To work around these limitations, you can use Twitter Feed:

Twitter Feed

Twitter Feed will read your RSS feed periodically (again, configurable), and post these updates to your Twitter account via the Twitter API. Twitter Feed will ensure that each tweet is kept within the 140 character limit, which will include the title of your new content, perhaps the first few characters of the content, and then a link to the content. The beauty is that Twitter Feed will use a URL shortener service like Bit.ly to shorten your content URLs to help them fit within the 140 character limit.

The flow is as follows:

  1. You publish new content on your site, which is included in your RSS/Atom feed.
  2. Twitter Feed inspects your feed on a periodic basis (you can configure this once you sign up for a Twitter Feed account).
  3. Twitter Feed then publishes the new content to your Twitter follows.
  4. All of your Twitter follows are notified of your new content.

Publishing to LinkedIn with Twitter

While LinkedIn does not accept an RSS feed, it does allow you to connect a Twitter account to your LinkedIn account, which allows you to publish your latest tweets highlighting your new content to your professional network on LinkedIn, complete with the shortened URL to the content on your website.

The flow is as follows:

  1. You publish new content on your site, which is included in your RSS/Atom feed.
  2. Twitter Feed inspects your feed on a periodic basis (you can configure this once you sign up for a Twitter Feed account).
  3. Twitter Feed then publishes the new content to your Twitter follows.
  4. LinkedIn detects the new Tweet on your Twitter account, and publishes this as the status of your LinkedIn profile.
  5. All of your LinkedIn connections are notified of your new content.

Sometimes you may want to write something in Twitter that you do not want to appear in LinkedIn. This in not a problem, as you can configure LinkedIn to only read tweets with a special "hash tag" of #in and ignore the rest. You can then configure Twitter Feed to automatically append the #in hash tag to the end of the posts coming from your site's RSS feed, meaning your site content will make it all the way to LinkedIn, but your other tweets will not (unless you manually add the #in to the tweet yourself of course).

Publishing to Digg and Technorati directly with RSS

I am putting these two together because they have a lot of similarities:

  1. They accept an RSS or Atom feed directly, so no need for an intermediary service.
  2. The both have a similar activation process: a code is generated by Technorati/Digg which you must then place in your feed temporarily until the feed is verified.
  3. Getting visitors from these sites is based on popularity or relevance, as opposed to someone following you or your site.

Technorati

Technorati.com

Technorati scores a site based on it's "authority" in certain categories, which you choose when you first submit your site. The authority is based on tags placed on your site, as well as content relevance to selected categories and linking behaviour.

You can find out more about Technorati authority here: Technorati Authority FAQ

Digg

Digg.com

Digg popularity is based on how many users of Digg vote ("digg") for the content. If your content gets a lot of diggs, it will rank higher up and gain more visibility, with the ultimate aim to get onto the Digg.com homepage.

Conclusion

Once your have all of your publishing services set up, this is how it will look:

Of course you can discover more to add to widen your reach, but this is a good start!

John Collins

I have been writing about web technology and software development since 2001. I am the developer of the Alpha Framework for PHP, and the five.today personal productivity app. I love open source, technology, and economics.