So 20 years ago we decided the Internet was no longer a fad, and we definitely needed a website for our business. Then 15 years ago we decided social media was something we need to pay attention to, and now we realize it is essential in our media mix as well. For the past five years, we have been paying attention to content and active engagement.

Well, just like the others, it’s not something you “want to have” – it is very much a “need to have.” Therefore, you are now starting to re-engage storytellers, bloggers, community managers, and the likes in an effort to create better, more engaging content.

All of these are the right moves, and I applaud you for embracing what is now.

With acceptance comes efficiency, with efficiency, comes an eye on the budget, and with an eye on the budget comes automation and streamlining services*. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that many brands, both large and small, are looking to outside content creators as well as third-party services to fill the channels. You finally now understand that you need the content, you certainly don’t have the time, it just makes sense to hire it out.

The industry has heard you! And they are rapidly constructing environments for you to spend money on their services. That said, let’s examine some of them and understand the pros and the cons:

Content agencies

As you might assume, a content agency is much like an advertising agency in that they should (this doesn’t mean that they do) work with your current marketing plan to create content for your social media channels.

Cloud-based design apps

So you know you’re not a graphic designer. But you know that you need graphic design and images to enhance your social media content. “There is an app for that.” Sad but true, in some cases, there are replacements for designers.

Content creation apps

Canva — There are dozens of tools like this in the marketplace. However, I found this one to probably be the best. Simple WYSIWYG formulas of utilizing images, text, and an assortment of basic design tools allow you to quickly create elements that can be shared across your social media channels.

Pros: If you don’t have a graphic designer, nor any amount of time on your hands this is not a bad way to make boring posts a little bit more compelling.

Cons: More often than not, social media channels start to get “a look” when utilizing these types of services on an ongoing basis. Stylistically, if you don’t have diversification in your design scenarios, your content feed will achieve a certain level of mediocrity.

Copy creation apps

In the most terrifying example is the machine learning website application called PepperType. Why so spooky, because it’s REALLY good at what it does. Need subject lines? Type in a smattering of words pertaining to the end goal and – boom. Multiple variations. Revise what would be plagiarized content – boom. Revamp aging copy. Boom.

Pros: Does a terribly good job if you’re a small team and need and are need of a never-ending source of content.

Cons: Just like all things are made to be automated, it takes the skills of crafting baseline thinking. In short garbage in — garbage out. The better writer you are currently, the better the optionally crafted results will be.

Curator and aggregator applications

After RSS feeds gained popularity and then began to plateau, smart developers created environments where brands and required content could go and have automated searches pull related interests to them. These aggregated feeds then are automatically distributed to your social media channels, appearing as though you have done the work and associated it with your brand and its interests.

Paper.li and Scoop.it – These are just a couple of examples of these aggregators. Again, I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with using them as long as it is not done as the core foundation of your content. These types of applications should be seen as “filler”, and/or the Jello that fills the cracks of your real conversation.

Pros: These applications will autonomously search, create and distribute content from your brands on your behalf.

Cons: Anything that is done autonomously is also done in a fashion that is “out of sight, out of mind,” and often creates the potential danger of pulling content that is in conflict with your brand.

Content automation

Content automation comes in all forms. The vast majority of social media professionals are probably utilizing a social media dashboard such as HootSuite, HubSpot, or Sprout Social. And in some cases, they might use enterprise-level solutions such as Sprinklr. All are phenomenal tools and are the essential backbone of social media and content programs.

But the purpose of this article is for you to understand the commoditization inside of these mediums. In most cases, the social media dashboards still require a comprehensive understanding of what is happening with the content you are distributing.

IFTTT — “If This Than That” is one of the most powerful autonomous tools in the Internet marketplace. This tool single-handedly allows you to create “recipes” that trigger actions that occur in response to a primary action.

(Action “A”) – Let’s call this a Tweet, can lead to (Action “B”) the same post being published to Facebook automatically. This appears on the surface to be a highly efficient tool to support deployment initiatives. Keep in mind that scissors are a perfectly good tool unless you are running and fall down on them.

Ergo — With great power comes great responsibility – Uncle Ben (Spiderman)

Pros: By creating recipes, you can create, deploy, and schedule content autonomously; saving time and increasing efficiency.

Con: Without a proper understanding and respect for this tool, it can create redundancy of distribution, and appear that you are utilizing one post to cover all channels. In the world of social media content marketing, this technique can ruin a relationship with your community and adversely affect your brand.

Commoditization in any industry is a given. In many cases, it can be a very good thing. When it comes to content, however, remember that a sound set of goals and objectives led by a powerful story crafted in a unique environment is going to be the most effective play a marketer can make.

*If you already have content creators within your internal marketing departments, they should utilize these services as an “add to” versus a replacement. As long as you have an effective team, I’m certainly not advocating that you start reducing headcount. With effective use, these tools can make your team more effective and let them focus on creating even more great content.