Up until a few years ago we have been able to manage our social media efforts manually, posting as and when we have something to say or some useful content to share. This approach works for most start-up and small businesses, but normally only for a short time. As soon as growing the business becomes the focus, social media becomes a priority for engaging with and nurturing clients, and you will quickly find yourself too busy to manually handle daily posts across multiple social media channels.
As the second installation in our ‘Theme of the Week’ series, we have chosen to look at social media management (SMM) tools. There are a vast number of these products on the market and not all will suit everyone’s needs. To help businesses make an informed decision we are going to look at how to evaluate a social media management tool to find the right one for you and your business. Each SSM tool has different feature sets, ease of use differ and then of course pricing plays an important role. The best way to find the one that will work for you is to evaluate each tool, but you can use our list below to at least narrow it down to 3 or 4 that you can take a closer look at.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT NEEDS
What is it that your business does on social media? Do you share original content on Facebook and LinkedIn? Do you run contests and competitions to build lists? Do you engage with your audience on visual platforms only such as Instagram and Pinterest? Do you sell products through Facebook, nurturing the sale with ongoing engagement? There’s a long list of the ways in which businesses interact with and use social media to promote their brand, tell their story and talk to their audience. You need to know exactly what you want to achieve with your social engagement before considering the other factors in our list below.
KNOW YOUR BUDGET
Every business has a budget and it is one of the most important factors to keep in mind. There is no point in looking at a top end product if you simply can’t afford it. The flip side of this is that it is just as pointless looking at a product that is either free or very cheap purely because it is free or cheap. If you want to get bang for your buck look at products that offer discounts for paying annually, offer free trials and products that allow you to combine features or add-on capabilities so that you can manage more whilst keeping within your budget.
TIP: When evaluating the different product tiers using a free trial make sure to sign up for the tier that you can afford. There is no point in evaluating the top tier if it is out of your price range!
WHAT FEATURES ARE REQUIRED?
SMM tools usually provide a number of pricing tiers based on the number of features available. Whether you are an agency managing your client’s social media activities or a small business looking to streamline your own efforts, you will need to define some of the following:
- How many users will manage your communication?
- How many social networks do you need to connect?
- What level of analytics do you require?
- Do you need any additional features?
WHICH SOCIAL NETWORKS WILL YOUR BUSINESS USE?
This consideration will essentially weed out tools you won’t use from ones you will further evaluate. It is unlikely you will find one tool that caters for ALL your social media networks, though as this is a rapidly changing space, I’m sure such a tool is not far away. More points for consideration in this regard are whether the tool allows access to all areas of a network such as company pages, groups and whether you are able to like, reply, comment etc. directly from the tool.
WHAT ARE YOUR CONTENT PUBLISHING AND SCHEDULING NEEDS?
Serving up interesting and useful content to your audience is probably one of the most time-consuming tasks businesses now face. Look at whether the SMM tool offers scheduling of content as this feature will help reduce the stress of making sure you post regularly and at the optimal times. It’s ideal if you can create or curate content in advance, queue it up and leave it to be published at your chosen time. Some tools even create a posting schedule for you based on analytics of the best time to serve content to your audience. You should endeavor to find a tool that makes content publishing and scheduling easy.
CONTENT PUBLISHING VS SOCIAL INTERACTION
Decide whether it is important for your business to purely publish content or is it a priority to interact and engage with your audience. Some tools push notifications from networks making it easy to see mentions, likes etc. as they happen, affording your business the opportunity to respond. If this is one of your primary aims or your social strategy, select a tool that will meet this need.
MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS
It is a well-known fact that you won’t know what you are doing well or what you are doing badly if you are not measuring it. Look for tools that give you insights and that integrate with Google Analytics or similar. If you like hard copy reports, make sure that the reports are exportable and printable.
APPS & BROWSER EXTENSIONS
Many tools have apps that you can add-on and integrate with the existing product to give you added functionality. For any tool that you are evaluating you should look at all the integrations available and the cost of these. Browser extensions are an invaluable time saver – by utilising these you can quickly curate content on the go as you find it on the web.
BEING INNOVATIVE & ADAPTING TO CHANGE
Look for a tool that adds new features or capabilities to make the overall package better for the user, as well as tools that continually adapt to the rapidly changing social media landscape. As technology advances, SMM tools should endeavor to keep up and provide their user base with significant reasons to stay loyal.
PUTTING IT ALL TO WORK
The SMM tool should streamline your processes and improve their execution. It should reduce time, help organise all your efforts and you shouldn’t need a degree to use it! When you have a clear understanding of your business’ social media needs, you will be able to make an informed decision as to WHICH social media management tool you would like to employ. If you do not know where to start, compare your ‘needs list’ to what the current major industry players offer. We have trialed a number of them ourselves and are happy to recommend the following as likely good all-round candidates:
- 11 Keys to Selecting the Right Social Media Tools | Social Media Today. 2016. 11 Keys to Selecting the Right Social Media Tools | Social Media Today. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/11-keys-selecting-right-social-media-tools. [Accessed 20 April 2016].
- How to Pick the Right Social Media Management Tool: 8 Questions to Ask. 2016. How to Pick the Right Social Media Management Tool: 8 Questions to Ask. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.iliyanastareva.com/blog/perfect-social-media-management-tool. [Accessed 20 April 2016].
- 10 Features Business Owners Should Look for When Evaluating Social Media Management Tools | Michelle Hummel | LinkedIn. 2016. 10 Features Business Owners Should Look For When Evaluating Social Media Management Tools | Michelle Hummel | LinkedIn. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-features-business-owners-should-look-when-social-media-hummel. [Accessed 20 April 2016].