Do you want to know how you can best leverage social media to help your small business succeed and increase revenues?
In a moment, we’ll look at some of the best social media management tools that will help you do more with less. Let’s first take a minute to help you understand why you should take the time now to decide whether you should invest some of your marketing and advertising efforts in social media. Making the wrong decision can threaten the future of your business.
It’s no secret that social media has become an important marketing channel for small businesses. Last year, we highlighted the results of a 2012 study showing that small businesses were significantly increasing their social media budgets. This was not surprising – it has become increasingly apparent that many (but not all) small businesses see good results when they invest in social media (see below graphic, from our infographic showing how small businesses are using social media. In fact, some small businesses can leverage social media in creative ways to indirectly support their marketing. For example, some small businesses deliver customer service through social media. Others leverage sites like Pinterest to build communities and to communicate with potential customers.
The most recent trend in social media has focused on “content marketing” – creating information that has value to others, and distributing/promoting it through various channels, including social media. We recently wrote about the content marketing trend – and the paradox for small businesses.
I asked at the start of this post whether you wanted to know how you can better leverage social media to help your small business. Time is your most precious resource and like most small business owners, you have very little spare time. How can you do more with less?
There are some free or low-cost tools that will help you manage your social media efforts in a streamlined way. They’ll not only help you amplify your engagement on multiple networks, they’ll help you do it through one or at most, several, easy-to-use tools. And with most, you can collaborate with your employees to allow more people to help with your social media efforts.
Let’s look at some of the best tools.
HootSuite is a very useful and popular social media tool. Don’t be confused by the logos of the big Brands using HootSuite that you’ll see on the HootSuite site. Although it’s a popular tool for enterprise customers too, HootSuite has some great features for small businesses. We’ve used it at crowdSPRING for a number of years and think that it would be very good for most small businesses. There’s a free plan – good for most small businesses, and also an affordable paid plan ($9.99 per month) that offers more functionality.
HootSuite allows you to manage your accounts on multiple social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, WordPress, etc. Importantly, you do that from one dashboard, without having to visit each of those social networks.
You can manage multiple social profiles (for example, your small business profiles AND your own personal profiles). You can schedule messages and posts – a useful solution when you can’t be around at various times in the day. You can track mentions about your company across the various social networks and then engage when you find those mentions. You also can analyze data to figure out whether your activities are helping or hurting your brand – or having little effect.
If you have several people who help manage your social media presence, HootSuite offers nice collaboration tools that allow you to collaborate better. You can assign, for example, messages for follow-up, give granular permissions to some users but not others, and monitor how others on your team are doing.
Most small businesses have no idea whether their social media efforts are helping – and to what extent. HootSuite offers some great analytics and custom reports to help you assess your social campaigns. This is important – if you can’t measure what you’re doing, you can’t decide whether you should keep doing it or stop. And importantly, you can’t decide what tactics are working best and which are falling on deaf ears.
Crowdbooster is another good option for consolidating your social media management efforts. Crowdbooster used to be free, but currently offers only paid plans (there’s a 30 day free trial on all paid plans), including a $9 per month plan that should be perfect for many small businesses.
Crowdbooster has some limitations compared to HootSuite. For example, it currently supports only Twitter and Facebook. But if offers much of the same functionality that HootSuite offers, including scheduled messages, reports and analytics, ability to manage multiple accounts, and more.
I have not used Crowdbooster, but I know they’ve grown quickly (over 100,000 users) and a lot of people like their service.
Sprout Social is another popular social media management and monitoring platform. Like Crowdbooster, it has a smaller scope than HootSuite – it will help you manage Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Blogs (but not other social networks). For most small businesses, this would be sufficient.
All Sprout Social plans are paid plans, starting with a $39 per month plan that would be more than sufficient for most small businesses. There’s a 30 day free trial on all plans.
Sprout Social has robust reporting and workflow management features. For example, you can see all activity in one stream, schedule messages, monitor mentions, assign tasks to other people, and do many more things.
I have not used Sprout Social, but companies I admire (Behance, MailChimp) have used them, and that tells me the product is pretty good.
If you’re already comfortable using the various social networks individually or are already using dedicated tools (TweetDeck, TweetBot, etc.) and not looking for a centralized management platform, I would encourage you to take a look at Buffer to help you centrally share across different networks and to schedule the times and dates when you share content. Buffer is an awesome tool – I’ve used it for some time and highly recommend it. It’s super simple to use.
Buffer offers a free plan good for most, but you also can subscribe to a $10 per month plan that offers some additional functionality (that’s the plan I use).
Buffer doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the other services, but that’s because it focuses on a very specific problem for people – how to more easily share across social networks, and how to measure whether what you’re sharing is of interest to people. Buffer lets you share right in your browser (via extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari) and also from your mobile phone. It manages multiple accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LiinkedIn and App.net) and gives you useful analytics (plus on the paid plan, you can collaborate with others).
Instead of having to visit a social network to share something you just read, you can “buffer” it right in your browser and schedule it to share at a later time/date (you can also share immediately). This lets you better distribute the content you share across networks and at different times, amplifying your presence.
Which Service is Best For You?
You can’t go wrong with any of the tools we discussed above. Ultimately, it’ll come down to your budget, personal preference, and what you need. If you need a tool that covers the most social networks, HootSuite would be your best choice. If you only need to focus on a few social networks, then the other services would work very well too. And, since all the service offer free trials, it’s easy for you to try a few and compare yourself before choosing one to use long-term.
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