Failing to thrive on social media is one of the greatest hurdles business owners face. It’s time consuming, and as soon as you get it figured out, the rules change and either you need to learn how to use a new social media platform or, thanks to new features or a new algorithm, you need to relearn how to make the most of the platforms you’re already using. Trying to keep on top of the numerous posts, conversations, and campaigns across multiple platforms can be overwhelming.
The best way to manage your numerous social media pages, profiles, and groups is to combine them all into one easy dashboard. Not only can this save a stressed-out social media manager a lot of time, it also allows you to use tools that you can’t find on the native social sites. There are dozens of tools that make social media easier and less time-consuming, but with so many options, how do you find the one that is right for you?
Which Platforms Must the Management Software Handle?
Where do you connect with your audience? There are a half dozen or more major social networks, and several more minor sites beyond that. You need a management software that works with your chosen social networks. While almost all are designed for Facebook and Twitter, if you want Instagram or Pinterest, you’re going to need to pay attention to the features list. The smaller the audience, the less likely it is that social management software will support it, so if your audience is on Tumblr, for example, you need to pay attention to which software choices work with that platform.
How Many People Need Access?
If you’re a small business and have one trusted team member in charge of all of your social media, your management software needs are a lot different from someone who has a large corporation, a digital marketing manager, and a social media team, all who need access to the management account. While there’s no sense in paying for more than you need, you also want to make sure that you’re not cutting yourself short. Also, because most management tools have different levels (and price ranges) based on the number of users, you can scale up or down as needed.
Which Features Meet Your Needs?
At the most basic level, social media management software offers the ability to cross-post to a few different platforms, see basic analytics, and schedule posts. If you’re committed to getting the most from your investment in social media, you probably need something a little more dynamic. Do you want a browser extension, making it easy to share articles with your followers? Do you want to combine your social media and content editorial calendars into one easy to build tool? Do you need advanced analytics to really understand your audience? Look to see which features are available, and then decide which ones are essential to the growth of your business, and which ones you can do without.
Which Extensions or Add-ons are Available?
Hootsuite has a series of third-party plugins that add functionality to the platform. Tailwind allows users to publish to Pinterest, for example. And they aren’t the only social media management software that have partnered with outside developers to create a more robust user experience. Some management tools work with Google Drive or Dropbox. Some, like CoSchedule, even work with other social media management tools. If you need features outside of what the management tool offers on its own, there might be a plugin or extension that will meet your needs, so it’s worth taking that into consideration when you’re making your decision.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
Social media isn’t free, and social management software is considered a premium web service. While most tools have a free, basic account option, you need to be willing to invest if you want expanded features. Some management options can cost up to, and beyond, $500 a month for large enterprises needing to accommodate a full team of social media managers, dozens of social media pages and profiles, and the most powerful features. If you’re an average-sized business, the perfect solution probably runs between $20 and $60 a month. You need to decide how much you’re willing to pay to get the social media solution that’s right for your brand.
What Will You Need In the Future?
Trying to decide between which features you need and your budget for right now is important, but it’s just as important to consider your needs six months to a couple years from now. As your company grows, so will your needs for a more robust social media management software. It’s better to pick a management service that can grow with you, and that offers the features you need not only right now, but also the ones you’ll need in the future, rather than learning the ins and outs of one service, and then having to start all over again a year from now.
Seven Common Choices Compared
Few social media management tools have the brand recognition and fan base enjoyed by Hootsuite.The basic plan is free, and is a good option for brand new users who need a more streamlined approach to handling up to three social media profiles. From there, there are scaleable options that run as much as $499 a month, designed for social media management companies and offering 50 social profiles and up to 10 users. They also have custom enterprise solutions, for businesses who need more.
You can also monitor your streams in Hootsuite. You can add separate streams for Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress, Instagram, and YouTube. Within each profile, you can monitor likes, retweets or shares, interactions, mentions, messages, and more. Hootsuite also integrates with a lot of outside apps, such as Google Drive, Trello, OneDrive for Business, Dropbox, and many more.
Like Hootsuite, Buffer is one of the most well-known, and well-loved, social media management software choices amongst small business owners. Like Hootsuite, basic accounts are free. You can use it to post across multiple social networks at the same time, schedule content, and measure basic analytics–all features that come standard in most social media management software. What sets Buffer apart is a scheduling feature that lets you set specific posting times, and then lets you set different times for each day of the week. Individual plan users (free accounts) can create one custom schedule for each platform you’re using. If you’re paying for an upgraded experience, you can create more custom schedules, allowing you to reach your followers at the best possible times. You also get access to “Rebuffer”, a quick way to reshare or repurpose your top-performing content.
Buffer also has a huge library of apps, extensions, and other tools to make your account more functional. With over 60 options, including IFTTT, Feedly, and Zappier, there are very few limits on what you can do with your account.
Oktopost offers social automation, a built-in editorial calendar, campaign management, and queue. They also offer advanced analytics that track everything from audience analysis and social engagement to content analysis and lead attribution. Content discovery and custom RSS feeds make for quick curation of the best content.
Those are mostly standard features for social media management software, but where Oktopost really stands out is in their Social Advocacy features. You can quickly and easily share content to your team members and employees, encouraging them to help spread the word and increasing overall views. Not only does this help your company, it also helps to develop your employees as marketers and thought leaders in their own right. There’s also an option to monitor which employees are getting the best results from their efforts, allowing managers to turn social media into a fun competition between team members. And, because Oktopost is optimized for team use, there are also team collaboration features, as well as the ability to set roles and permissions for each individual user.
With a robust list of features and an easy-to-use platform, SproutSocial is a popular choice among businesses who have outgrown basic social management tools and need to better understand, and better connect with, their audience. It was designed for small businesses who need a way to schedule posts and manage one-on-one interactions with ease. Unfortunately, you can’t manage LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, Tumblr, Pinterest, or other less-popular social media networks, so if those are sites you need, you’ll want to skip this one. SproutSocial makes up for this lack by pairing with ZenDesk, UserVoice, and Salesforce, allowing for customer service and support right within the SproutSocial app, a feature that sets them apart from the other options.
Crowdfire is a social media management platform for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. It helps you to schedule content, but the real power comes from the software’s ability to suggest relevant posts to share, analyze competitors and similar accounts, and even manage your blog, Youtube channel, Shopify, or Etsy sites right within the platform.
Crowdfire has a bit of a learning curve, and stands apart from the other social media management software, because of it’s unique interface. The main dashboard is set up like a large textbox, designed to walk you through different steps of managing your account. While Crowdfire shows a lot of promise, it is still in the development stage, with new features and better functionality planned for the near future.
Coschedule’s biggest strength is in its blog management capabilities. It’s designed to work with WordPress, and has a full-featured editorial calendar that connects with your blog through the CoSchedule plugin. However, they also have an impressive list of social media management offerings, too. You can connect with Twitter, Facebook (including profiles, pages, and groups), LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+ (through Buffer), and Pinterest. They’ve also taken their heavy duty content calendar and created an easy to use calendar that not only lets you schedule blog posts, but also all of your social media content. When you’re running a content marketing campaign and need to know how and when to promote content, this tool is invaluable. You can even schedule live videos and newsletters.
Audiense (was Social Bro)
Audiense combines the practicality of social media management software with analytics, campaign management, and social listening tools. It’s built with three core offerings: social insights, social advertising, and social marketing. In fact, it’s one of the few social media management tools that handle ads as well as regular content. There are two levels of services; the Audiense Connection Manager (for large companies) and the Audiense Community Manager (for smaller companies and start-ups). Using audience listening, this software provides in-depth follower insights, as well as the ability to reach them through social media account management. They also partner with IBM’s AI Watson, using the program’s Personality Insights API to get an in-depth and unparalleled understanding of user relevance and targeting.
Now That You’ve Selected a Management Tool, What Next?
All of these social media management tools offer a long list of exciting, high-powered features, and when you’re logging in for the first time, it can be overwhelming. There are some complicated offerings here. Rather than getting frustrated and burnt out by all of the tools, plugins, and special features, start with the basics. Once you feel confident with the software, you can expand your use from there.