Social Media Management Tools to the Rescue

By Julie Knudson | Posted June 26, 2014

It's nearly impossible to run a small business today without participating in social media, even if it's with great reluctance. However, the push to have a presence on every social media network drives some small business owners to spread themselves too thin.

"The two biggest social media challenges I hear from small businesses are finding the time to 'squeeze' social media onto their already full plates and coming up with content to engage their target market," says Kathy Gray, social media marketing strategist at Pole Position Marketing, a search engine optimization and digital marketing firm.

Consumers expect businesses to have a social media presence, but Gray says that small business owners need a strategy if they want to effectively engage their target market. "It's important to consider your business goals, the time and resources available, which buyer personas you're trying to reach, and where those buyer personas are active on social media." With your business goals in mind, it's time to craft and implement a plan.

Social Media Management Tips for Small Business

Social media tools streamline and simplify the social media experience, and they let you tackle far more online customer engagement than you can with standalone platforms. These social media dashboards put multiple social channels in one place and provide better monitoring and analysis of your social media plan's performance. "Using these social media tools can be very helpful for time-strapped small businesses," says Gray

Buffer, a social media tool for small business

Buffer, a social media management platform, offers different pricing tiers for every budget.

Gray offers a few tips to help you provide the best experience for both your social media team and for your target market. First, she says don’t automate every post. "Often those 'in-the-moment' posts are the best received by your audience." Too much automation also discourages the truly interactive conversations that social channels make possible. "If you set-it-and-forget-it and never engage in two-way communication, you're missing the 'social' in social media," she explains.

What features should you look for in a social media management platform? Start with the ability to schedule posts and to allow an admin to review content before posting. "Also ask about other useful features a provider offers," says Gray. "Can you collaborate with multiple team members? Can you see basic engagement stats such as how many likes, shares, and comments each post has received?"

In addition, she says it's important to know what the content looks like when it's posted to social media from the platform. "With some tools, it's obvious that you're scheduling all of your posts," she says.

Here's an overview of three social media management platforms with pricing tiers within reach of most small businesses.

Social Media Management Platforms for Small Business

Buffer

Buffer offers a free 7-day trial, after which you have a range of increasingly higher-priced options. The Awesome Plan (the most affordable of the bunch at $10 per month) is designed more for very social individuals rather than businesses, but may appeal to many small businesses. This entry-level package supports up to 10 social accounts.

Business-level plans come in Small (25 accounts for $50/month), Medium (50 accounts for $100/month) and Large (150 accounts for $250/month).The business plans include a host of popular features. You can set Administrator rights to ensure posts receive the proper approvals. Multi-factor authentication is available for better security. Aggregated statistics and comparison tools are part of the analytics package. You can add up to 25 team members.

Mobile apps: Android and iPhone devices.

Hootsuite

The free plan accommodates up to three social accounts, but for businesses using more than that (think YouTube and Instagram) the Pro plan ($8.99 per month) includes support for up to 50 social accounts with another 50 available as an add-on. Take advantage of the Pro plan's 30-day trial to give the platform a whirl before plunking down your cash. Hootsuite also offer an Enterprise plan for larger organizations, with pricing determined based on needs.

Hootsuite social media management tool

In addition to its free offering, Hootsuite offers an affordable paid social media management option.

All plans include the ability to schedule posts, though those capabilities have greater limitations in the free plan. You can set permissions within the team to better control posting. It's also possible to archive messages and drafts, in case your team has a great idea whose time has not yet come.

The platform makes analytics reports available in escalating number and complexity as the pricing plans go up. In the Pro and Enterprise plans, several tools and widgets make report generation easier and more powerful.

Free accounts include SSL security, while higher-grade plans feature additional security measures. Mobile apps: iOS and Android devices.

Sprout Social

A 30-day free trial gets your small business going, after which you can choose from two tiered plans starting at $59 per month with support for up to 20 social accounts. An enterprise-level package starts at $1,500 per month.

Sprout Social social media management tools

Pricing for Sprout Social starts at $59 per month.

The lower-level plans feature brand monitoring, which lets SMBs track keywords. You can see what people are saying about your brand, what's going on with a particular hashtag, or which conversations are happening around a specific topic.

Those same plans also provide social CRM tools and reporting tools. You can pull reports from across multiple social media channels and profiles, and you can export data in CSV or PDF format. Create and delegate tasks across the team to disperse the workload and keep everything moving forward. A content calendar provides a location to plan and schedule posts.

Higher tiers add integration with Google Analytics, advanced security measures, permission features, and up to 50 social profiles. Mobile apps: Android, iPhone and iPad.

Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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