EchoDitto's client offerings include assistance with digital strategies beyond your website -- including social media. One question we often receive from clients is "What is the best tool to manage our social media outreach?" Unpacking this question gets at four core concerns for most non-profits and businesses:
- A desire for a better workflow to manage Facebook page(s), Twitter account(s) and other social media properties. For example, it is pretty darn inefficient to use twitter.com to manage multiple Twitter accounts, as you need to log out and log in for each account. A good tool lets you manage multiple accounts from multiple properties within the same dashboard.
- A desire to optimize the content we are publishing, to get the most eyeballs on what we are tweeting or posting on Facebook. A good tool lets you add multiple posts at once, but then space out when they get published. That way, you don't have 10 posts to Facebook or a dozen tweets all in a row.
- A desire to find out more about the audience and the competition. There is a sea of data about your fans and followers, and you just need to make sense of it. A good tool provides you with clear and actionable insights into what your audience is interested in and responding to.
- A desire to know what the ROI is on social media outreach. A good tool lets you set goals and track campaigns to find out which channels are driving the largest number of sign-ups for your email list, donations or purchases.
The good news is that there are dozens of social media applications and tools that help you address these four concerns. To find out which tools offer the best value, I put a dozen of the most promising tools through a set of trials, using tools to post content to Twitter and Facebook as well as live-tweeting a conference.
In today's post, I'll detail five excellent free or low-cost tools -- $60/month or less. A very solid free option is to "roll your own" toolkit with the combination of TweetDeck, Buffer, and CrowdBooster to listen, post and track your social media outreach. For $10/mo HootSuite Pro will give a tool that does everything in one place, but no specific task particularly well. And for $60/month SproutSocial will give you good analytics-at-a-glance.
In a follow-up post next week, I'll detail the top-performing premium tools that, if you have the budget, provide some extremely compelling features.
A caveat: as any carpenter knows, the tool itself won't build the house on its own. Building your community or increasing conversions is going to take strategic thinking that sets appropriate goals, smart planning that works backwards from those goals, and execution of your strategy.
Basic listening and posting for Twitter: TweetDeck (free)
TweetDeck is a desktop application provided free from Twitter that allows you to post to multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts. TweetDeck lets you post the same message to multiple accounts at the same time, which can be helpful. It has a column-based interface that lets you monitor streams of activity, including searches and lists. TweetDeck lets you manually schedule your posts, but I find myself rarely doing it as you have to choose the exact date/time. TweetDeck's Facebook tool isn't as polished as the other tools, so if you want to manage both Twitter and Facebook in one tool, you'll need to keep looking.
Screen-shot of TweetDeck's activity streams.
Basic free time-based posting tool: Buffer App (free version)
Buffer is a web-based app that does one thing, and does it well: use Buffer to write your posts, and it will post them for you spaced throughout the day. Under the free plan you get to add one Twitter, one Facebook and one LinkedIn account. The interface is slick and easy to use. Under the free plan, you don't get to decide exactly when Buffer posts your content, and you can "load" only 10 posts at a time. You also get to use your custom domain for links, which is nice for branding. There are bookmarklets that allow you to add a post to Buffer right from the web.
Buffer is great for individuals or groups with only one Twitter account and one Facebook account. If you upgrade to the "Awesome" plan at $10/month you can have two team members per social media profile.
You can use Buffer in conjunction with most of the other tools here -- e.g. use Buffer to post, but TweetDeck to listen.
Screen-shot of Buffer in action.
Free basic analytics: CrowdBooster (free version)
CrowdBooster focuses on providing you with analytics about the impact of your tweets and Facebook posts, and the free plan allows you to have one Twitter account and one Facebook account. After hooking up your accounts to CrowdBooster, you’ll be able to see charts that tell you the number of people who viewed or interacted with your content. Unfortunately, you’ll need to select each account separately: there is no combined viewing. If you have posted enough content, CrowdBooster can recommend which times to post at, and has a rudimentary posting and scheduling system.
Screen-shot of CrowdBooster's Twitter analytics
Best all-around option for small budgets and small staff: HootSuite ($10/mo "Pro" version)
At $10/month HootSuite gives you a solid toolkit that covers most of the bases, but is marred by a clunky and unintuitive interface.
You get a web-based application with an unlimited number of social profiles (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more). Similar to TweetDeck, you have a dashboard of column-style streams of activity for each of your profiles, plus Twitter searches and lists. You can post updates via HootSuite, but the scheduler requires you to set a specific post time. At the Pro level, you are able to have two users that can have access some or all of the properties. You'll get one free report (which you'll likely use for Twitter statistics).
Unfortunately, there are some additional features HootSuite charges extra for. If you want to use your own custom short domain (e.g. we use http://ech0.me for EchoDitto), HootSuite charges you an outrageous additional $50/month. While HootSuite provides "Google Analytics integration" at the "pro" level, you'll need to purchase an additional report for $50/month to display this data. You can use TweetDeck or Buffer to post outside of HootSuite.
And I'd be remiss not to mention that HootSuite has the least intuitive interface of all the tools I tested. This is function-over-form territory here, and you'll need to sink some time into learning how to navigate the application.
Best for at-a-glance analytics: SproutSocial ($60/mo "Deluxe" version)
SproutSocial is strong on reporting and analytics. It has a nicely arranged dashboard of key statistics from all your different social media properties as well as your website (via Google Analytics), and gives you more detail on each particular property if you want to drill down. If you are looking for quick at-a-glace information on how popular your social media outreach is, SproutSocial is probably the best bet with their well-designed reports. You can use SproutSocial to post your content (and use a custom domain name for free, via bit.ly) but like HootSuite, if you want to delay a post, you need to set a specific time.
SproutSocial's listening functions are harder to use than HootSuite or TweetDeck, as you need to manually change between different streams, and you can't view Facebook page activity within SproutSocial. While the reports are easy to run and very attractive, SproutSocial does not contain goal and campaign tracking, features that you can get with higher-cost products (which I'll be blogging about next week). Posting updates is easy to do, but if you want to schedule updates, you need to set the date and time manually. You can use SproutSocial with another posting tool (like Buffer or TweetDeck).
Screen-shot of SproutSocial's dashboard analytics.
Lets wrap it up
For the low, low price of free, you can use TweetDeck, Buffer, and CrowdBooster to listen to your audience, schedule posts, and see the impact of your outreach. The big downside is you’ll be flipping between different tools, requiring you to learn different interfaces.
For budgets of up to $70/month, I'd recommend SproutSocial for their reporting ability, use Buffer's $10/mo Awesome plan for posting, and TweetDeck for listening. That's still a lot of tools, but they each do something well. The alternative is HootSuite, which does everything "just OK" for $10/mo and up.
None of these lower-cost tools incorporate goal and campaign tracking. If you are serious about effective social media outreach, you need a way of tracking the outcomes vs. your goals. Tools like Argyle and Raven are an immense help on this front, but cost $100-$500/month. Next week I'll be blogging about these tools and how they fit into your social media toolkit.