Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on social media management tools.
With the proliferation of social media networks in recent years, it’s become increasingly difficult for businesses in particular to keep up with the demands of being on multiple platforms. In response, a number of social media management tools have emerged, which allow you to control multiple social media accounts from a single dashboard, as well as scheduling posts and suggesting content for reposting. In the case of Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, using a third-party tool is the only way to schedule posts for a later time, as this functionality is not available in the networks’ native interfaces.
Below are profiles of some of the most popular social media management tools, although like anything social media-related, new tools are emerging all the time, so it’s best to do your research to select one that best suits your needs.
Canada-based Hootsuite is the most popular social media management tool, with over 10 million users. It allows users to integrate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr and other social media accounts, as well as third-party services like WordPress and MailChimp, into a single dashboard. This lets users monitor feeds and schedule posts across multiple accounts easily, from both desktop and app versions (although the app’s functionality is more limited). Hootsuite has also released a beta version of an analytics tool for Facebook and Twitter, which lets you compare data for all the accounts you manage. You can also monitor your streams using keywords, which is particularly useful if your organisation is in the middle of a crisis and you need to keep a close watch on what people are saying on your social media.
In addition, Hootsuite’s Suggestions feature aggregates content that users can then search to find relevant content to repost. It also has an extension for the Google Chrome web browser called Hootlet, which makes it easy to share websites across your social media accounts. Hootsuite also offers comprehensive training in various aspects of social media strategy and practice through its online members-only platform, Podium.
Hootsuite has a basic free plan, with three social profiles, basic analytics and scheduling, which may be enough for a small organisation without a wide social media presence. However, to access its more powerful features, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan.
Although often held up as Hootsuite’s main competitor, Buffer is more of a content publishing platform than a comprehensive social media management tool. Hootsuite and Buffer offer similar things, but Hootsuite provides more features, arguably at the cost of usability, while Buffer’s interface is less complex and cleaner. Buffer focuses more on post scheduling and less on engaging and monitoring. The biggest difference is that Hootsuite will let you respond directly to content on your feed from your dashboard, whereas Buffer will only let you publish new content. Buffer is also better integrated with other automated scheduling tools. Buffers analytics also focus on the performance of specific posts rather than accounts overall, so if you post to your social media accounts outside of Buffer, data for those posts won’t show up in Buffer analytics.
Like Hootsuite, Buffer has a browser extension and app. It may be a better choice for organisations that want to keep their social media organised but don’t necessarily need the level of functionality or complexity that Hootsuite offers.
Edgar is a social media scheduling tool that, unlike Hootsuite or Buffer, recycles content so that your accounts are always active. Your content library is sorted into categories, such as ‘promotional’ or ‘inspirational’ (or whatever other categories you choose) and you can decide when to post content from particular categories to your networks. Once Edgar reaches the end of the content list in a particular category it goes back to the start and shares it again. The upside to this is that your social media accounts are always active. The downside is that if you don’t set up your content library properly or if you have too little content, Edgar will continue reposting the same things and essentially spamming your followers.
Edgar also lets you post native images to Twitter, which Hootsuite doesn’t (if you post an image to Twitter through Hootsuite you’ll just get a link to that image rather than the image itself). It also has a Chrome browser extension to allow you to post directly from the web. However, Edgar is significantly more expensive (US$50 a month rather than US$10 a month for the equivalent plan on Hootsuite), which may put it out of reach of many individuals and volunteer organisations.
Sprout Social is a social media management platform. It is more comprehensive than Buffer in the features that it offers, in that it goes beyond simply scheduling content. Like Hootsuite, it allows monitoring of social media platforms, campaign creation and implementation, and assigning tasks across teams. It integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+, as well as Bitly and Google Analytics. However, unlike Hootsuite it doesn’t yet allow integration of some of the less popular social networks like Tumblr and Flickr. Sprout’s interface is cleaner and easier to use than Hootsuite’s, but although it offers a 30-day free trial, the cheapest plan is $50 per month (per user), which only includes up to five profiles.
TweetDeck is a free, Twitter-only management program (now owned by Twitter) that allows you to monitor and post to multiple Twitter accounts. Because Twitter doesn’t have a scheduling tool in its native interface, you’ll need to use TweetDeck or another social media management tool if you want to schedule posts on Twitter. TweetDeck has both desktop and app versions and it’s free for an unlimited number of accounts (there is no paid version). However, unlike the other tools on this list, TweetDeck only manages Twitter and does not have any analytics or more sophisticated tools.