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How to choose the right social media management tools – TechRepublic

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Social media offers an effective way to reach a large and receptive audience. These guidelines will help you sort through the options as you evaluate social media solutions.

Introduction

Social media engagement can play a vital role in the marketing and branding strategy of any business enterprise. It can be the most effective way to reach a large and receptive audience with your organization’s most authentic branded message. In fact, in some extreme cases, no other marketing strategy can come close to matching social media’s reach and effectiveness.

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However, achieving that level of effective social media engagement does not come to pass without a sophisticated, documented, and repeatable strategy. There is more to “being authentic” than merely being honest or forthcoming with relevant information. Successful social media marketing campaigns, branding, and audience engagement require a strategic plan of action matched with appropriate management tools, services, and software.

Finding your organization’s authentic social media voice entails a thorough and careful analysis of exactly what you want to accomplish with a marketing campaign, including determining the target audience and the most effective outlets to reach it. Social media management tools, services, and software can help decision makers formulate their most effective social media strategy, but only if the tools properly complement the organization’s methodology.

Researching social media tools, services, and software, collating desired features, assessing effectiveness, and narrowing potential candidates will require a comprehensive strategy. These guidelines will help your decision makers evaluate available social media solutions and find the best ones for your business.

Note: Our premium sister site, Tech Pro Research, offers this article as a PDF download, along with a tool to help you document your research.

Why use social media?

The latest surveys, studies, and reports as of 2019 estimate that there are more than four billion active internet users worldwide on any given day. Out of those four billion+ users, a little more than three billion are also active on social media platforms. As a result, if you want to reach a large audience for the purposes of brand marketing and lead generation, an effective social media presence is the most obvious way to go about it.

But there is more to it than just a social media presence. Well-crafted, well-timed, highly informative, and sincere social media engagement can turn community interaction into sales, customer retention, profits, and business growth. On the other hand, poor quality, misleading, or insincere social media engagement could be disastrous for your brand and your company.

Finding the right social media management tools, services, and software for your business can help to mitigate the risk of poor-quality content and maximize the effectiveness of quality content. These solutions can help businesses operating with limited experience or content-creation resources develop high-quality customer interaction material and avoid the disaster of inauthentic communication.

SEE: Feature comparison: Email marketing software and services (Tech Pro Research)

Know what each social media service does

Before you can choose the best software or services for your business, you first must understand what social media is, how it can be used to engage customers, and why it can be an effective tool. Each social media outlet can provide an array of marketing and branding benefits, but no single outlet can provide every possible benefit.

The key to effective social media marketing is matching your business strategy, and the outcome it is trying to achieve, with the right social media outlet. Table A lists a brief audience description for each of the common social media outlets and estimates the size of the potential audience they can reach.

Table A

PlatformAudience descriptionAudience size
PinterestSocial site focusing on discovery and imagery250 million monthly active users
TwitterMicro blogging focused on news, links, and conversations326 million monthly active users
FacebookBlogging site focusing on shares, “likes,” and relationships2.23 billion monthly active users
InstagramSocial site focusing on imagery and videos1 billion monthly active users
SnapchatApp for sending images and videos that are temporary300 million monthly active users
LinkedInBusiness-oriented social networking site and app260 million monthly active users

Which platform(s) would work best for your current marketing and brand strategy will largely depend on the audience you’re trying to reach. If your business is B2B oriented, LinkedIn may offer more opportunities. If your business sells fashionable clothing, Pinterest may be a better choice of platform. Your marketing strategy will decide which platform is best and your chosen vendor should be able to help you select the right options.

These are the kinds of questions your social media management services and software should be able answer. If they or it don’t offer enough viable solutions, you should be looking for a new vendor.

SEE: Fighting social media phishing attacks: 10 tips (free TechRepublic PDF)

Features

In addition to helping you decide which social media platform you should use to satisfy your marketing campaign strategy, your choice of social media management service or software should be able to meet several basic requirements. The priority of each feature will largely depend on your situation and on what your business is trying to accomplish.

Channel specification

If you’re fortunate enough to know that your social media strategy will rely on a specific platform, you should be looking for software or services that specialize in that platform. Just as important, if you don’t know what platform to use, a potential vendor should be able to offer platform suggestions backed by logical reasoning.

Strategic planning

Developing a strategic marketing plan with social media elements is not a skill set many businesses have access to in-house. A vendor offering social media management services or software should be able to help your business formulate an effective social media campaign with their experience and technological tools.

Account creation

Before you can post your most authentic and informative content on a social media platform, you must have an account on that platform. Setting up an account requires more than just providing an acceptable username. Vendors should be able to help you choose the correct username and the best possible profile for your business.

Content creation

Depending on your business’s collective expertise, creating high-quality content for specific social media platforms may be an endeavor best left to professionals. The expertise required for topnotch media content ranges from the mundane task of determining the proper dimensions of an image to the considerable patience required to manage an online community. The best services and software will offer tools, advice, and even ghostwriters to help you produce the best possible content.

SEE: 44 simple ways to sharpen your writing skills (free TechRepublic PDF)

Content publishing

Beyond creating content, expertise is needed for publishing the content after it is created. The best vendors should be able to offer services that include content scheduling, monitoring and analysis tools, and a publishing calendar so your business can be prepared for an influx of inquiries.

Research and analysis

The best social media management services and software will offer the ability to not only research and analyze your own business, but your competitors’ businesses as well. Meaningful insight may be gleaned from careful observance of what your business competitors and your industry are doing regarding social media campaigns.

The best vendors will also provide tools for monitoring, measuring, and analyzing the results of your social media campaign in near real time. The ability to adjust and react to your audience quickly and decisively during a social media campaign could provide the slim difference necessary for measurable success.

Education

Engaging with an audience on social media can be an unforgiving activity. Using the wrong phrase or making the wrong inferences, regardless of an innocence of intent, can do irreparable damage to a reputation. Vendors of social media management services and software should provide education and training to their clients on how to avoid these reputation-damaging traps.

Community management

Often underappreciated by businesses when they enter the social media arena, an active, engaged community of customers and potential customers can be a driving force of business growth if managed correctly. If your business has access to such a community, or wishes to, you should look for vendors that can provide community management tools and services.

Influencers

Related to community management is the finding, recruiting, and management of social media influencers. These individuals serve as “unsolicited” advocates for your company’s products or services. Influencers are perceived as more authentic in their endorsements because they are not directly employed by the company. However, because they are not employees of the company, there are also not bound by your corporate policies and procedures. If this aspect of social media engagement is important to your business, you will need to find vendors offering tools to help manage your community influencers.

SEE: Who are the most influential companies on social media? (ZDNet)

Multiple users

Pricing for many of the social media management services and software tools are based on the number of users. If your business requires numerous users, you will likely want to use systems that do not charge extra per user or make some other kind of arrangement to mitigate multi-user costs.

Reputation management

Depending on your business or industry, your primary concern for social media campaigns may be reputation management. High-profile companies, services, and products may garner misleading and hateful comments that should not be allowed to fester with the public. Regardless of the accurateness or tone of these comments, it is in your best interest to engage the audience, but that engagement must be measured, tempered, and consistent. The ability to offer such services may be a determining factor in your decision making.

Pricing

The ongoing costs for social media management services and software can vary wildly. Service vendors can charge anywhere from $200/hour to $1,000/hour for their expertise and be worth every penny. Other vendors may offer effective social media expertise for as little as $99/year. Which level of service you need for your social media management will depend on your business requirements and your marketing strategy.

The cost of social media management software also varies substantially. Depending on how many users your company requires, software in this category ranges from about $10/month to $400/month. Once again, which level of service you need for your social media management will depend on your marketing strategy.

Regardless of how much a service or software vendor charges for social media management, they all should offer free trial periods you can use to evaluate what they have to offer. Any vendor that does not allow you to try before you commit to buy should be avoided.

Relationships

With the wide variety of pricing options available, choosing a social media service or solution may be more dependent on the customer-client relationship. The ability to work with a vendor forming and implementing social media marketing strategies could be the most important determining factor in your choice of service or software.

Factors in this category include:

  • Strategic planning support—Working with a team of experts to help you formulate an actionable social media marketing campaign may be most important, particularly for small businesses with limited personnel and resources.
  • Technical support—Your ultimate choice of social media management service or software should include 24/7 technical support that is responsive and attentive.
  • Expertise and experience—Established services with highly trained and experienced experts should be preferable to any cheaper fly-by-night operation.
  • Analytical reporting—While all the social media management services and software vendors promise informative analytical reporting, the quality of the actual reporting may vary. Reporting that makes sense to you and your business should take precedence over all others.
  • Ease of use—No matter how sophisticated the tools offered by your chosen social media service or software vendor, they will be effective only if your employees are able to use them.
  • Crisis management—Everything that happens on social media, good or bad, is amplified to the extreme. One seemingly innocent or innocuous mistake can expand to a breaking point in mere days. A social media management service or software vendor that has established policies and procedures to mitigate these crises could provide an invaluable level of comfort to your business.

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