If you work in social media you’re often asked “Which are the best social media tools?” The choices seem infinite, the pricing varied (from free to obscene), where do you start?
Tempero playfully describes itself as Software Agnostic, although we do recommend and partner with suppliers we think are best of breed. I thought that instead of another ‘Top-10-Best-Of-Essential‘ List I’d share some ideas on how to approach the decision making process.
Which social media tools should I be using?
There’s no “should” about it. You use the tools which best suit your business, budget, and approach. How do you know where you’re at? Read the questions below and select the one most relevant to you.
[A] Just looking for something to help me manage my personal and/or work profiles.
[B] Starting to experiment with social media for business and need some tools to stay on top of it.
[C] Developing a social media strategy and want to know what tools I should be using and/or buying
[D] Social media is fully integrated in the business and I now am looking for tools to optimise, measure and/or scale activity
If you’re closest to A: Right now you probably only need one or two free tools to centralise your accounts and keep track of your profiles. Ask your friends and colleagues, they’re probably already using the most popular tools around.
If you’re like B: You can use popular social media management tools like Tweetdeck or social media services like Klout and Peer Index to provide some basic analysis into how you’re doing. Your only spend might be to upgrade to a premium version of a free tool or download a useful app to your phone. [N.B. If social media is new to you look out for common mistakes like updating a professional profile with a personal status update. Ref: A lesson from Chrysler]
If C is closest to you: You’ll be needing tools which are designed specifically for business use and starting to look at paid services which have premium features (think workflows, analytics, greater brand protection.) If this is your Phase 2 after having had some time to experiment, you’ve probably developed a list of limitations that free tools you were using had. You should avoid building something bespoke until you’ve started implementing and seeing results in your strategy (you may yet tweak it) UNLESS your business is very specialised and/or making a long term commitment to social as a core part of business function.
If you’re a D: You probably have already used a lot of free tools for the business and know where any limitations might lie. Investment isn’t the problem, it’s where to invest and how do you know you’re picking the right tool? You might want to skip to ‘Questions to ask a supplier‘ at the bottom of the post.
How much do I need to spend on a social media service?
This question is usually prefaced with “I know it’s impossible to say exactly but…”
Unless you’re a D above and know exactly how social media works for your business, any major investment (and we’re talking 1000s of £s) needs some serious thought.
For example, we’ve seen customers spend £100K p/annum on something like a social media monitoring subscription which then isn’t used. It doesn’t mean the businesses picked a bad tool, they may have simply picked the wrong tool for them (this can be as simple as knowing you’ll need an account managed solution alongside the software).
Likewise some social media advocates who use social media tools for personal use get very vocal about ‘Why pay, when you can use for free?‘. Free tools have their limitations and it may be worth paying a little bit more for a different service or to upgrade to the premium version to get the extra functionality you need.
What is important to remember when spending is that no matter what you buy Social Media can’t be automated and it certainly isn’t ‘solved’ after purchase. Some experimental spending on services which seem to best match your business requirements (not just cool features) is realistic – and by experimental, I’d say a few 100 or 1000 of £s dependent on the size of your business.
WARNING: I hear warning bells if your planned investment in social media tools exceeds that of content creation and human resourcing UNLESS you’re using it for customer service, which is a whole different ball game.
How to pick a supplier
This is going to sound patronising, so please bear with me, but my two tips are:
2. Ask around
Why? Well any social media service worth it’s salt will have optimised its own brand presence for the web and/or have been written about by the many excellent bloggers who tirelessly sort through and review these sorts of things. So if you’re looking for a Twitter analytics tool, type “Twitter analytics tool” and see what comes up. Try adding additional search terms like “Best” and your sector e.g. “Best twitter analytics tool for retail”
Asking around is useful because many of the tools are new, and look interesting, but it can be hard to tell what they actually do and how well. So the key is not to ask “What do you use?” but “Do you like what you use?” and “Why do you use it?”
This comes with a caveat as well – this is not high school, just because all your friends are buying The Social Widgetizer* doesn’t mean that you need it for your business. It’s not unusual for us to take a briefing from a company which says “We use The Social Widgetizer” and then to speak to the social media or community manager on the front line and hear them say “I hate using The Social Widgetizer” or “It’s fine, but I really needed the Social Taskalyzer.”
[*Fictional product name of course]
- Invest in the right tool for your stage – you wouldn’t buy a BMX for a toddler
- Spend cautiously but be prepared to invest a little into experimenting to find out what works
- Choose suppliers based on research and word-of-mouth recommendations, not the noisiest salesperson knocking down your door
Don’t know your Klout from your CMS? How to research and/or interview suppliers.
- Who is this tool designed for? e.g. sales, marketing, customer service
- What is the main purpose of the tool or service (don’t give me a list of features and benefits)? e.g. Moderation, tracking engagements, managing profiles, publishing content etc.
- Is the tool relevant to our sector?
- How do we access the tool? e.g. hosted online, download & install – and for agencies: Are there different access levels in case we’re sharing with clients?
- What is the pricing model? – and for volume pricing models: Can you predict what bracket we’ll need based on other businesses similar to ours? – and if the tool is free: Will the service always be free? how safe/stable is it to use then?
- How much training and ongoing support is available? (I personally am of the opinion that if you have to pay to train your team how to use software then something’s not right & maybe the product is too complex to use…)
- Can we set up a test/demo account before committing spend?
- Can the tool integrate with other services? What about other internal systems we already use?
- What exactly differentiates this tool from competitors?
- What do online reviews say?
- What does my industry say?
- Who within the business will be using the tool? And make sure they’re happy with it!