Social media tools are just like mobile phone plans

Finding the right social media management account is like choosing from a dozen different mobile plans. A range of different features, price plans and fine detail that you need to make sense of.  

 
Mobile phone plans
 

I’ve started the year off wanting to do things smarter, in particular with the tools that I use for my business that will save me time or allow me to do my job even better. One of the areas that I know I lose a lot of time on is my social media management. 

I’m a perfect case of knowing exactly what I should be doing but in fact never doing it because I’m always so short on time. I set off on a research and shopping trip to find the best social media management tool out there for a small business owner with no team, small budget and dreaming big.  

I know that there is a lot of articles out there reviewing social media tools, but very few are tackling it from the micro or solo business owner’s perspective so I found myself reviewing the tools from my own criteria. 

You, my friend, are now going to benefit from my online shopping trip. My comparisons and assessments were based on the following criteria: 

  • Cost - I set a budget of no more than $200 per annum (or $20 per month)
  • Ability to save me time.

I added a bonus extra - could it offer any value add in the form of additional/over and above capability that allowed me to do something that I was not doing already or was doing but to do it better. 

These are criteria that I reckon every single business owner would truly recognise. Ask for the earth, see what you get!

My business requirements

I have a content strategy that I roll out every week which is a combination of my own and curated content, I need to watch and respond as people comment and I am actively participating in groups to help promote my business. 

My list of requirements were: 

  1. Make it easy to schedule ahead any posts, and comment and share into groups or tag people as appropriate on Facebook, Twitter etc. Bonus platforms would be LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. 
  2. Boost or promote - which could be anything from reposting, sharing or paying to promote. 
  3. Tell me the best time to post. 
  4. Tell me what’s doing well - quickly - to help tweak and refine as things go along. 

My current frustrations are: 

  • I’m using Buffer free - which I love, but I want to be able to schedule more than 10 posts in advance and I need more time efficiencies. 
  • I’m using Latergramme to schedule Instagram
  • I’m having to flit between platforms for regular monitoring and commenting in groups and pages/accounts that I follow (so madness for me in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). 
  • Bitley to shorten my URL’s.

The contenders: 

Hootsuite

Features

  • Free - browser extension
  • US$10.99 per month - 
  • Schedule 350 posts at a time - 
  • 50 social profiles
  • Key Platforms - LinkedIn G+ FB, Instagram, Twitter
  • Social commenting/responding and listening
  • Link shortening
  • Autoscheduling 

Hootsuite is very popular and you can pre schedule up to 350 post. It has an all in one dashboard so you’re not switching between platforms and it’s one of the very few that have incorporated Instagram into the scheduling queue. 

They also have a ‘listening’ capability where you can see who’s posted what to your Facebook pages or Twitter accounts etc, along with activity commenting directly from within the tool - again saving lots of time switching between apps etc . 

I don’t find Hootsuite as user friendly as Buffer, but it does have features that are very useful around listening and responding. 

What I like: 

  • dashboard display so you can see everything in one place
  • it’s got lots of plugins
  • it’s got a suggested content section but the suggestions were not good
  • it’s got Instagram and LinkedIn. 

What I don’t like: 

  • the setup/user interface is a little complex but this goes with the greater functional complexity
  • it doesn’t display Facebook images correctly
  • this complexity wasn’t worth it for the free plan - you’re far better off with the free functionality from Buffer but the pro plan is where it got much more useful. 
  • it’s expensive for teams
  • no easy reposting scheduling or boosting of posts
  • expensive if you want to add more administrators/users to the platform
  • awful reporting and the fact that you have to pay through the nose for anything useful in terms of stats. 

Despite having a number of negatives you can’t get away from the fact that it’s good value for a single user with a lot of additional capability in listening and responding. 

Buffer 

  • Key Platforms - Linkedin, G+, Facebook,  Pinterest, Twitter etc
  • Free/$102 per annum
  • 10/100 posts at a time
  • 5/10 social profiles
  • Varying schedules to allow the same post to be scheduled multiple times 
  • Basic analytics but the ability to repost those that are flagged as performing/potentially performing very well. 
  • 2 team members to one account
  • Free browser extension
  • Link shortening

Buffer is super easy to use and have a really nifty service, where they send you curated links and quotes via email once your buffer of posts is empty. On more than one occasion I’ve found really interesting articles in these suggestions. 

They have a free entry plan which I’ve been using for a while but I’m frustrated that I hit my 10 post cap regularly so I’m not able to sit down and concentrate a few hours to getting things sorted for the week in one sitting. 

Their next step plan is great value at $10 per month or $102 per annum (US). 

What I liked: 

  • a feed of blogs/news feeds that I follow so that I can scan and add to my queue. The paid plan allows 15 of these feeds, which to be honest wouldn’t be enough but better than nothing 
  • easy analytics broken by post to show you at a glance which one’s did well including a quick link to rebuffer (post again) to maximise promotion (I love this). 
  • You can set up posting schedules and then just add to the queue and Buffer will publish the next scheduled based on the schedule. This is super terrific but they take it one step further with their optimal timing schedule which will tell you the best times to schedule and then with a click of the button it ‘makes it so’ and replaces your current schedule with the optimal version. 
  • They also have a repeat scheduler. As you know Twitter posts die after 18 minutes (on average) and Facebook about 2-5 hours. This allows you to schedule the same post multiple times to maximise its exposure. 
 
 

What I don’t like: 

  • The broader analysis report are only available for the more expensive plan. 
  • There’s no listening/commenting facility
  • It doesn’t support Instagram. 

Socialoomph

  • Link shortening
  • Save and reuse drafts - very practical time saver
  • Auto follow of those that follow you and and auto response for those that follow you but only for Twitter
  • Post and monitor
  • $17.95 per fortnight - odd pricing - comes out at  per week, or $467per annum (or $35 per month). 
  • Recurring updates (in case you’ve got posts that need to be repeated on a routine basis)
  • Expiring posts on Twitter and Facebook that are deleted after a period of time.
  • Extra users at no extra cost but no mention of whether there’s a limit on this.  

Overall this tool is a little on the pricey side, but if you’re a heavy Twitter user then the extra features of finding likely people to follow and auto following people that like or follow you would be a big draw card. However the features for the other two channels of interest to me, LinkedIn and Facebook have limited functionality.

What I liked: 

  • really liked repeating and expiring posts
  • drip feed feature where you just add to the queue and it goes off and publishes based on. 

What don’t I like

  • heavy emphasis on Twitter, seems like the other platforms are after thoughts
  • Only has Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn - although there are some other that might be of interest such as blogs and Plurk. 


Sprout social 

  • Free - browser extension
  • US$59 per month per user
  • Manage individual conversations with your followers and fans
  • Covers Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ + and Twitter
  • Great content calendar view with drill down to help when you’ve got a number of people publishing
  • Comprehensive reporting that other tools lack or charge you extra for
  • Monitor brand keywords
  • Collated conversations for individuals in one place - easy to see the conversation with an individual follower/customer. 
  • Scheduling of posts including an optimal scheduling tool
  • Workflow and review/approval process. 

At $59 per month entry point or $708 per annum I ruled this out as too expensive, but it is popular with those that have teams of people contributing to the social media management of their business. 

Meet Edgar 

I really like Meet Edgar and it’s very popular in the blogging world. It’s key point of differentiation is that it has the ability to continuously recycle your content based on ‘buckets or categories’ of posts that you create and then a schedule of when you want to publish for each of the  buckets. You can override these with other posts as you need.

It currently only works for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. 

The entry point was also a bit high for me at $49 per month but I can see the value of this service and when I have a full bank account of worthy content that I want to put on rotation I will be checking back on Meet Edgar. 

I would categorise Edgar for the established small business with a strong content strategy already in hand and content that doesn’t date or need updating regularly or for businesses that have recurring posts like weekly reminders that can help to automate the process on a weekly basis. 

Agorapulse 

  • Free - browser extension
  • US$29 per month (cheaper on annual pricing)
  • Covers Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
  • Social commenting/responding in one comment with your followers
  • Queue posts for multiple publishing times
  • Reporting covered in the pricing including competitor comparison
  • Fan analysis and categorisation
  • Apps for user engagement like Facebook competitions and surveys. 

Priced at $29 per month or $19 per month if you pay annually, this seems like a real contender until you get into the pricing. For the entry plan of $29 per month you only get one social profile or platform, you need to pay for the next plan or an additional $19 per month to add to it. Although it doesn’t cover LinkedIn and Google + it is very complete package for the three platforms it does cover. It’s much more than just a publishing platform. 

What I liked: 

  • being able to schedule a post multiple times
  • the full reporting suite (but not available in the $29 plan)
  • monitoring and tracking individual conversations with members with the CRM.

What don’t I like

  • Only has Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  • Only one user for the entry point or add additional users at $19 per month
  • The entry level version at $29 per only allows one social profile - to have all three you need to be on the $49 per month plan. Or add additional profiles at $19 per month.

Worth a look if you’ve got a team 

Sendible

  • $59 per month
  • scheduling with analysis baked into optimise the best post time
  • expires posts automatically
  • browser plugin
  • includes 2 team members in the price. 
  • URL shortener integration
  • baked in reporting 

I ruled this  based on pricing, but you’ve got a small team, the pricing may actually work out competitive with other services eg. with Hootsuite by the time you pay for additional users and reports. 

Jollar 

  • $5 per account connected
  • Covers Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube and others
  • Allows monitoring of other accounts/pages, keywords or hashtags depending on the platform
  • Scheduling of posts ahead of time

This is a new app on the market and I think will be worth considering in a few months when the functionality has been built out a bit more. The pricing is different, you pay $5 for each account, so for a LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram account it costs $20. If I added keywords or hashtags to track this would also be another $5. Reporting seems to not be available at the moment. This might be another $5. I ruled this  based on pricing, but you’ve got a small team, the pricing may actually work out competitive with other services eg. with Hootsuite by the time you pay for additional users and reports. 

There is also no browser extension to make it easy to share from articles as you find them and the other issue no URL shortener baked in. 

Summary 

I’ve come to the conclusion that social media management tools and apps are a lot like mobile phone plans with so many different ways of charging and variations on what you get for the price. It’s very confusing. 

For my purposes, without a team member to consider, my main priority was making sure that the platforms I wanted to work with were covered and that there were efficiencies to be gained. 

The two that stood out in the market for small business were Hootsuite and Buffer. Hootsuite has the added bonus of being able to view streams of your content and respond from within the dashboard. This I saw as saving time because I didn't need to move from platform to platform to do this. Buffer on the other hand had a few features that I valued highly, which was post performance and multi-times publishing scheduling tool. 

Just about all of the platforms have a free trial period making it easy for you to work out whether the functionality will suit you. 

In the meantime, my best advice on the matter of selecting a platform is that there are so many other there, with variations on features and pricing that you need to assess each one in the light of your own individual needs. Make a list, don’t follow the crowd, follow your own unique set of needs.