How to choose the right social media tool
Even though social networks are always improving the native features they make available to brands to manage their profiles, a good third-party social media tool continues to be a strong asset for digital marketers. If used right, these can greatly improve a brand’s social management workflow.
Our team has worked with a fairly large variety of these over the years, playing various ownership roles each time. We have trained up client-side departments or teams from local markets, we’ve provided ongoing guidance and we’ve regularly liaised with customer support teams on best practice. Sometimes we even advised some of the developers of these tools on feature improvements.
So we’d like to share a few of our insights into what you need to look at when considering a social media tool…
Do we really need a social media tool?
The first thing we’re usually asked is why we need one in the first place, inevitably followed by a list of perceived barriers. Here are some of them:
Steep learning curve
People tend to be hesitant to learn how to operate new software, which is often a result of poor past experiences. This doesn’t need to be the case. Most of the companies developing these will offer vast knowledge bases, introductory webinars or even one-on-one sessions – but most importantly the best of them will be very intuitive to begin with.
Inadequate feature matching
“Can this social media tool do everything the native interfaces do?” It usually won’t be able to do everything, simply because social platforms just change so damn quickly. But it will do more than enough in most cases.
Some social networks restrict some of the features you can access through third-party software (think Instagram publishing). That’s true, which is why our team will generally also routinely use native interfaces (but less regularly) as a fallback. But API endpoints improve all the time and these limitations usually cover a very small percentage of the features you need.
“Will this tool have the same practically flawless uptime as, say, Facebook? Will it be fast and stable?” The short answer to this is yes – severe bugs or outages are quite rare nowadays.
“Is this actually worth the budget we have to allocate to it?” Here are the most common scenarios: clients either purchase and add agencies to their tool (in the case where budget is available for this), or agencies buy a tool directly (when clients don’t have any specific budget allocated). We find that there’s usually a solution that works for all parties.
But what are the benefits?
Here’s our take on the biggest benefits of using such a tool:
It’s a one-stop shop
A social media tool is meant to unify all publishing, community management and reporting, across all channels. If done right, this alone can save several hours each week.
Some features just aren’t available (or good enough) natively, but API access allows tools to get it done – think tweet scheduling, keyword monitoring, desktop Instagram reporting and so on.
In many cases you’ll have multiple people feeding into a channel – whether it’s one of the agency’s dedicated community managers, client-side customer support staff, brand managers and so on. It’s key that everyone has visibility over what everyone else is doing.
Reporting can very easily become painful for agencies – and regardless of how well some social platforms’ analytics have developed, it’s still very easy to get lost in countless raw data spreadsheets when calculating the figures. These tools have come to address this issue quite well.
All of these benefits lead to one main outcome – if set up right, a tool makes social media management significantly speedier, easier to track and more efficient to an agency’s resources and ultimately to a client’s budget.
What we look for
Now that we’ve established the pros and cons, here are the things we always look out for when evaluating a tool:
The interface needs be optimised to manage a variety of platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter or Instagram). You’ll very quickly find that, for example, a tool that displays everything in columns (such as one initially developed solely for managing Twitter) will have trouble displaying Facebook posts in a clear and familiar way.
It’s really important for the platform to be fully optimised for quick load times. Community managers can very often go through hundreds (if not thousands) of posts every day, so they won’t be able to work very well with any social media tool that’s too heavy on their web browser.
It’s amazing how many companies still get this wrong. Community managers need to be able to act on a moment’s notice, wherever they are – and chances are they won’t always have access to a laptop and WiFi.
This sounds like a trivial thing, but we have encountered platforms that have just let us down, whether it’s about not displaying all the necessary data, crunching the numbers wrong, missing key posts and so on. Even though our team still checks the native profiles every now and then, we still expect to be able to rely on our tools completely.
Any social media tool worth considering should still be reasonably priced, or at least provide subscription packages that are scalable enough to fit a wide array of needs.
We really hope this has helped make things a bit clearer. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them via the comments below. Or sign up to our newsletter for a steadier stream of insights from the team!
Our next article on the subject will be looking at specific tools. Stay tuned…