Do You Have the Time to Manage Your Social Media Empire?
If you run a small business, one thing that you probably don’t have a lot of- is time.
You don’t want to spend a huge amount of time learning how to find and learn how to use the best tools to achieve your goals. Since my business is social media and web development I actually enjoy researching the best tools and have developed a portfolio of great tools and a workflow that works well for me.
In this article, I list the main tools I would recommend to most small businesses. Of course, every situation is unique so I do recommend tailoring a system that works for you.
Social Media Plan
Firstly, I have a question… What are you trying to achieve? You need to ask that question before you start looking for the social media tools that are going to suit you. There is no point having a presence on all the social networks if you don’t know what you want to achieve or which audience you want to reach.
What I am not going to cover…
I am not going to cover how to build a social media plan in this article- I am going to assume that you already have a presence on your social networks of choice- perhaps Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and/or Google+. I am also going to assume that you have a website with a blog. One of the big advantages of posting to social networks is in driving traffic back to your website and showing that you are an expert in your field.
For a complete social media and marketing plan, you’ll need tools in to help in the following areas:
Social Media Posting
Security & Password Management
Social Media Management Tools
A social media management tool is kind of like the “One Tool to Rule Them All” for social media. They should allow you to monitor and engage across all your social profiles. They should provide reports so you can make sure what you are doing is successful. Choosing the right social media management tool is a more complex decision. You’ll need to decide on one that supports your social networks and think of things such as how many people are going to be managing your social channels and what budget you can justify.
I’ve included my favourite tool, Agora Pulse in this article, but there are plenty to chose from including Hootsuite, Agora Pulse, Sendible, Sprout Social, Jollor, eClincher and Sendible. You can check out my article on the top 5 Social Media Management Tools to work out the best one for your business.
I’d also recommend checking the less well known social media management tool, Social Report. They launched back in 2011 and has a robust all-in-one solution covering publishing and scheduling, analytics, reporting, a “smart inbox”, team management and automation. They’re going to be shortly launching direct publishing for Instagram too. It’s cost effective and cheaper for teams when compared to Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Buffer.
#1 Agora Pulse
You can cope without a social media management tool, but most small businesses would find a social media management tool useful.
Such a tool can save a huge amount of time and increase effectiveness and productivity. Some small businesses will opt for Hootsuite first, basically because it has a free plan. Although Agora Pulse is not the cheapest out there, in my view it’s the most robust and powerful and very good value for money. I’ve included it here because it came top in my article for the Top 5 Social Media Management Tools as rated by G2Crowd users. It integrates with Twitter, Facebook pages, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+, includes full reporting, team users, scheduling, competitor analysis, auto moderation tools and a whole lot more.
#2 Google Analytics
If you have a website or a blog then it’s highly likely that you already have Google Analytics installed, and if not- you should!
Google Analytics was launched back in November 2005 and is a completely free enterprise analytics product. That means it doesn’t just tell you how many hits you have to your website- it tells you how many actual visitors you have, where they’re from, how long they stay on the website, where they come from and much more!
GA was radically overhauled back in 2011 to include custom dashboards and real-time statistics and it also has a very powerful social media analytics report built in. If you don’t track your visits and visitors on your website then how can you tell if your social media presence is actually making a difference? Whatever business you are in, Google Analytics is a must. Sure there are other analytics tools that you can add in addition that can do some cool things like Crazy Egg, but I think for the majority of websites GA is the tool to use.
One of the big advantages in this historically was its use on a social network that has a limited number of characters such as Twitter (which only as a maximum of 140 characters). Using a full URL like the example I gave would be a huge waste of space.
These days Twitter does this for you with its own URL shortener- t.co, so why would you want to use another URL shortener? Surely this one is just for geeks?! Well, the answer is tracking. Most URL shorteners don’t just shorten your URLs- they offer an analytics and tracking service. Also if you shorten all your URLs across all your social networks with the same URL shortener you can track all of your social networks from one dashboard.
The beauty of bit.ly is that it is very widely used and has fantastic analytics. This means you can easily see how many times a link in a tweet has been clicked as well as what network they were using. If you want to be really posh you can even customise the look of your short url by adding a custom URL shortener with bit.ly. It is actually very easy to do. Assuming you own a shortish URL you need to point the domain to bit.ly and it will take care of the rest. I use my own URL shortener- to.iag.me. Every time I use a service that uses bit.ly, my custom URL shortener is used.
If you know me, you’ll already know that I am a huge Buffer fan. Buffer is a tool that allows you to easily post or share to all your social networks. I know I mentioned I wouldn’t be mentioning any standard social media management tools, but Buffer is different in that it is mainly for scheduling your posts. The advantage of this is that you can post to Twitter or Facebook when your followers or fans are more likely to be there. Your followers might be using Twitter or Facebook in the evening once you’ve gone home from work- Buffer posts automatically at times you choose throughout the week.
Buffer allows you to post to Twitter, Facebook profiles. groups and pages, LinkedIn profiles and pages, Google+ pages and Instagram. Whenever you add a post to Buffer you choose which network or networks you want to post it to (for example you might want to post to your Facebook Page, your LinkedIn profile and Twitter) and it gets added to each network’s queue. When it comes to the next time to post for your Facebook page, Buffer will post the first post in that queue and the same for each other network. You don’t have to wait for your Buffer queue either, if you want to post something straight away, then you can do.
Sharing articles is easy to do by using a button in your browser. If I find an article that I know my Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections will find interesting then I just need to click my Buffer button in my browser and I can instantly add the link and title to those social networks either straight away or add it to their queues. As well as that Buffer have great mobile apps for iPhone and Android smartphones and you can even link it to other apps using another great tool called IFTTT (If This Then That).
One of the most important lessons for businesses when it comes to using a social network is not to be all about “me, me, me!”. I was reading about this just the other day in a post by Sourav Das on the All Stuff Codes blog called “6 Reason Why I Unfollow People on Twitter“. If you are only posting about yourself then you’re missing the point of social network- it’s about sharing other peoples’ content too. People are more likely to invest in you if you invest in others- especially if you are sharing their content. But, how do you find and keep an eye on that content? I’ve been building up a list of websites and blogs that I want to keep on top of. There are some websites that consistently produce great content- interesting articles that I learn from and want to share with others.
Once you have more than about 10 websites it starts to become difficult to keep on visiting each website to read their recent articles and to share them. That’s where a feed reader comes in. A Feed reader app takes the RSS feeds from all the websites and blogs you want to keep on top of, and lists them for you in an easy to read way. Up until recently, I used Google Reader, but since that is being shut down I searched for an alternative. My favourite is Feedly which you can use in your browser or on your mobile. You can save an article for later or instantly share to Buffer or another social network. As well as keeping on top of all the latest news, it allows me to easily share to all my social networks throughout the week.
MailChimp is an email marketing and newsletter service with a long and proven track record. When doing research for this article, I couldn’t quite believe that they have been going since 2001- that’s not long after I first started building my own websites!
Each month, MailChimp send out around 4 billion emails and takes care of all the issues that can arise from sending out emails to your customers. Since you are reading this article I am hoping I don’t have to tell you how powerful social media is for your business- meeting your customers where they are. However, don’t forget email! I keep on hearing stories about the demise of email- that the younger generation isn’t bothering with it anymore. If I can be bold- that is complete rubbish! What do you need to sign up for the likes of Facebook or Twitter? A valid email address! You may have push notifications on your phone to alert you when someone tags you or updates their status on Facebook- but many people have notifications sent to you by email?
Building up your own database of email contacts is vital for the majority of small businesses. It helps you find out more about your customers or potential ones. MailChimp makes this so easy and over time you can add more information such as demographics (age, gender, location etc).
Making sure a website works well in all modern browsers is quite a challenge- something I have rather a lot of experience in. Gone are the days of working with Internet Explorer 6, but even so, we web developers have to make sure our websites work well in Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Internet Explorer 8, 9 & 10. On top of that, there is the task of making it mobile ready for all the tablets and smartphones out there. If that sounds difficult then I promise you the art of making an email newsletter work across all email applications is a hundred times harder! I’m not going to go into the nitty-gritty, but suffice to say, MailChimp has spent over a decade making sure that your email newsletters will arrive in your customers’ inboxes looking as beautiful as the time you sent them. MailChimp also has detailed analytics, so you can track when your recipients open the email or click through to your website.
Whilst many of the features are free, if you want more and specifically you want to send to more than 2,000 subscribers, you’ll need to upgrade. However, the prices are very reasonable (from $10 per month) so it shouldn’t be a problem. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I recommend MailChimp is their customer service. They go out of their way to help you (doesn’t matter if you are only on the free plan) and do a daily webinar to help you get started.
How many sites and applications do you use that require a password? How do you remember the password? Do you use the same password for everything, or even for just a few? With so little time at our disposal, it is sometimes all too easy to cut some corners when it comes to security. LastPass allows you to have top security across all your social networks and never have to remember more than one password. I definitely recommend using it- and it is a lot easier than you might expect.
I know many people use the same password across all their sites, but what if a hacker gets hold of that password? It means they can gain access to all your accounts and lock you out. There was even the story of a hacker remotely wiping someone’s computers and mobile devices (read about Mat Honan’s experience here). Your email account’s password is arguably the most important of all- since if a hacker were to gain access to your email account they can potentially reset the password for all your accounts.
LastPass works in your browser or on your mobile device. Once you enter your LastPass password, LastPass automatically fills in all your usernames and passwords so you never have to remember them again. You can also do the LastPass Password Challenge to see how secure you are.
My recommendation once you have installed LastPass is to take the time and change all your passwords to more secure ones. LastPass can even generate ridiculously complex passwords for you- ones that would be impossible for a hacker to guess (unless they had a couple of million years to spare!). For example, here is a password generated by LastPass (16 characters including special characters)- J#BS0AiOdb0!PeRU. You’ll never have to write down a password again!
As a small business, you will have something that your customers want. Now I want to ask you to give some of that away for free. I know that sounds mad, but seriously it works. Remember, one of the golden rules of social media marketing is not to talk about yourself all the time (I’ve already mentioned that in no. 5). If you share content from other people you’ll not only build relationships but you’ll build trust. Giving away stuff for free is part of content marketing and as well as building trust it also shows people that you are an expert in your field. With so many people and businesses out there with a social presence, how can you prove that you are who you say you are, that you’re worth talking to, that you’re worth doing business with? You give away some of your secrets- that’s what you do!
You may have already realised this- and hopefully, you are already doing some of this on your blog and your social profiles. However one of the easiest ways to give stuff away is by creating an e-book. For example, if you are a cake shop why not create a recipe e-book for people to download? If you are an accountant, why not create an e-book of top tips to keep on top of your accounts? The type of e-book depends on the type of business you run, so have a think about what your customers would want. When people download or read your e-books you’ll soon be able to talk to them and hopefully, some of these will turn into customers.
In order to showcase your e-book, you will need to use a document sharing service. You may have already heard of the likes of SlideShare which is owned by LinkedIn. I’d certainly recommend you use that, but I’d actually like to recommend an up and coming document sharing service called edocr. I have mentioned edocr before in a review and walkthrough tutorial called The Complete Guide to Lead Generation & Content Marketing With edocr. I mention edocr over SlideShare because it is a growing service with almost 100,000 users. When you upload your e-book to edocr you will then appear in the edocr directory and be searchable for any edocr user and on the web. When an edocr user reads your e-book you get notified by email and you’re then able to follow up on that lead. Another great feature is that you can link your edocr profile with Google+ which means that Google will list your e-books with you as author-something that is going to become more and more important. Finally, edocr is very reasonably priced. You can opt for the free account which gives you space for 5 documents, but the freelancer is only $9 per month which gives you 100 documents. The business plan is a bit more pricey at $62 per month but you have the added bonus of a business page as well as room for 1,000 documents and 5 team members.
I highly recommend reading my guide on edocr for further information.
Once you start building your followers on Twitter it can start to become difficult to keep on track of the people you follow as well as the people who follow you. Firstly, I highly recommend using Twitter lists, especially if you follow more than 1,000 people. Following a lot of people has big advantages but it can become easy to miss important updates and more difficult to interact with the people that matter. As well as lists you’ll need a social media relationship management tool which I’ll be covering in my last recommendation.
ManageFlitter (which used to be called Manage Twitter years ago before Twitter asked them to change their name) is a Twitter follower tool. On a basic level, it allows you to quickly see who isn’t following you and then having the option of unfollowing these people in bulk. As well as that you can find try and weed out spam followers or irrelevant followers that just clog things up. My favourite feature is the whitelist- and it’s one that I couldn’t do without. I add all the people I never want to unfollow- the people I interact with regularly and want to keep up with, to the Manage Flitter* whitelist. All the people in the whitelist will be hidden from any ManageFlitter list so that I can never accidentally unfollow them.
As well as that, you are able to follow people that someone else follows. This is a great way of following the same people that follow another business in your field. If they follow your competitor then they are likely to follow you.
Manage Flitter* has a free plan as well as several paid plans. The free plan allows you to unfollow up to 200 people every day as well as unfollow fake and inactive accounts. The pro accounts allow you to unfollow unlimited people as well as follow the followers of another user. Do make sure you know your Twitter limits though, as you could end up getting banned. The pro account costs $12 per month for 1 Twitter account or $24 per month for up to 5 accounts.
My final recommendation is an app called Commun.it. If you are a regular reader to my blog then you’ll already know I am a big fan since I wrote a comprehensive review of Commun.it including a walk-through video. Like Buffer, Commun.it is a social media management tool, however, it is a bit more specialised than that- and that’s why I mention it here.
Commun.it is a social media relationship management tool- it helps you find out who is in your Twitter community- those who support you and your content (by retweeting, favouriting, and mentioning) and those who influence you.
As a small business owner, you will have limited time and I find that Commun.it is a huge time saver. I spend 5-10 minutes on Commun.it at the start of each day and in that time I can reply to all my outstanding mentions, thank people for retweeting me, thank those who are in my community, find those who have linked to my blog and engage with them, thank any new followers and dig deeper and interact with those in my local list (so I can interact further with people in my local area). As well as that, you can find who has unfollowed you and decide whether or not you want to unfollow them too. Another powerful feature is interacting with people who are talking about your business or brand using the monitor engagement list. The guys at Commun.it have been awesome in integrating Buffer so that you can even schedule any of your replies.
The core features of Commun.it are free, but the Pro plan is very reasonably priced and gives you access to the full reporting features, as well as unlimited monitor/lead items, engaged members and custom groups for up to 4 Twitter accounts. If you have more than 4 Twitter accounts to manage or need to divide the work between a small team, then the business account allows you to do this with unlimited Twitter accounts and 2 team members.
In case it helps, here is my list of actions I complete using Commun.it in my daily morning session:
Reply to all my Twitter mentions and replies
Retweet all interesting retweets (sometimes using Buffer to schedule them)
Send a “thank you” tweet to my high-value members
Send a “thank you” tweet to my influencers
Send a “thank you” tweet to my supporters
Send a “thank you” tweet to my engaged members
Check recent followers list and reciprocate if relevant- thank them.
Check unfollow list and unfollow any that are not part of my community
Check “monitor engagement” section for anyone mentioning my business name or linking to my website. Reply to any of these.
Check “discover new leads section” and follow and interact with any new and relevant ones.
I highly recommend checking out my article on Commun.it which goes into a lot more detail.
So, there you go, 10 social media tools that all small businesses should be using. Of course, you may disagree and you may think there are some glaring omissions. If you have any thoughts, then please leave them in the comments below!