What Criteria Matter Most When Choosing a Social Media Management Tool?
Forget features and benefits; what really counts when it comes to assessing a social media management tool?
As social media continues to grow, more and more social media management tools have become available, with each offering users the chance to significantly reduce the amount of time they spend on social media whilst simultaneously improving the efficiency of their campaigns.
No doubt, some of these tools are great. But, like any industry, as more and more companies enter, it becomes more difficult to figure out which one you should be using. What makes it even more difficult is that many of the tools offer very similar features and benefits so, short of signing up to multiple tools for testing (a time-consuming process to say the least), it's very hard to tell whether you've made the right decision.
As someone who works in social media, I've had a lot of experience using and reviewing a large number of different social media tools, and I have a pretty good idea of what makes a good one.
So, what are the things I look for in a social media management tool?
Performs as Advertised
This is a biggie -- and it not just for social media management tools. But top of the list of what a social media management tool should do is that it does what it says it will do.
It must be remembered that social media is still a very recent phenomenon. Even fifteen years none of us could have guessed the new-fangled meanings that words such "liking", "sharing", "following", and "tweeting" would acquire. But as social media grew and grew, people needed new words to label new concepts. The new social media jargon is yet to settle, and canny companies can benefit from the uncertainty by taking advantage and obfuscating what they do with fancy words.
Do not be deceived. Though social media is powerful, it's also quite simple. Any tool which dresses up its features with unnecessary jargon is probably not very good. When you visit a tool's website, it should be clear exactly what functions that tool is offering.
If you like a tool's site and decide to go ahead and use it, then it better do what it was that attracted you in the first place. At the end of this article I'll link to a great infographic which takes ratings and reviews from real users and shows which tools live up to the promises they make.
We all know how quickly social media changes – one day one platform is dominating, the next another is on top; one day a platform looks one way, the next it looks completely different. The truth is that the social media industry has yet to coalesce. So, whilst big sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube are likely to be around for a while (although that can all change, too – anyone remember Myspace?), there's still a lot to play for.
Relative newcomers such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Foursquare are getting larger and larger numbers of users, and more people are linking up their social accounts and using different ones for different things. If your tool is going to keep up, it needs to update regularly to make sure it caters for the social media manager's ever-changing needs.
Tools which stagnate fail, and so will their users. Although feedback emails can be annoying, receiving them from your social media management tool is proof that they're trying to keep in touch with their users' needs. And if your tool frequently adds new features, don't be put off. You don't have to hate change. In fact, in the world of social media, you'd best learn to love it.
The ever-changing face of social media means that any good social media manager will have to constantly learn a variety of new skills and get accustomed to different platforms. This is difficult enough, but having your tool give you more grief than is necessary will only exacerbate your frustration.
For this reason, it's important that your tool is intuitive and easy-to-learn. The best social media management tools make it easy to learn how to use them in a matter of minutes, and provide detailed tutorials and trouble-shooters, as well as live help if required.
So long as you're relatively technologically and social media savvy, you should be able to figure out how to use your tool in a matter of minutes. This, of course, will depend on how well the tool is designed – how easy it is to navigate, how easy it is to complete tasks with, and how well it performs.
A good social media management tool will require you to put in as little time as needed into the mechanics of setting up, implementing, and monitoring a campaign. If your tool is more of a hindrance than a help, then it may be time to look elsewhere.
Social media tools operate a variety of monetisation models. The most popular are paid subscription and freemium. There are benefits to both, and there are drawbacks.
Paid subscription social media management tools are only available to use once you've signed up to do so. The benefit is that you'll get use of all of the tools your package offers with no hiccups. This means you will be able to get going as soon as possible, and pick a package that best suits your needs. Paid models often have a better reputation which is usually well-deserved since, by charging all of their users, they often have more capital to invest in support, ongoing development, and research.
The drawback is that, once you've subscribed, you may feel less inclined to look elsewhere. If your tool isn't up to scratch, then you don't want to be stuck paying for it. The good thing is that there's nothing (except laziness) to stop you cancelling your subscription and trying another tool. But just be sure not to make this mistake too often!
Freemium social media management tools allow you to use a limited set of functions without paying. In theory this means that you are able to test a tool before deciding whether you want to use it full-time. The problem is that companies offering freemium models really, really want you to upgrade, and therefore make it their mission to upsell their paid product. This means emails, messages, and, perhaps most frustrating, notifications stating that a function will not work only after you've gone to through the process of setting that function up.
Not many freemium versions are capable of supporting the needs of a business social media campaign, so you can expect to pay at some point – there's no such thing as a free lunch! However testing a few freemium tools will allow you to get a feel for a few different interfaces and designs. And, if you're thinking of changing to a new tool, enable you to get a feel before making a commitment.
This infographic is a great place to start your research into social media management tools. It's based on real reviews from users of each tool and shows how the four top performing social media tools (Hootsuite, AgoraPulse, Sprout Social, and Sendible) measure up against each other. (Here's my full Agorapulse Review.)
Are you looking to use a social media management tool? Or perhaps you're looking to try a new one? Either way, let me know what you're looking for in an SMM.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the overwhelming scores in User Satisfaction, Product Direction, Easy-To-Learn, Support, Usability, Meet Requirements and Base Price, we strongly recommend AgoraPulse to all of our readers.
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By Lilach Bullock
Highly regarded on the world speaker circuit, Lilach Bullock has graced Forbes and Number 10 Downing Street with her presence! In a nutshell, she's a hugely connected and highly influential serial entrepreneur – the embodiment of Digital Intelligence.
Listed in Forbes as one of the top 20 women social media power influencers and likewise as one of the top social media power influencers, she is one of the most dynamic personalities in the social media market and was crowned the Social Influencer of Europe by Oracle. Recently a recipient for a Global Women Champions Award (by the Global Connections for Women Foundation, GC4W) for her outstanding contribution and leadership in business.