It’s no secret that social media can be a useful tool in building and maintaining an online presence and extending the reach of a business’ geographic area. When you think about it, social media is really just another form of advertising—albeit one that is much more affordable and interactive than its expensive siblings, television and print. Postings, blogs and tweets from popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn,WordPress and more allow you to regularly engage with both current and future customers.
But just as one commercial every few years or a single bulk mailing probably won’t help you establish your business’ core identity, posting on social media “once in a blue moon” won’t, either. Sure, you might pick up a new customer or two but what you really want is to build a loyal clientele. To maximize social media’s potential, business owners need to stay in front of their audience on a fairly regular basis; however, many business owners make the common mistake of starting out strong then losing momentum as their business grows. Or, in an attempt to get any sort of content “out there”, they post regularly but their content isn’t well thought out or particularly meaningful to their customer. So, just how much time “should” business owners spend on social media?
It’s a legitimate concern. After all, it’s time (or the lack of it) that’s often the culprit for inconsistent social media activity. When you’re posting regularly, many customers quickly catch on to your schedule and look forward to your posts; the problem is, when you’re silent, they just as quickly lose interest or assume you’re no longer engaged. That’s why social media management systems (SMMS) such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social are the answer to many small business’ social media prayers, making it easier than ever before to manage multiple channels by monitoring, posting and scheduling tasks for both individuals and teams. The systems are web-based (no downloads required), fairly user friendly and relatively affordable (a basic Hootsuite subscription is free, then starts at $10/month for premium services; Sprout Social is more expensive, starting at $59/per user/month).
For business owners who post frequently and depend heavily on customer interaction, SMMS sites can be a lifesaver. However, as appealing as the idea of these systems may be, don’t automatically assume that every feature offered is suitable for all businesses, all the time. Before you jump on any social media dashboard, I suggest you first take a moment to ask yourself the following critical questions:
- What are my current business goals? Am I focusing right now on increasing sales or more on networking?
- How much time and money can I realistically spend on social media? And most importantly,
- Who are my current and desired customers?
If your typical client is a working, college-educated wife and mother in her late thirties, you’ll want to focus your efforts on the social media venues she is likelier to use and consider the frequency of posts that might appeal to her. She may not appreciate multiple Tweets daily, whereas if your client is a single woman in her early twenties, a higher volume of activity may be just right. That’s not to say that over time, you can’t expand your clientele to include other demographics. But the last thing you want to do is spin your wheels pursuing small returns on your investments (time and money) at the expense of your current customer.
Here’s an overview of what Hootsuite and Sprout Social can do for you:
- Update all of your selected accounts simultaneously (no need to post to Facebook, then Twitter, then LinkedIn, etc.)
- Share videos and pictures, using both words and images to better communicate with your audience
- Manage multiple accounts, pages and profiles
- Pre-schedule updates and posts either at a user-chosen or high traffic time
- Analyze follower activity, all in one place
While users debate the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms, there’s some general consensus that Hootsuite is the preferred choice for team collaboration, simply because of its pricing structure. At the Pro or $9.99/month Level, two people can edit the same account (perfect for an individual service provider or two-person operation) whereas with Sprout Social, each user must set up a unique account at $59/month. That can really add up for say, a large spa with multiple users.
As far as pricing goes, Hootsuite is arguably geared more toward the small business owner, at least at its first and second pricing levels (though its third tier can accommodate up to 500,000 team members!) However, when it comes to analytics, Hootsuite’s reports can get pricey. There are a few free reports available but the more advanced versions are going to cost you. Sprout Social’s, on the other hand, are included in your monthly fee.
For customer support, many users prefer Sprout Social because it offers complimentary training and support, as well as a more attractive and easily navigated design. Hootsuite also offers some training at the Basic Level but enhanced technical support only at the top end of its pricing tier.
If you’re struggling to decide which one might work for you, take both of them for a test drive. Each offers a 30-day free trial and several options regarding the number of social profiles you can link together, based on price.
And now, a few thoughts on social media content. Social media is so much more than just posting cute selfies or random musings; it provides you with a unique opportunity to create a solid, relevant customer community with the added bonus of both instant and long-term feedback. As I mentioned previously, it’s important to spend time thinking about your customer’s needs, like and dislikes. Know who she is before you start over-sharing via social media. What other types of products or services is she purchasing? What type of content is she sharing or retweeting? What types of posts would interest her? What special offers might prompt her to book an appointment with you?
Finally, remember that social media is not just about communicating your thoughts and opinions; it should also include listening to those of others. These days, taking the time to comment positively on others’ posts is a polite necessity. Responding to customers’ complaints and concerns is a professional requirement. And sharing appropriate posts that are meaningful to others in your community is just good business sense.
Have fun creating your own social media community. I look forward to reading all about it.