With more than 75 percent of the United States population on social media, small businesses need to be on social media and use their accounts to market products and services. Using the right social media management tools could increase sales, boost brand recognition and develop loyal customers.
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According to Buffer's State of Social 2018 Report, there are three trends social media marketers need to be aware of in 2019: Plentiful opportunities exist in the messaging space, companies that invest in social media ads will reap numerous gains and benefits, and engagement is the primary way to measure ROI.
While knowing the latest trends is important, the right social media management tools can help implement these strategies and help your brand to stand out. To help you pick the best solution for your business, we evaluated dozens of social media tools, narrowing down the best ones based on the type of business, features and needs.
In this guide, we look at key features, how much you should expect to pay and the best social media tools for different businesses. We chose WebiMax, Oracle Social Cloud, Portent, Sysomos, OrangeSoda and DataSift as our best picks. You can read more about each service below, including why we recommend it.
Social media marketing tools vary in price. Some providers offer a free trial period, typically 30 days, where you can test out the software or service to see whether it's a good fit for your company.
Pricing is typically structured according to tiers, with monthly costs increasing as more features are offered and if you have a dedicated account manager assigned to you. Packages range from $20 for a basic social media scheduling tool to $500 for programs with myriad features and a dedicated account manager.
Before signing on the dotted line with any provider, you should make absolutely sure you're getting the best deal.
It's also imperative that you understand exactly what you are buying and what features are included with your plan. Try to think ahead and pick a plan that will accommodate any future growth you may experience.
Here are some negotiation tips to help you get the most for your money:
- Find out if the provider offers a discount if you pay for the software or service annually rather than monthly.
- Research the competition and know what others in the industry are charging. Ask the provider whether they are willing to match the price of their cheaper competitors.
- Ask if the provider offers free perks or waives fees for first-time customers.
What to Look For
When considering which is the best social media monitoring program for your business, you should balance your needs with your budget. If all you want is to track social venues where you have accounts, there are simpler and cheaper options, like AgoraPulse. If you need heavy-duty market research, you will want software that considers millions of sources, like Sysomos. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few, consider the following.
Monitoring: Many social monitoring services brag about viewing millions of messages a day, but ask for specifics. Make sure the software is looking where your readers live. For example, monitoring the Huffington Post won’t help you if you manufacture medical testing equipment. Some of the social media monitoring programs we examined are limited to social media you frequent. This may be enough for smaller companies that are mostly interested in customer response.
You should also make sure you understand how you are billed. Some companies charge by keyword, others by valid hits. Therefore, with a company that casts a wide net, you could end up paying for results that aren’t helpful, especially if your keywords are popular. For example, if your keyword is “blood testing equipment,” you could end up paying for hits for articles about DUIs and diabetes. Some companies, like DataSift, help you determine the best keywords for your research needs.
Filtering out the noise. Even with valid keywords, you can end up with invalid results. Social media is rife with people posting for their own promotion and bots posting to boost ranks. Your social analysis program should offer filters to remove the spam, self-promotion and junk posts.
Sentiment analysis. This highly useful tool examines a post ahead of time to see if it’s positive, negative or neutral. Sentiment analysis examines the wording of the post itself, beyond mere keywords, to determine if the phrases are complimentary toward your brand. This is not always an easy thing, especially when you consider slang and the brevity of social media posts.
There are several automated language analysis processes, with accuracy results varying from 70% to 86%. Independent human evaluation averages around 80% accuracy. The best social analysis software uses more than one method. Some companies have their own proprietary systems. If you have international concerns, be sure to ask how sentiment analysis takes different languages and cultures into account.
Demographics. Who is talking is as important as what is said. Most of these services can look at sources (Twitter bios, for example) to discern a poster’s age, gender and even interests. Some allow your marketing folks to access the bios themselves, which can help you woo influencers.
Historical data. This is important for trend analysis and for seeing how campaigns work against a norm. Ask how long the social media monitoring service keeps the data it collects on your behalf, but also ask if it stores search results in general. A few do this for several years, enabling you to mine data from before you purchased the software. This can help you establish benchmarks right off the bat.
Lead identification. The best social media monitoring programs search for terms that indicate an interest or need and alert the appropriate department so that you can respond quickly with a comment or offer.
Integrations. The programs we considered all work very well independently. Most offer user levels, email alerts and forwarding to other departments, and downloadable reports in multiple formats. However, the best social media monitoring programs also offer integrations with social marketing, advertising and customer relationship management programs. If you already have specific tools you use, check to see if they integrate with the software. Some of the social media monitoring programs, such as the ones from Salesforce and Oracle, are just one of many business tools their company offers. You may discover a package deal with that company is cheaper and easier than integrating several separate programs.
How to Use Social Media Monitoring
Social media monitoring goes way beyond identifying tweets you should respond to. Even the most modest of businesses can collect data on a level previously available only to corporations with large research and development budgets. With the social analysis and reporting tools usually provided by the programs, you can use that data in many ways.
Interact with customers. Online communities are becoming the go-to for communication, even with companies. When customers have a good or bad experience, they share it with everyone, not just with the company or close friends. Some customers use social media as a shortcut to a higher level of management. Social media monitoring and social relationship management allow you as a company to tap in quickly to the compliments and complaints so that you can react quickly. This kind of engagement, even when addressing complaints, goes a long way toward improving your brand's reputation.
Track trends. By keeping an eye on what’s happening in your industry, you can stay ahead of innovations and move proactively.
Product identification: If you own a restaurant, knowing the next trendy grain can help you adjust your menu.
Scheduling promotions: Housekeeping services might follow real estate trends and promote move-in and move-out cleaning sales during peak months.
Competition: If your competitor is having reputation problems, it could be a good time for an incentive campaign.
Advertising placement: Say you sell motorcycle gear. You may find your customers also have snowmobiles, so running an ad for your products on one of the most popular snowmobile sites in the early spring might pay off.
Identify key influencers. Influencers are people who have a lot of followers in your target audience. If you sell handcrafted leather furniture, an influencer might be an interior design blogger or a poster on the Pinterest Man Cave Board who has a following of 15,000 and growing. Once you identify influencers, you can ask them for reviews, offer free samples, or simply follow them to start a relationship with them and their followers.
Evaluate sentiment. Knowing if people are posting about you in a positive, negative or neutral light lets you see where you stand reputation-wise. Most sentiment analysis tools let you drill down to specific mentions, so you can see if you need to improve your product or your customer service response time.
Research products. By using keywords specific to your industry, you can keep abreast of the latest innovations and what they mean to your business.
Keep up with your competitors. Most social monitoring software lets you track your competitors as well as yourself. You can track, record and analyze their information as easily as your own.
Research markets. It used to be that you had to conduct polls and fact-finding missions to discover what customers wanted. Now, people are openly discussing it in public arenas. Social media monitoring taps into those conversations to get you frank and unsolicited information.
Generate leads. Programs with this ability identify phrases that indicate readiness to purchase. (“Not another flat tire!” “Need ideas for a housewarming gift.” “Craving Chinese food … again.”)