How to Choose the Best Social Media Marketing Tool for Your Business
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Paralysis by analysis -- we've all been there. Choosing a place to eat, choosing a new computer or even choosing the best social media marketing tool.
When it comes to picking a tool for your business, there are so many great options out there, it’s a tall task to know exactly what’s right for you.
The tool you choose is often a key ingredient when it comes to hitting your social media marketing goals, because it can help you drive traffic and engagement, as well as measure how you’re doing.
Each tool has its strengths and there’s no single perfect tool for everyone. So how do you figure out which one’s going to be the best fit for you?
How do you find the best social media tool for your business?
If you’re anything like me, your first instinct is likely to start researching right away! Over time -- and after making lots of mistakes along the way -- I’ve come to realize there’s another approach that can be much less stressful and much more effective.
Rather than jumping straight into research -- which often provides an overwhelming number of options to choose from -- it can be helpful to start by getting clarity on your own priorities and goals first. To reflect on the needs of your team and what’s most important to you.
From there you’ll have a solid set of criteria to measure your options against once you begin researching, evaluating options and comparing features.
To help you make an informed decision and find the tool that’s the best fit for you, I’d love to share a few ideas and questions that may be helpful to consider.
3 questions to help you define your social media goals
The challenge with diving straight into research and comparison shopping is that it’s easy to lose sight of why you started looking for a social media tool in the first place.
Here are a few important questions to answer up front:
1. What are you looking to accomplish with your social media marketing efforts?
What are your goals? Do you want to increase brand awareness? Drive traffic to your site? Generate leads or drive sales directly from your content?
What results are you hoping to get from the time and effort your spend on social media?
All social media tools excel at certain things. And if you’re not sure what your goals are and what you want to accomplish, it may be a bit challenging to find the right tool for the job.
2. What prompted you to start looking for a new tool?
You likely had a not-so-great experience with your existing tool or workflow, and it inspired you to start looking for alternatives. What was that experience? Was there something that frustrated you? Something you wanted to do that you couldn’t?
If you want to end up with the best tool for your team, identifying the core issues that caused you to start looking for a new tool in the first place is a key step in the process.
The goal here is to help you find the right product that will address those issues and allow you to do the things you weren’t previously able to do -- no matter which tool that happens to be.
We’ll go into more detail on this in a bit.
3. What experience do you want your social team to have with the tool?
Your team is going to spend quite a bit of time using this product.
And as the public face of your brand, you want to make sure they have the right tool.
Finding one that’s intuitive, fun, and easy-to-use will help them save time on unnecessary tasks, so they can spend more time creating amazing content!
What are your “must-have” features?
3 quick steps to understanding which features you need (and which ones you don’t)
Whatever tool you end up choosing, it should help you achieve and goals you outlined in the previous sections.
Once you’ve gotten clarity on what you’re looking to accomplish on social and what you need from a tool, you’ll have a solid foundation to measure your options against once you start comparing tools.
Now, the next step is to determine which features you absolutely need in a social media tool -- and which ones would just be nice to have.
But how can you tell? Here’s one way to look at it:
- “Must-have” features -- if the tool doesn’t allow us to do X, then we won’t be able to execute on our social media marketing strategy and hit our goals.
- “Nice-to-have” features -- if the tool does X, we may be able to use that in our strategy at some point.
If you’re not entirely sure what your “must-have” features are yet, here’s a quick exercise to help you distinguish between them:
Step 1: Write down the 25 most important social media features that you think you need.
What are all the tasks you do on a day-to-day basis? What activities do you do every few weeks or months? What sorts of capabilities do you need to have?
(You don’t have to come up with exactly 25, just try to write down as many as you can think of!)
Here are some important considerations to help you brainstorm:
- What caused you to start searching for a new tool? Like I mentioned previously, there was likely something you wanted to do but weren’t able to. What was that?
- Social networks -- Which social networks do you need to be able to share to?
- Scheduling posts -- Do you need to be able to schedule your posts in advance?
- Custom posting times -- How should scheduling work? Do you need to choose your own custom posting times?
- Scheduling tool vs. “all-in-one” platform -- Are you looking for an awesome scheduling tool, or are you looking for an “all-in-one” social media management platform?
- Analytics -- Do you need analytics? Which metrics do you need to track? How in-depth do your reports need to be?
- Paid social campaigns -- Do you need the ability to manage paid social campaigns? (FB ads, Twitter ads, etc.)
- Engagement -- Do you need to be able to pull in, interact with and respond to incoming social conversations?
- Social listening -- Do you need social listening/brand monitoring capabilities?
- Team collaboration tools -- Will you need to be able to add team members, review posts and manage your team’s workflow?
- UTMs -- Do you need the ability to set UTM parameters on a per channel basis? Or a per post basis?
- Integrations -- Are there any other tools you’d need to integrate with?
Step 2: Review the list and circle your top five features.
Now that you’ve written down all the things you think you might need in a tool, review your list and circle your top five.
As you make your way through the list, ask yourself: What are the top 5 most important activities? What are the capabilities I absolutely cannot do without? What’s absolutely essential?
(Again, you can be flexible with how many items you circle. I recommend keeping this list as short as possible though!)
Step 3: Use these two lists to evaluate potential tools.
At this point you have two lists. The five items you circled are your “must-have’s” and the other 20 are your “nice-to-have’s.”
As you begin to evaluate tools in the next section, you can use your “must-have” list as the criteria for eliminating tools that aren’t going to be the right fit for you.
This will save you a ton of time and help you narrow down your options to a shortlist of potential tools.
Do some research to find the best options
Plus: some tips, ideas and resources to help you save time
Now that you’re starting to get more and more clarity on what your priorities are, now’s the perfect time to start research your options and comparing tools.
To help you save time and get off on the right foot, here are a few ideas to get you started:
6 great places to research social media tools
If you want to find the best social media tools, here are a few resources I’d recommend using and the keywords that are likely to give you the most relevant answers:
- Google -- here are some keywords to check out: best social media tools, best social media marketing tools and best social media management tools
- YouTube -- a search for these keywords will turn up some great video reviews: best social media marketing tools, best social media management tools and social media tools for business
- Product Hunt -- try a keyword search for ‘social media,' and check out our social media tools collection
- AlternativeTo -- you’ll find a nice selection of options by checking out alternative’s to Buffer, Hootsuite and Sprout Social
- Capterra -- you can find reviews for a ton of social media marketing products
- Quora -- read through Q&A’s in the ‘social media marketing tools’ section of Quora
5 unbiased articles that review social media tools
The websites in the previous section will give you a lot of content to check out.
After spending a few hours sifting through all of it, here are the five most useful links I found from marketers and communities I admire:
- 5 Social Media Management Tools to Save Time by Social Media Examiner
- 17 Tools That’ll Take Your Social Media Marketing Results to The Next Level by Neil Patel
- The 17 Best Social Media Management Tools by Jeff Bullas
- The 39 Social Media Tools I’ll Use Today by Jay Baer
- How do you manage all of your social networks? on Inbound.org
4 of my personal favorite social media tools
I may be a bit biased here, but in case it might be useful, here are my four favorite tools:
- Buffer -- Great for scheduling, publishing and analyzing your content with ease
- Hootsuite -- Fantastic as an “all-in-one” social media solution
- Sprout Social -- Rocks for monitoring all of your social media efforts, both content and engagement
- Edgar -- Excels at recycling your best content automatically
If possible, I’d also recommend reaching out to any friends or colleagues who might be able to recommend their favorite tools and why they love them.
Create your shortlist of social media tools
Now it’s time to go one step further and create your short list of tools to try out.
As you evaluate the tools you come across in your research, you can exclude any products that don’t offer the “must-have” features you discovered earlier.
And as you compare products, begin to narrow down to your top three to five options and rank them. This is going to be your shortlist of tools to try out next.
Keep in mind: The features on your “nice-to-have” list shouldn’t get attention until you’ve found an option that satisfies all your “must-have’s.”
A social media tool that offers only the features you absolutely need is likely going to be much more effective than any option that doesn’t have the essentials but does provide you with a bunch of “nice-to-have” features.
Put together an evaluation team
Now that you have your shortlist of three to five tools, the next step is to put together a team to test and evaluate them, one tool at a time.
Note: If you’re just getting started on social media, or if you work at a smaller company like ours, then it may be just you on the evaluation team (and I’d recommend skipping to the next section, as this might not be as relevant for you ?).
If you’re part of a larger team, it’s important to include people with a variety of roles and responsibilities. Basically anyone who will need to use the tool.
Why is this important? Because, for example, your team lead will likely have different goals from the product than a junior-level marketer.
The team lead is more likely to be concerned about analytics/reporting and team workflow features, whereas someone a bit more junior may care more about ease of publishing or quickly getting that data to their manager.
Getting feedback and opinions from a diverse set of users will help you tell which tool really is the best fit for your team. Here’s an ideal combination:
- One junior level social media marketer
- One to three social media power users
- One manager or team lead
And if you can, try to get everyone on the evaluation team to trial the same tool at the same time, rather than having everyone test a different tool. That way everyone is on the same page and has the same context when evaluating whether or not the tool is a good fit.
Test drive the tools on your shortlist
At this point, the next step is to start testing out the tools on your shortlist.
Like I mentioned previously, I recommend testing one tool at a time, so you don’t spread your time an attention too thin -- and so your evaluation team is always on the same page.
Start a free trial for the top choice on your shortlist
So, the next step is to choose your #1 top choice and start a free trial.
Note: Most tools offer a free trial of between 2-4 weeks, which should likely be enough time to try it out and see how it works.
If you’ve put together an evaluation team, then invite each member to create an account. If not, just create your own account and get started!
I recommend setting aside time for two things:
- Using the product -- This might seem obvious, but with everything else on your plate it can be easy to push this to the side. I’ve done this more times than I care to admit! Make time to explore the product and see if it’s going to be a good fit your workflow and help you accomplish your social media strategy.
- Reflecting on your experience -- As you use the product, take some time to reflect on you and your team’s experience: what do you like, what do you dislike and does it feel like a good fit? You can do this in a meeting or asynchronously in a shared document, whichever makes the most sense for your team.
And as you go through the evaluation process, here are some important factors to consider:
9 things to consider when evaluating a social media tool
1. User experience
You’re likely to be using this tool regularly, maybe even daily. So it feels super important to find a tool that gives you or your team a great experience.
The best tools tend to be intuitive and easy to use. And if you find you or your team are getting lost or struggling without training you could lose a lot of time, energy and momentum.
Personally, I love tools that are clear, simple and don’t need a ton of training.
2. Analytics and reporting
When you think about your team’s overall social media goals, what are the key metrics you’ll need to track and report on? Will this tool help you measure those?
If you need extremely detailed reports on a consistent basis, some tools have more advanced reporting capabilities and may be a great fit. For many companies, however, being able to measure the engagement they’re getting with each individual post -- and tracking their account growth over time -- is more than enough.
How in-depth do your reports need to be? The best tool will be the one that helps you answer your questions quickly and make the best decisions.
3. Team collaboration tools
Will you be inviting team members to collaborate with this tool? Some tools make it super easy to manage your team.
The best ones allow you to easily:
- Add team members
- Decide which social media accounts each person has access to
- Set permission levels
- Review posts before publishing
It’s important to make sure the tool you choose gives you the capabilities you need as a manager/team lead!
4. Customer support
At some point you or someone on your team is likely going to have a question or need help.
When that time comes, will you have access to customer support? And if so, how good is it -- both in terms of speed and quality?
The best companies don’t just provide you with software. They’re also there to:
- Help out when you need it
- Advise you on the best social media practices
- And help you be successful and accomplish your goals using their product
Which leads us to another important consideration…
On top of customer support, it might also be worth exploring what other options the company provides you -- in terms of training, education, customer success managers, etc.
These resources can be a great tipping point in the decision process.
How will you train yourself or your team on the new tool?
Some companies provide in-depth tutorials to help you make the switch and get started on the right foot. And with many of the more popular tools, there are tons of third party educational resources that can help you get the most out of it.
What sort of training do you think you’ll need? And are those kinds of resources available?
Another thing to consider is: How secure is the tool? What security features does it provide?
For example, are you able to set up two-step login? Can you invite team members to post to your company’s social profiles without giving out login credentials?
Take the time to make sure your tool is secure, because publishing to social profiles is extremely important for brands and you don’t want anyone who shouldn’t post being able to!
Sometimes you need to pass data between tools, or you might want to automate some of your social media activities.
Do you need to integrate your social media tool with any other products? And does this tool have the integrations you need?
If you absolutely need a specific integration that isn’t available, this could be a deal-breaker.
There are a few things to consider when it comes to pricing.
First, check the availability of free features, and at what price the more advanced features become “pay-only.”
For example, on our free plan here at Buffer you can measure a few social engagement metrics for each post such as retweets, likes, mentions and potential reach.
But rich analytics, charts and tables -- to help you gain a deeper understanding of your performance on social -- are part of our business plan, starting at $99 per month. Do those pay-only features fall into your “must-have” list. And is it worth the cost?
Second, would you prefer an all-inclusive cost, even if you’re paying for features you don’t need? Or would you rather pay only for the features, social accounts, and team members you need?
Third, are you okay with signing an annual contract or would you prefer to pay month-to-month? Each company will have a slightly different offering here.
Your social media presence is likely going to grow over time -- how does adding more team members, accounts or social media updates affect pricing?
For example, some tools charge on a per user per month basis and other tools charge flat monthly fees.
Depending on where you see your company and team headed, will this tool support you as you grow?
Ready to switch?
Getting ready for a new social media tool
You may have to try out a few products on your shortlist before you find a great fit!
Once you decide on the right tool, sit down with your team or whoever is involved and will be affected by the change, and write down a transition plan.
Here are a few questions to reflect on:
- How will you train your team to use the new tool?
- Would it be beneficial to update any of your existing workflows?
- Do you need to set up any integrations?
Switching to a new tool is a huge investment in your social media marketing strategy.
If you choose a tool that works really well for you and your team, it can save you a ton of time and energy -- and help you make meaningful progress towards your goals.
That’s why it’s so important to take the time to get clarity on what’s your goals are and why you’re looking for a new tool, before you start doing research and comparing feature lists. So you can make the best, most informed decision for your team!